Last week, Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson announced her plan to introduce a bill next month that would create a Seattle Film Commission. The legislation calls for an 11-member board to advise the City on policies and programs to better develop the film and television industry here in Seattle, so if some big-brained director decides to remake the classic Seattle film, Scorchy, then perhaps they'd find more incentives to actually shoot it in town rather than up in Vancouver, B.C.
The announcement comes after more than a year of politicians paying closer attention to the film industry at the state and county level, as studies find an increasingly hostile local environment for artists.
Earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature approved a major increase in the state's filmmaking incentive from $3.5 million to $15 million. And in 2021, King County unveiled Harbor Island Studios, a film production facility that has hosted Three Busy Debras and Love Is Blind productions since its soft open. The Seattle Film Commission would align the City with these county- and state-level initiatives and put everyone on the same page.
"Now we have $15 million of incentives that our community members are going to want to be able to access," said CM Nelson in a recent phone call. "So the City of Seattle needs to make sure that we are helping our community members get those funds."
Under the proposed legislation, the Mayor and the City Council would appoint board members to the commission, and the commission itself would appoint a member, too. Each member would represent one aspect of the film and TV industry: labor unions, film festivals, commercial producers, on-screen talent, film schools, etc. If created, the Office of Economic Development, which gobbled up the Office of Film + Music in recent years as part of its creative-economy strategy, would oversee the commission.
Overall, the Seattle Film Commission would aim to "advise and assist" the City of Seattle in efforts to ease permitting requirements, increase access to resources and opportunities for underrepresented communities, consult with industry professionals, and market Seattle as a "premier location" for film, TV, video games, and animation.
Facilitating more opportunities to participate in the film industry could help Seattle become more hospitable to artists in these inhospitable times. A recent survey conducted by the Puget Sound Regional Council found that our region's arts and culture sector "may experience a significant exodus in the next few years, as arts and culture workers—especially younger workers—are considering leaving the sector or the region" due to high rent and low wages, reports Crosscut. And as we've previously reported, Washington-based film directors, actors, crew, and producers consistently have to find work outside the state due to a lack of jobs here.
"When producers or directors come from other places and want to film here, one of the number one questions is 'Do you have enough crew on the ground for me to do this production?' I think with the state, the county, and the city all working together, we have a golden opportunity ahead to take a new crack at that and really try and keep our film professionals here," King County Creative Economy & Recovery Director Kate Becker said over the phone.
For that very reason, for years Seattle's film industry has lobbied the City to create something like this film commission. In 2019, the Seattle Film and Music Coalition, which was composed of over 2,000 industry professionals, formed in response to the Durkan administration's fuzzy goals for the Office of Film + Music. The outgrowth from that coalition created a Seattle Film Task Force, which in turn advised the City in 2020 on the formation of the Seattle Film Commission.
Melissa Purcell, prop master and northern business agent for IATSE Local 488, who was heavily involved in both the Seattle Film and Music Coalition and the Film Task Force, said she's "thrilled" to finally see the City step up and make the film industry a priority. The Seattle region already gets a lot of commercial and corporate content, she said, but it could get even more action.
"To have a city that's getting behind that industry and recognizing what the film industry brings in terms of jobs, income for small businesses, and support industries, as well as for artistry is something that we've needed for a long time," Purcell said in a phone interview.
Bringing underrepresented communities into the fold remains essential to building city support. At the state-level, the $11.5 million increase to the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program specifically outlines funds to invest in rural counties and marginalized communities. To TraeAnna Holiday, host of Converge Media's "The Day with Trae" and an ambassador with Africatown Community Land Trust, a potential Seattle Film Commission represents a chance to build infrastructure that will bring Black and brown communities along with it.
"We don't want to reproduce what a lot of other major markets have done, which is [build in] a predominantly white, male-dominated industry," said Holiday, who's currently working on William Grose Center for Culture Innovation & Enterprise's Creative Pipeline program. "We have got to be really mindful of that as we build out these opportunities and the Film Commission itself."
Nelson briefed the council's Economic Development, Technology, and City Light Committee on the legislation on Wednesday, August 10, and scheduled a vote for September 14. If passed out of committee, the bill could see a full-council vote as early as September 20. Over the phone, Nelson expressed hope about passage.
"Perhaps I'm going in overly optimistic, but I expect that this will be supported, and early next year we can impanel the commission and they can get to work," she said.