Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, March 1 @ 3:39 p.m. / Community, Film

Del Norte Supes Ask About Return On Investment, Will Consider Direct Contribution To Film Commission

Netflix's 2018 film, "Bird Box" brought Sandra Bullock and about $900,000 to Del Norte County in January. | Photo courtesy of Netflix

County supervisors were receptive to Cassandra Hesseltine’s ask Tuesday for a direct contribution to the Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission.

But while he was amenable to providing those additional dollars, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard asked Hesseltine, the region’s film commissioner, to return with information about the return on investment Humboldt County communities see for their contribution to the organization.

Howard mentioned the Paul Thomas Anderson and Leonardo DiCaprio film, the “BC Project,” which filmed in Arcata and Cutten in January. He said he wanted to see how those larger productions “have returned dollars to those communities.”

“With that small percentage we currently commit through the Chamber of Commerce, that to me at least, with what we’ve seen in the past — other than 'Bird Box' — hasn’t yielded the returns we’d like to see from this specific industry,” Howard told Hesseltine. “Obviously we’re not the banner in the funding of this organization, but sometimes we need to make steps to look for the future of other resources coming in here.”

Hesseltine asked Howard and his colleagues for “something more equivalent to $25,000” to come to the film commission. This could include funding the commission receives from the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, which is about $10,000 this year, she said.

If the county allocated $15,000 directly to the film commission, the two numbers would equal about $25,000 and would help the organization represent Del Norte County better, Hesseltine told supervisors. She noted that the additional funding is necessary due to increased costs driven by inflation.

“Between all the funders in Humboldt County [we get] about $390,000,” she said. “Right now, Del Norte is doing about .02 percent of our funding.”

Hesseltine said the film commission will also likely be addressing the Crescent City Council for potential funding.

The Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission is the movie world’s link to the North Coast. It’s headquartered in Eureka, staffed by two people — not including a volunteer board of directors — and has a budget of about $401,000, Hesseltine said.

To function as a film commission office, it’s also required to offer its services for free. Those services range from helping productions scout for locations, obtain permits, hire vendors and crew as well as assisting locals in marketing their homes to the film industry, Hesseltine said.

The Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission plays a major role in attracting visitors to the region. After the successful debut of last year’s Forest Moon Festival, celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi,” Hesseltine said she and her organization were gearing up for the second-annual event.

The film commission also markets the area through its Map of the Movies brochure and app as well as its Redwood Coast Museum of Cinema in Eureka.

“In the 12-13 years we have been the film commissioner for Del Norte County we’ve had over 400 inquiries come in,” Hesseltine said. “We’ve had 23 scout trips and 53 filming projects…. And the estimated dollar amount that has come in from that is $1.4 million. That’s direct dollars.”

There are two projects that are currently filming or about to film in Del Norte County, Hesseltine said. She noted that since the direct dollars that come into the area from film productions are circulated through the local economy about three times before it leaves the area, the indirect benefit to Del Norte County from those films coming in is about $4.1 million.

The Sandra Bullock film “Bird Box” was the most recent large production to hit Del Norte County. It brought about $900,000 to the community in January, one of the hardest months for local hotels and restaurants, Hesseltine noted.

Del Norte hotels made $512,449 from the Netflix hit, vendors netted about $200,000 and the filmmakers spent about $80,836 in permit and location fees, she said.

As for last year’s Forest Moon Festival, though the film commission only had four months to put it together and two months to publicize it, more than 6,500 people attended events in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Hesseltine noted that the dollars film tourism has brought to Humboldt and Del Norte counties from Star Wars enthusiasts has likely surpassed the revenue the production itself generated 41 years ago.

“It’s harder for us to track that, but we’re hoping that doing something like the Forest Moon Festival — which you’ll see that app we’re going to be launching — will help us track it a little better,” she said.

The commission’s new Redwood Coast Film Experience app will include an upgraded Map of the Movies as well as a festival schedule and map of events. It also advertises the commission’s museum. Hesseltine said it will help her organization have a better idea of where people are coming from and how they can go about increasing those tourist numbers.

Cindy Vosburg, executive director with the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said that while some of the local hotels were booking rooms in advance of last year’s festival, it was difficult to determine whether the festival was the actual draw.

A tournament was also held in Del Norte County the same weekend as last year’s Forest Moon Festival, Vosburg said.

“It’s really difficult to gather that information with any accuracy because we don’t have a lodging alliance here that’s reporting it,” she told the Wild Rivers Outpost. “We did see a boost. We know the park was full and we stayed open additional hours to accommodate people and we had good numbers here in the visitor center. And it was its first year.”

The Visitor Bureau will partner with the film commission again for this year’s festival, Vosburg said. One event that aims to promote all of Del Norte County is a scavenger hunt that with character cutouts that will take people to businesses in Hiouchi, Smith River, Klamath and Crescent City, she said.

As for funding the Visitor Bureau allocates to the Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission, Vosburg said that varies depending on what her organization’s goals for the year are. Last year, the visitors bureau contributed $13,000 to the film commission due to the festival, she said. This year the visitors bureau gave $10,000.
Vosburg said Del Norte County allocates $115,000 annually to the chamber and visitors bureau with $94,340 going to the visitors bureau and $22,000 to help the chamber run its visitors center.

“An event like the Forest Moon Festival — Visit California tells us that events are one of the biggest draws you can have in a region,” Vosburg said. “It’s important we support it even if it’s not our direct event. If we get those events going it helps bring more people to the region, so we know for a fact the Forest Moon event is a powerful and important event.”

According to Hesseltine, Humboldt County allocates 5 percent of its transient occupancy tax revenue plus an additional $20,000 to the Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission. That’s about $225,000, she said.

The film commission is also funded through the Eureka, Arcata and Fortuna chambers of commerce, as well as the Humboldt Lodging Alliance, Hesseltine said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short noted that his colleague, Supervisor Valerie Starkey, had worked hard to promote Florence Keller Park as a potential venue. However, since the event proved likely too big for the park to handle it was relocated to Beachfront Park and Crescent City took the lead.

However, Short said he’s guessing Del Norte County saw an increase in TOT revenue due to that event.

“There are things we have no way of measuring [such as] how businesses were affected. I’m sure it was positively because of the number of tourists that came to town,” he said. “What I’m trying to get at is this may be the opportunity for the county to get involved and show our support for this and garner that increase in TOT [to] also help our businesses out for this one festival.”

Short and his colleagues agreed to consider a direct contribution to the film commission when it deliberates on the county’s 2024-25 budget in June.


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