A new Riverside County Film Commission that issues county film permits and promotes the entire region, has some officials wondering if the area will become the new "East Hollywood."
The county had a "film office" that focused on marketing county properties and unincorporated communities to the film industry, but it never handled permits — until now.
The recent dissolution of the Inland Empire Film Commission, which used to process film permits for Riverside County, has spurred these changes.
Launched July 1, the transition to full service commission, has been smooth said Stephanie Stethem, a film commissioner with the Riverside County Film Commission. That's due in part to guidance from former director of the Inland Empire Film Commission, Sheri Davis, who is now director of the Greater Palm Springs Film Alliance.
"We're starting to meet with all the permit officers and the cities and (Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau) to talk about filming and what they have to offer so they can send us pictures of their locations. We want to promote the county as a whole," Stethem said.
The county film commission presides over all Riverside County buildings such as the Larson Justice Center or fairgrounds in Indio, and all unincorporated communities in the county. Those include: Cabazon, Bermuda Dunes, Thousand Palms, Indio Hills, Sky Valley, North Palm Springs and Thermal.
Much of still photography and filming in Riverside County occurs in the Coachella Valley, Stethem said. They are averaging about 11 film permits per month, which she considers "great for this time of year."
"The desert communities, the unincorporated roads are very popular. Hotel Lautner (located on the cusp of Desert Hot Springs) gets a lot of filming," she said. "Definitely the desert area is really popular for still shoots. They like that look."
The rest of the county though, is starting to get more interest too, she noted.
The county does offer a film incentive program that waives all film and still photo permit fees for county owned property and unincorporated areas. Location fees are also waived for productions on county owned property. Additionally, transient occupancy tax, known as TOT is waived for film and photo crews staying at hotels in unincorporated areas during shoots.
Davis said having such incentives is important because it shows that areas offering them are film friendly. The savings have the most impact on small productions and may not affect a huge project with a large budget, but it does provide a welcoming climate that could prove beneficial down the road, she said.
Owner Tracy Beckmann shows off the rooms she restored at Hotel Lautner near Desert Hot Springs, in 2014. The hotel is a popular county location for photo shoots. (Photo: Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)
"Most people don't realize how much these productions contribute to our local economy. A low budget 3-day commercial or music video can bring in upwards of $250,000. When you think about where the crew will sleep, who will fix their meals, location costs and the local film crew they hire, including sheriff and fire crews, it adds up. A proactive film incentive like this … sends the important message to the film industry that the Coachella Valley is film friendly and open for business," Davis said.lcoming climate that could prove beneficial down the road, she said.
The Riverside County Film Commission is only one of many agencies issuing film permits in the Coachella Valley. All cities and tribal lands in the valley operate their own film offices and are responsible for their own incentives.
Palm Springs for example, began its "Film Friendly Incentive Program" in 2013 that waives permit fees and encourages filmmakers and advertising photographers to work in the city by providing a $5,000 rebate if production expenses within the city total at least $25,000.
Davis' group, The Greater Palm Springs Film Alliance, not only promotes the Coachella Valley by providing a location library with photos, but it also provides film permit information on all the Coachella Valley cities as well as Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Blythe. It also lets perusers know which cities provide film incentives.
A sore spot for many with a hand in the California film industry, is that for years other states have lured production away from the Golden state with their lucrative film incentives.
But recent changes in the state's film credit program could signal an end to runaway projects that now film outside the state.
Riverside County Board of Supervisor Chairman Marion Ashley is hopeful local incentives will help toward that end as well.
"With all the incentives Riverside County has to offer, we feel that we have become a viable alternative to productions looking for out-of-state locations. Is it unrealistic to think that Riverside County will be branded as the new East Hollywood,?" he said in a prepared statement.
Riverside County Film Commission: rcfilmtv.org (951) 955-2044
Greater Palm Springs Film Alliance:palmspringsfilm.com
Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism:psfilmfriendly.com
California Film Commission: filmca.gov
Source: The Desert Sun