Dear Mayor: Thanks again for calling the Film Community meeting at City Hall Thursday July 30, 2009. As I surveyed the room, I realized the 50 attendees represented many independent films and small festivals who came to life in the past 2-10 years….. each created independent of the others, designed to reach out to specific audiences and needs, each operating beneath the radar in our larger community.
The many festivals (Place Called Sacramento, Music and Film, French, Jewish, Gay & Lesbian, Black, and International) have attempted cooperative meetings in the past. These meetings were successful in coordinating schedules and taking the edge off of "competing interests" but gathered little or no traction with local media, Convention and Visitors Bureau, nor the City Council. Your leadership is much needed and appreciated. Please permit me to share several insights that may help in going forward with the work of the committee – FYI.
(1) Incentives – Big films will require a financial incentive to work in Sacramento. And if they do come to town (the Travolta film "Lucky" comes to mind several years ago), the crew will come exclusively from Hollywood. This is a boon to local hotels and restaurants but not to the local film community. The only local hires will be for security duty. Hollywood is looking for "deals" to pack up and come to Sacramento. Very difficult for our City in tough financial times. Before offering the "financial incentives" offered by other Cities and States discussed in the meeting, examine if those states and communities were in fact too generous and actually lost money to gain cache.
(2) Small budget independent films – This is the "sweet spot" for Sacramento. We are a very inexpensive town to work in and we are very cooperative. LA is very jaded and the business communities and residents are tired of 3 AM "Law and Order" shoots that light up the streets of LA and disrupt sleep and traffic. The small independent films are budgeted at $500K to $5 million with small crews and open to finding local talent on both sides of the camera. Our cooperative environment and many varied locations keep costs low and achieve bigger bang for the buck. In these films, there is no budget for "special effects" so the right location and affordable "talent" is everything. Our local community theater groups will work at scale or free to serve as extras. Our local, experienced production crews will leap at the chance to earn $200 per day (as compared to $1,000 per day for grip positions in LA). We should continue and support Film Commissioner Lucy Steffens and reach out to the major film industry but we should also concentrate on the "Independent Spirit Awards" and the small film production groups and agents. This can be achieved by "outreach"rather than giving money away. We will save the small independent films much money, while charging Sacramento full rates in our notoriously "cost effective" community.
(3) Grow our own – The meeting was filled with "homegrown" film production leaders. As a group we have groomed local talent for the past 10+ years with great success. "Butts in Beds" is not the only measure of film success in Sacramento. Direct your clout with "star power" by inviting key LA stars to participate in the many existing film festivals. This awakens the Bee and other regional news outlets to the existence of these festivals and validates our community resources and assets without negative comparisons to other cities.
(4) Avoid comparisons to other Cities – We read it in our papers and hear it every day. Pick a topic. Pick the "best" City in the World in that topic area. Compare that City to Sacramento. Result: Sacramento is inferior. Here are some obvious examples. "Best Basketball Team" = How do the Kings match up to the Lakers? "Best City with Rivers and Bridges? = How does Sacramento compare to Portland or Pittsburg or New York?"Best Coffee?" = How does Java City compare to Starbucks? etc. etc. etc. In mental health terms, this is the path to an inferiority complex not a motivational tool. If a coach did this every game, his team would not be motivated…. they would give up. Comparisons like this don’t motivate – they just reinforce "Sacramento is a cow town" AND WE DO IT TO OURSELVES without even thinking. We are already a "World Class City" if we declare ourselves to be so and highlight our "assets". Thank you Mayor Johnson for your high visibility and constant praise of our hometown. But digging ourselves out of the slippery slope of "self-deprecating mental attitude" will take more time and more leadership. This is not to say we cannot aspire to greatness…. but it must be "on our own terms and standards" not in comparison to other cities. Each city is different with different assets to build upon. Let’s "build and reinforce Sacramento positives" not "compare and give other cities props at our expense".
(5) Praise our local Festivals as the symbol of our love of independent films – This is easy…. just keep doing what you did at the Music and Film Festival last Friday night… show up and support. For example, in the ten years of the "Place Called Sacramento" film festival – a unique event featuring all Sacramento stories, talent, and resources produced by hundreds of volunteers – Not a single County Supervisor or City Council member or Mayor has ever attended any of the nine previous events. They were invited. The Crest has been filled with 700-900 Sacramentans each year. Each film is 100% a Sacramento product. Why no visible support?
My guess is two reasons and neither one is "My schedule is too full".
(a) "If I did it for this event I would have to be active in all of them." YES…. this is supporting the independent film community and Mayors routinely attend events with 50-100 people…. what about 500-1,000? Films about and starring Sacramentans? A film celebration of our best and brightest aspirations and concerns. An elected leader (if not several) should be at each of these "opening night" events and viewing our community through a "local lens".
(b) "A successful films initiative can be judged by ‘butts in beds’ alone." YES and NO. The easiest benchmark is reports back from local hotels and restaurants that an event pulled in non-Sacramento residents to stay overnight and bring "new money" to the business community. This is "reaping the corn but not planting the seeds".
Our local festivals "plant the seeds", creating creative capital for our community and bolstering our collective self confidence. This meeting room was filled with the "local filmmaking farmers" who have been toiling away for years planting the seeds of filmmaking, film appreciation and film involvement in Sacramento. They are not profiting from these efforts but they persist with success an intangible but real byproduct. Hotel revenue must not be the only standard of success in this endeavor.
We are building community through local filmmaking. Emphasize the positive of what is happening now as we build an even greater future. Thank you for your leadership and this opportunity. If Access Sacramento can be of help, just call. Ron Cooper – Access Sacramento and "A Place Called Sacramento" Film Festival