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Wednesday, 07 March 2012 13:18

Filming in the Real World of San Diego

Written by  Dyana Carmella
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San Diego has played a key role in numerous feature films, such as Anchorman and the upcoming Phantom (starring David Duchovny and Ed Harris), and television shows like “American Idol,” “The Real World: San Diego” and Chef Gordon Ramsay’s new series “Hotel Hell,” which recently shot on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. All of San Diego is open to filming, including iconic locations like the popular Sea World, beautiful Balboa Park, relaxed Mission Bay and the downtown Gaslamp District. The San Diego Film Commission has been going strong with 36 years of experience in assisting projects seeking to take advantage of these and other diverse locations. The Film Commission also represents San Diego County’s unincorporated areas, consisting of deserts, mountains, pine forests, ranch lands and isolated lakes.

sandiego_swfBefore earning the title of Deputy Film Commissioner of the San Diego Film Commission, Rob Dunson (pictured right) was a location manager in the film industry and he now knows what productions need. “I don’t want to hold up production for one second, because I know that production is based on a billion production minutes, and every second is accounted for somewhere in the budget; I totally get that,” says Dunson. While San Diego offers free beaches, discounted police officers and free permits, the Film Commission touts another perk that’s just as enticing. “We offer exquisite service and we found that’s more of an incentive,” says Dunson. “We are going to help save you the hassle. It’s all about returnability. The big payoff is being able to return. If you’ve done your work correctly, you should be able to.”Stephen Scott, the Film Commission’s assistant director, agrees. “Part of what we do is work with the community,” says Scott. “Rob makes every show a success by having the Film Commission work directly with the community. A lot of major automotive manufacturers come to San Diego, [including] Chrysler, Ford [and] Mazda, [and] we just had VW from Germany. We get a lot of big Hollywood projects but our bread and butter is a lot of the commercial industry, still photos and television series.”

Another critical component of maintaining a healthy film community and gaining more productions is having the support of the local government. “Our mayor was proactive in the film industry,” Dunson explains. “He went and toured all the studios in Los Angeles with us. No other mayor has ever done that. So, for me, Mayor Sanders showed his commitment and belief in this industry and understood how we manage it and look to grow it, and anything that will bring jobs and commerce into the city and region he is fully on board and behind and supports us.”

The recent production of MTV’s “The Real World: San Diego” spent a total of four months in the city and secured the perfect house to serve as a character in the show. “The name ‘Real World’ carries a lot of people,” notes Dunson. “[Some] look at [the name] in advance and say, ‘This [production] is going to be nightmare.’ But actually, they weren’t. I had more of a problem with the perception than the reality. With that said, they were great.” Dunson adds that one of the biggest benefits of having the “Real World” shoot in San Diego is the money they spend and the promotion of tourism — people love to visit the places they’ve seen on TV. “You couldn’t ask for a more perfect package,” Dunson explains. “If you can get past the name and premise of ‘Real World,’ you’re looking at a golden egg.”

To accommodate productions of all sizes, San Diego offers plenty of empty space for green-screen shoots and warehouse conversions. And when it comes to postproduction needs, the city has its bases covered. “We have a great studio here called Groovy Like a Movie, and then Studio West is our postproduction facility,” Dunson reports. “All of the major features fall back on those guys now because they’re the cutting edge of high-tech sound and they have it down to a science. My catch phrase is: ‘Let’s stay in touch and partner up.’ We have to build a region that is strong and united in order to keep this industry interested and attracted to us.” With its close proximity to Los Angeles, San Diego offers a crew base that’s rich in experienced professionals, most of whom live locally and are easily mobile (which can lower a production’s hotel and transportation costs).

sandiego_3San Diego’s hotels understand the benefits of catering to the film and television industry, and there’s a hotel discount program in which select hotels offer up to 15-percent off room rates. Participating hotels include Motel 6 and a 3,000-square-foot penthouse.The Loews Hotel on Coronado Island is a great option for housing production crew and talent. Easily accessible while quietly away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city, the hotel offers 65,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space as well as meeting rooms with state- of-the-art technology. There’s also plenty of underground parking and exterior parking for larger vehicles. The castle-like Hotel del Coronado has more than 120 years of history and is located on Coronado Island, just across the San Diego Bay. Also known as “The Del,” the hotel has been utilized by Hollywood productions since 1901 and played a critical role in the classic film “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. “Not everybody has a huge budget, so not everyone is staying at the Hotel del Coronado or the Hyatt,” says Scott. “We have your cheaper hotels and your ultra-expensive boutique hotels in the Gaslamp District. We can house talent all the way down to crew. We have the largest penthouse suite on the west coast at the Hotel Palomar, San Diego. [And] if a talent has it written into their contract that their lodging has to be at a certain level or amenities and square footage, we have that [too].”

The Film Commission builds relationships not only with the film community within the city but also the different jurisdictions around San Diego. “Frequently projects will have multiple locations,” says Scott. “So if a production is calling about the Hotel del Coronado or another location in Coronado, it’s likely there are other locations that are in our jurisdiction, so it benefits us to make sure their experience is good there as well as here for the entire project.” And when the Film Commission can make a production happy, everybody wins. “Whatever, whenever, we’re going to try to make it happen,” says Dunson. “You have to be able to deliver. You can’t just say, ‘We can do it.’ You actually have to be able to deliver it. It’s Hollywood, [so] if you don’t deliver the first time you probably won’t get a second shot. Every potential job is important. I don’t care if it’s just one. It’s one more than we had yesterday, and it will probably lead to something else. That’s how we approach it.”
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