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BAVC Media Publishes Bay Area Film Production Memo and Research Study

By Abby Sun

Blue graphic with black text that reads "Bay Area Film Production Memo."

Courtesy of BAVC Media

To counter the decentralization of local film production, BAVC Media (Bay Area Video Coalition) has just released the Bay Area Film Production Memo. The memo summarizes the tax incentives, institutions, collaborations, and filmmaker pipeline infrastructure of the San Francisco-Bay Area and, crucially, compares them to structures that exist in other U.S. regions.

Authored by BAVC Media’s executive director Paula Smith Arrigoni and research and development manager Kailen Sallander, the Memo is supplemented by findings from a landmark survey of Bay Area filmmakers and “Lessons From the Field,” a field scan of U.S.-based regional film production practices, which are both also available to review in full. 

Several segments of the survey seem specific to the Bay, such as the finding that a quarter of filmmaker respondents make a living from the tech sector, but others are surprising. The median income among respondents was “roughly in line” with the general population, a significant portion of filmmakers are struggling with career progression (32% of respondents described their careers as “stagnant” and 12% as “declining”), and “documentary filmmakers earn more money overall and derive a greater share of their income from their media work than narrative filmmakers.”

WolfBrown researcher John Carnwath emphasized that though the survey doesn’t conclusively answer questions about the Bay Area’s film opportunities, “it highlights issues that warrant further investigation, and, perhaps most significantly, it demonstrates the value of thinking of the Bay Area’s film community as part of an interconnected ecosystem.”

Many of the findings can be implemented in other cities and regions of the country. For example, the Memo includes details about linking tax incentives to a state-administered fund for workforce development in addition to strategies for enacting such policies: “several cities successfully gained the support of their public officials by bringing them to production sets and educating them about the varied manual and skilled labor jobs that are created and sustained through film productions.”

BAVC Media highlights the role of community and the feeling that timing is key. Via a press release, Smith Arrigoni and Sallander said: “We recognize now as the moment when ‘the right people are coming together’ in the Bay Area. We have increasing support and engagement from government agencies, community-based organizations, independent artists, and local studios. Now is the time for strategic planning, educating elected officials, increased coordination, and securing capital investment. Growing the Bay Area film and media sector requires sustained collective effort.”

The Bay Area already has a dedicated core of film support organizations, and the production of the Memo and related research reflects that potential. The project was developed in collaboration with WolfBrown, with support from Film SF (the San Francisco Film Commission) and the Bay Area Media Maker Summit (BAMMS), East Bay Film Collective, and funding from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. An advisory committee representing the Roxie Theater, SFFILM, Ryzo Studio, Mindful Media, and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation provided consultation during research.

In a prepared statement, Sam Bempong, co-lead organizer the East Bay Film Collective, emphasized the utility of this research in their work: “Having formal insight into the needs of the Bay Area Media Makers community and recommendations on how best to meet those needs allowed us to successfully organize and campaign to bring the first film incentive program and film development office to the East Bay. BAVC Media’s reports were essential to this effort.” Last week, Oakland’s city council approved a new Film Rebate Program, citing the “Lessons From the Field” portion of the research. 

Abby Sun is IDA’s director of artist programs and editor of Documentary. She is a 2022 Warhol Foundation Curatorial Research Fellow and formerly was curator of the DocYard and editor of MIT Open Documentary Lab’s Immerse.