From the ongoing impact of famous movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” to Guy Fieri’s Food Network show to Toyota car commercials, directors and their film crews have been taking advantage of Sonoma County’s natural beauty, winding roads and small-town locations, injecting a healthful amount of revenue and jobs into the economy along the way.
Film productions, whether features, documentaries or catalog shoots, can positively impact local hotels, car and truck rentals, catering, barricade rentals, local cast and crew and a host of other local businesses.
In 2014, Sonoma County issued more than $1.9 million in filming permits, a 14 percent increase over $1.7 million in 2013, according to a new report from the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Because a large amount of filming is done on private property, the number of permits does not reflect the complete view of filming activity in Sonoma County.
The most recent feature filmed around the county was “Running Wild,” a drama about the plight of wild horses during the drought across the Western U.S., and a widow who saves her ranch by working with convicts to rehabilitate a herd of wild horses that wandered onto her property. The film stars Sharon Stone.
Santa Rosa Convention & Visitors Bureau assisted the 65-person crew of “Running Wild” find lodging totaling 1,200 room-nights over six weeks of filming, according to Brad Calkins, the bureau’s executive director. The crew was also looking for local caterers, a place for office supplies and products and storage equipment.
Although it’s tough to estimate how much a film like this can bring in on a daily basis, a rough estimate is $15,000–$30,000 per day, according to Sonoma County Film Office liaison Colette Thomas.
With a budget of $3 million, the film is financed and being produced by ESX Entertainment, newly launched by producers Forrest Lucas and Ali Afshar.
Afshar is a Petaluma native and graduate of Casa Grande High School. Other films he shot in Petaluma include “The Wizard,” and “The Wrong Side of Right,” an independent film that was partially filmed at the Petaluma Airport, the county courtroom in Petaluma City Hall and on private property.
Along with having local impact during filming, once a movie is released, it can help generate sustained growth in tourism when a region or community is featured in a successful film.
Movies like “The Birds,” which was partially shot in Bodega Bay, and George Lucas’s “American Graffiti,” which was largely shot on Petaluma Boulevard and surrounding streets, are still attracting visitors to Sonoma County and generating revenue in hotels, restaurants, and memorabilia, although the numbers are hard to track.
“They may not drive up from Los Angeles, but maybe from San Francisco, or if they are already here it might be a reason to stay another day,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma Economic Development Board.
One indication of people’s interest in movie locations is the popularity of the EDB’s online movie map (sonoma-county.org/film/movie_sitemap.htm, and sonoma-county.org/film/moviemap.htm), which is the most frequented place on the board’s website. It gives the location of every movie filmed in the county.
Feature films are not being filmed on location as much as in the past, however, and Sonoma did not engage in any feature films in 2014. The EDB report suggests that’s because Sonoma County is a considerable distance from Los Angeles, and much more film is now being produced in digital studios. Today, for example, real birds would not have been used in filming the Hitchcock classic.