by Michelle Durand, San Mateo Daily Journal, 31 October 2001

What do the black comedy "Harold and Maude," James Bond action flick "A View to a Kill" and the recently released "Bandits" have in common?

San Mateo County plays a starring role.

Although many productions head to San Francisco, locations down the Peninsula are gaining attention and generating revenues — even if the county is a stand-in for a different site.

"We get a lot of run-off productions, things that film in San Francisco but need a beach scene or something else. For instance, in 'The Wedding Planner.' it had a scene supposedly set in Napa. It was actually Filoli Gardens," said Berna Bailey, film commissioner for San Mateo County, referring to the Woodside house and gardens.

Michael Jackson's new video for his song "Cry" was shot partially last week at a Pescadero beach and redwood forest outside LaHonda. Although Jackson himself never came to San Mateo County, a 75-person film crew joined about 150 extras in Memorial County Park.

Jackson's video is far from the first big-scale production to use San Mateo as its backdrop. Pop stars 'NSync also used the same park in September 2000 as a redwood-filled backdrop in their video "This I Promise You."

"We are ideal because people can fly into SFO and within 25 minutes be in the redwoods for their shoot. Where else can you do that?" said Bailey.

Among the other times San Mateo has graced the silver screen are the court room scenes of Robin Williams' film "Mrs. Doubtfire" and Talbot's Toyland in the Hugh Grant vehicle "Nine Months." Anyone looking closely at a Toyota car commercial featuring Steve Young may recognize Ducky's Car Wash in Menlo Park and the coastal roads of Woodside and Highway One.

The San Mateo Film Commission represents 13 cities, all of which have their own permit fees and regulations. The commission's job is to help location scouts and production managers to navigate the loops and find the best sites.

Although Bailey didn't provide specific numbers for the money generated in San Mateo County, the Association of Film Commissioners International do have approximate figures for costs. By FCI estimations, a high-end budget movie, commercial or music video can run about $100,000 per day. Low-end productions run about $25,000 for a commercial or video and $35,000 for a movie.

The entertainment industry generates more than $22 billion a year, typically in California, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation. However, this year's expectations are lowered.

Hollywood television, movie and commercial production went down to a four-year low last month, according to a report by the EIDC. Among the reasons cited are a faltering economy, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and a swarm of projects completed early due to fears of the never-realized writers and actors strike.

However, Bay Area film commissioners hope these same reasons may also act to bolster the areas appeal as a filming destination.

"We are seeing a lot of returning production people," said Bailey, who said her job has become "a bit tougher" lately but is far from dismal.

"Sure it's slowing a bit, but you have to remember that in the big scheme of things we are a smaller portion of the industry than San Francisco," she added.

Other film authorities agree.

"There has definitely been a slowdown in the number of feature films being produced, not just in the Bay Area, but in Los Angeles too. There are still a lot of commercials and smaller films, though I'm confident that the larger features will be coming back very soon," said Scott Trimble, a Northern California location manager.

Trimble himself just finished working on a short film called "Imprint" shot in Half Moon Bay.

The bigger issue, according to domestic film authorities, is "runaway production" — filming that takes place outside of the United States. Two House members from Southern California recently introduced The United States Independent Film and Television Production Incentive Act of 2001. If passed, it would give producers and other film employers a wage tax credit of 25 percent for the first $25,000 earned by an employee.

Bailey said another draw for filmmakers to choose San Mateo County over other sites, domestic or international, is that besides the wide range of scenic beauty, the county itself assesses no filming fees.

"There are location fees and permit fees if you film in a park or a beach but no overall cost due to the county," explained Bailey.

Bailey said there are a number of upcoming projects planned but said she was not at liberty to divulge them.

"We are just the best of everything," she said.

©2001 San Mateo Daily Journal