Movie News & Reviews

Can Sacramento lay the groundwork for more feature film success after ‘Lady Bird’?

Here's the movie trailer for 'Traffik' by Sacramento filmmaker Deon Taylor

“Traffik," directed by Sacramento filmmaker Deon Taylor, is set to be released April 27 by Lionsgate. The film, set in the Sacramento region, stars Paula Patton and Omar Epps.
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“Traffik," directed by Sacramento filmmaker Deon Taylor, is set to be released April 27 by Lionsgate. The film, set in the Sacramento region, stars Paula Patton and Omar Epps.

After “Lady Bird” received five Academy Award nominations this week, Sacramento leaders and local filmmakers are looking to build off the success of a film by homegrown director Greta Gerwig that celebrates the capital city.

The Sacramento region already has two filmmakers with major film credits who regularly shoot their movies here – Deon Taylor and Howard Burd. Both local residents are trying to buck the normal model of moving to Los Angeles to succeed, believing that Sacramento already has the necessary ingredients.

In the region’s favor: a wide variety of landscapes, from gritty urban locations and the state Capitol to rural farmland and mountainous terrain. The region is cheaper than other parts of California – from permits to hotel rooms – and it is only an hour nonstop flight away from Los Angeles.

“This place is location rich,” said David Bunge, who runs his own grip company, providing lighting and equipment such as cranes and dollies for professional film crews and television commercials. He pointed out that Southern California traffic is so challenging that it makes it impossible to move from one film location to another during the day.

Taylor, who made Sacramento his home after playing basketball professionally overseas, has put Sacramento’s scenic sweep to use in “Traffik,” his new movie set for national release by Lionsgate on April 27. The film, starring Paula Patton, features scenes shot in Sacramento and El Dorado counties. Taylor’s 2016 release “Meet the Blacks,” starting Mike Epps, was also shot in El Dorado County.

Taylor spends a lot of time making deals in Los Angeles, but relishes the pace of Sacramento and flies home most nights. He said he’s planning to host star-studded red carpet releases in Sacramento for each of his next three films.

“I’d like to be the Spike Lee of Sacramento,” he said.

Burd said he wants to produce Hollywood-viable films at a fraction of the Los Angeles cost. On a low budget, things like free or nearly free lodging and free meals for the crew can make a difference. His recent films have included stars like Kim Basinger, John Travolta and Jennifer Aniston.

“I’m trying to make worldwide theatrical releases that are filmed with Sacramento people,” Burd said. Sacramento television personality Mark S. Allen is a writer and producer on “Apparition.” Aaron Leong, a recent graduate of the Sacramento campus of the Art Institute, is the director on “Notorious Nick.”

Sacramento casting director Sally Forcier is also bullish on the local film scene. On Thursday, more then a dozen players in the local film community gathered in her new Hurley Way office to hear the latest. She wants to use that office and a collaboration with Rink Studios on Del Paso Boulevard as a film incubator.

The goal should be to attract outside productions that would blend in Sacramento talent and crew members while fostering an environment where Sacramento producers can add outside talent and crew to make nationally viable films, said Laurie Lytle Pederson, one of the founding members of the Capital Film Arts Alliance.

Rick Gott, a drama and film instructor at Natomas Charter School’s performing and fine arts academy, said Sacramento has work to do if it wants outside production companies to hire Sacramento crew members and actors. Local actors need to hone their craft, behind-the-scenes crew members need to produce Hollywood-level work and the community needs create a better directory of assets, Gott said.

“I know there are enough people here that can play at that level,” said Gott, who also produces the “Dark Pool” web series. Locals should continue to step up their game so that if, or when, Gerwig shoots the sequel to “Lady Bird,” she’s comfortable adding Sacramento crew members to the production team, Gott said.

Martin Anaya, who runs the Sacramento International Film Festival, said local filmmakers should focus on emerging technologies and modes of distribution that will dominate the future, such as YouTube and other digital players.

“Hollywood as the 20th century construct is dead. We need to understand that,” Anaya said.

Meanwhile, the city will “try to leverage” “Lady Bird” by more aggressively pushing Sacramento as a destination for outside filmmakers, said Visit Sacramento chief executive Mike Testa, whose organization oversees the city’s part-time film commissioner, Lucy Steffens. He said city officials will more attend more film conferences and visit film studios in hopes of bringing more productions to Sacramento.

But Testa was cautious about raising expectations.

“The issue is largely incentives,” he said.

When it comes to film, there is Los Angeles and everywhere else, he noted. Sacramento competes with places such as Louisiana and Canada that have generous tax incentives, reducing the cost of shooting there.

Testa said Visit Sacramento won’t radically change its approach toward bringing filmmakers to Sacramento, noting film shoots produce only a tiny share of the city’s hotel room nights, compared to conventions and other events. Visit Sacramento’s primary funding source comes from filling Sacramento hotels.

Even “Lady Bird” was only partially shot in Sacramento. The exteriors were in the city, while interior scenes were shot in Los Angeles. Gerwig unsuccessfully sought a state film incentive during a fiercely competitive round of tax credit awards, she told The Bee in 2016 before she shot her film.

“There is only so much we can do until there is a larger financial incentive from the city, county and state,” Testa said. “It is a huge opportunity and not one we’re going to let go by, but there is a ceiling.”

In addition to “Lady Bird” being used to help lure additional film work here, it will also be part of a broad marketing campaign for the city, Steffens said.

“Lady Bird” will be the face of Sacramento as the city goes to trade shows across the globe with a poster and “I Love Lady Bird” buttons. Visit Sacramento is assisting a local company in setting up a “Lady Bird” walking tour.

The film will be used in pitches to outside journalists. The commission is even working with a company in the U.K. to set up a screening at a London travel trade show.

Pederson suggested the city needs to devote more money toward a full-time film commissioner with a broader mission, possibly working across the region to recruit filmmakers.

To the east, El Dorado County Film Commissioner Kathleen Dodge said she will use “Lady Bird” to help bring other productions to the region.

“I will say, ‘Sacramento, where they shot ‘Lady Bird,’” Dodge said. “That will be my new tag line.”

The critically-acclaimed movie "Lady Bird" gives Sacramento lots of recognizable screen time.

Family, friends and fans lined up outside Tower Theatre in Sacramento on Sunday night (October 30, 2017) for the local premiere of Sacramento-native Greta Gerwig’s autobiographical film “Lady Bird.” She spoke to the audience before and after the f

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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