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Proposed 'Seattle Film Commission' would aim to increase film projects, living-wage jobs

Seattle City Council's Economic Development, Technology and City Light Committee took a first look at the proposal Wednesday.

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council is considering a measure that would create a "Seattle Film Commission" charged with advising city leaders on policies and programs supporting the film industry and promoting the growth of "family-wage jobs for workers who have been historically underrepresented in the industry." 

Councilmember Sara Nelson said the idea came from industry stakeholders, including the recommendations of the city's Film Task Force.

"It's bad enough to see Vancouver in movies and films that are supposed to be about Seattle and it's even worse to see our creatives and small businesses moving to other cities with more film opportunities like Portland, Nashville or Atlanta," Nelson said. "So if we want to grow our creative economy, focusing on film is the best bet we can make." 

James Keblas, general manager of All is Well Studios and a former head of the City of Seattle's Office of Film and Music, said direct industry input would help policymakers understand what filmmakers need to perform successfully in Seattle.

"Filming in particular is really messy, you're often in a public right of way, public locations, it's fast, it's kind of chaotic, it's not a traditional business," Keblas said. "So having government be there as a partner to help smooth that and figure that out, and help others cooperate with the business of film is a tremendous help."

Nelson said it would be a first step toward indicating Seattle is "open for business" as the city explores methods to assist local filmmakers and attract external projects. 

Under current draft legislation, the mayor and council members would appoint 11 representatives to the commission, including people from the industry. 

Markham McIntyre, the director for the city's Office of Economic Development, said the city has recognized a clear economic opportunity in the film industry and plans to prioritize it. 

"If we don't lean into this right now, put our shoulder into it, we're going to miss out," McIntyre said. "Because this is an international competition for these film productions, and the opportunity is right now, so we really need to seize it, grasp it, work with our partners, work with the businesses and workers, to really figure out how we take advantage of it."

He noted the state's Motion Picture Competitiveness Program increase, which the Legislature approved and governor signed into law in March of 2022. The program offers $15 million worth of tax incentives for companies producing films. 

"We have a really longstanding relationship with the county and state, so this isn't something brand new," McIntyre said. "We're just trying to foster more alignment, have closer collaboration, and just try to figure out how we can leverage our actions and our dollars in a more effective way."

Kate Becker, the Creative Economy & Recovery director for the Office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, served as the head of the city's Office of Film and Music from 2014 to 2019. She said the county has its own advisory board of 15 people, which advises the county on its film initiative, including one of its biggest investments, Harbor Island Studios. The county invested millions in activating a warehouse space, which has hosted two major pilot projects so far. The county is working on other renovations and expects a formal "grand opening moment" soon.

"Seattle and King County have worked together on a film ecosystem study that we did in 2019 and 2020, and while we have not released it yet because the pandemic hit and altered the state of the film industry radically, we have most of the work done and just need a baseline refreshed to get that ecosystem study out the door," Becker said. 

She said King County recently reduced film permitting fees, expedited permits, and worked to help accommodate location needs more quickly.

Mayor Bruce Harrell said he looks forward to continuing to work on the issue with council, city staff, film stakeholders and community leaders, calling Seattle "a film town through and through."

Right now, Councilmember Nelson said the council is still taking input on draft legislation. 

City staff said legislation will officially be introduced on September 13 with a briefing, discussion and possible vote before the committee on September 14 and, potentially, a full city council vote on September 20.

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