Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Sep 7, 2006 at 10:59 am Jay Thorwaldson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
FYI, and additional information, the Weekly reported on this June 28, and had an editorial the following week, as below. The City Council later approved the subsidy.
"Around Town" June 28:
READY, SET, PAY FEE! . . . Filmmaker Daniel Engelhardt, a Menlo-Atherton High School graduate, is working with other local high-school graduates on pre-production on his first feature film, titled "Palo Alto." But the production has run into a stumbling block, a City of Palo Alto fee for filming on public land. Monday night, Engelhardt, who's currently a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, came to the City Council and asked the city to waive the charge, saying it was important to have the film be shot on "authentic Palo Alto streets." Trouble is, the production is for-profit and the city rules only allow for lifting the fees for nonprofits. The council, though, has the final say and, after hearing Engelhardt's plea, voted to reconsider the fee for the filmmakers at a future meeting. The film will follow the story of four Palo Alto high school graduates who return to the city after their first year in college. Engelhardt, a producer on the film, described it as an update of "American Graffiti," George Lucas' classic tale of youth in southern California in the early 1960s.
Editorial: Is 'Palo Alto Graffiti' worth a city subsidy?
All right, chalk it up to "Destination Palo Alto" efforts to get more people to visit or stay longer in Palo Alto — perhaps just to get the name "Palo Alto" out there nationally as a household word so the curious might want to visit someday.
But the choice before the City Council is whether to waive normal fees for filmmaking on public lands and streets, as requested by Daniel Engelhardt, a Menlo-Atherton High School graduate who is planning to start filming in mid-July on a movie entitled "Palo Alto." The estimated fees range from $1,195 to $2,780 and include charges for encroachment on public property, a temporary use permit, street closures and a noise exception.
It will be a commercial film and has some corporate backing, according to Engelhardt. It will track four Palo Alto High School graduates who return home after their first year in college — a kind of update of the George Lucas' 1973 classic, "American Graffiti," in which two 1962-era high school grads spend a final night on the town before heading for college.
Sorry, but we find no justification for either the city subsidy or the City Council taking time to even discuss the matter. We wish the filmmakers lots of luck, but they don't deserve special treatment.
Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2006 at 1:20 pm
I missed that one. I agree with the Weekly's point-of-view. Why should we be taking time to make exceptions to already-established fees? In light of the Council's ultimate decision to waive the fees, one has to ask "what about next time?" What kind of a precedent does this set - and for a "for-profit" film funded by corporate investors, no less?
I wish the producers and young fimmakers well, but this "exception" to clearly written revenue rules wreaks of "connection" and "special treatment". What's going on here?
In addition to the general fees that were waived, there will probably other hidden charges that won't be accounted for - i.e. additional police time and other city support staff, to arrange for street closures. This doesn't include the real cost of inconvenience to local citizens who will have their normal routines interrupted - no matter how briefly - by the film shoot. There's a social cost involved in that. What's the total cost to the city? Was there a rendering of that at City Hall?
How does a local filmmaker get considered for a waiver like this without a commection at City Hall, or on the City Council? How did something like this even make it to the Council agenda? I would love to see a list of who the "corporate sponsors" are, and then have a further look at how many of those sponsors will contribute - or have contributed - to current and future Council member's political campaigns. I hope the Weekly tracks this possibiity.
Did the City Council or staff request a rider in the waiver contract that pays back a small percentage, say 1%, of the potential profits from the film, or even a fraction of that? Was a waiver contract even written? How about a rider that asks for return payment for the waived fees, should the film be profitable? How about something that gives Palo Alto percentage rights to licensed movie memorabilia, just in case the movie is a hit? What about other concessions that could have been built into the waiver that would have the filmmaker and his sponsors sahring some of the risk? What kind of payback are we going to get, other than any other movie 'extra' who says to her mother "look Ma I'm in the movies"?
To make the claim that this movie, all by itself, whether it's a hit or not, makes Palo Alto a more attractive destination is stretching a bit, to say the least. Dozens of films have the names of cities in their title, so what? We don't have a real movie production infrastructure here; the movie is topical. We're not San Francisco or Chicago or New York. Time to get a grip (pun intended).
This is bothersome because every taxpayer in Palo Alto is sharing in the financing of this film. What are we getting back for it besides a flimsy speculation that consumers will "notice" Palo Alto because of the film's hoped for success. How many of those people will come here?
The pun here is fully intended. City Council and staff certainly didn't have their act together when they ade this decision. If we're going to take tax dollars and share risk with private entrepreneurs, there shuold be some hard numbers written into waiver or other investment contracts. There shuold be payback clauses, etc. etc.
It's fine to take a chance on something, but let's be smart on getting something substantial back for our risk. This is supposed to be one of the great entrepreneurial capitals on earth; our City Council city staff need - to quuote a well known TV cooking show host "take it up a notch", and look for more than just starry-eyed promotional opportunities that profit everyone else but us.
Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2006 at 6:46 pm
Enoch, can you post the content of that link? My company is not 'supported' by Facebook's lame requirements - and even if it WAS supported by Facebook, I would hardly use a site (Facebook) that has essentially just spammed its entire membership with unwanted information about their social networking friends.
That the details of this film project, including investors is "protected" by less-than-open access in a social networking site is insulting to local taxpayers, who have now been chosen to be unwitting investors (with no guaranteed return, or even promise of return if the movie is a success). Why should I - or any other Palo Altan - have to jump through hoops to get this information?
If my representatives invested Palo Altan's my tax money to support a _privately held_ film project, I, as an investor should have seamless, open access to that project. Where on earth is the simple transparency that we should have on this thing?
The more I hear and see about this, the more bizarre it becomes.
Can anyone out there tell me what the "meat" is on this project, without having to jump through hoops?
Boy, if there was ever a good, dormant story about poorly-thought-out giveaways in government, this is it.
Poor investment, poor precedent, and poor transparency! Editors at the Weekly, I hope you're on this one!
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Sep 7, 2006 at 8:29 pm Jay Thorwaldson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I think we've already said our piece on this.
It's not a huge amount of funds to begin with, and perhaps when the film is a smash hit and the filmakers are all rich they will remember fondly Palo Alto's generosity when they needed it.
They might then establish a huge endowment fund for video-production education at the Midpeninsula Community Media Center and local high schools and community colleges, with maybe some funds left over for Stanford's Department of Communications.
Well .... why not? Stranger things have happened in town.
Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2006 at 11:30 pm
How very full of hubris, anon. Looks like you're connected to this project. How about some details re: your investors? C'mon! Fess up! After all, you got our money?
It's not moot for investors (taxpayers) who were unwittingly included in contributing their tax dollars to a well-connected group's request for a free ride. $5000+ that could have gone to pay for part of a public service employee's wages, etc. was sacrificed for a group that has private corporate investors involved.
Who are the other investors in this project? Why isn't that public information? It's not the money, really; it's the PRINCIPLE. What about PRINCIPLE? Why aren't the details of this film, including the names of its investors PUBLIC, as a PUBLIC investment was made? (an investment made without thinking, without asking for anything in return, how pathetically gratuitous!)
A small, but conveniently gratuitous giveaway to someone who is connected was slipped through City Hall, made it to Council agenda, and was then approved by policy makers. And this happened in record time! Especially when comparing it to more important things around here that take YEARS. I guess when the right people want something done, the molasses gets real lwarm, real fast around here, no?
And please don't regale us with the possibility that this film will be a big hit - it probably won't. Pipe dreams are made of more solid stuff than most indy films. Who are we kidding, anyway? TEN's of thousands of independent films are made every year; what are the odds?
Please! The whole thing is fluff, and wreaks of 'special favors' for someone's 'pals'.
I tried again to get into Facebook's lame site to get the information that Enoch Choi pointed to; I can't.
What a chronically goofy company Facebook is! If one doesn't have a work, college, or high school affiliation that is hooked into Facebook's 'exclusive' social network, one simply can't get in. So, the only people who can find the details of this plan are those that are "connected" to Facebook in a way that permits entry into Facebook's lame 'exclusive' site. This is a company that deserves to go down, and probably will.
They're already in trouble for releasing too much information about members to other members! Imagine, spamming the members of an exclusive social networking club with private information about other memners. Talk about an inbred business model. There must be too much VC money sitting vacant for something like Facebook to get funded.
Perhaps I'll let some of the young adults who are interested in filmmaking at Paly, or a recent graduate from Gunn who's attending USC's film school, know that they can request waivers from Palo Alto for making a film here.
This joke of a decision is why people who ordinarily trust government start to get turned off, or ticked off. I mentioned this sad precedent to four people this afternoon - most quite moderate individuals, and they were not happy.
This probably won't happen again, but that's OK for the connected group that was able to use their connected influence to "get things done". Sad.
Posted by joan, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2006 at 1:57 pm
just, i agree, come to think of it, they must have been connected in high places for the Chron to do such a long piece. it just doesn't happen that a small budget indie gets that kind of attention even before it gets to distribution - just who is involved with this film, anyway? there are many indie films shot in the bay area, and yet this one warrants a multi-column spread in a major metropolitan daily like the san francisco chronicle? i would love to know who the private investors, and investor's 'friends' are, and who do they know in city hall and on the council to get this thing pushed through so fast...there's an aroma about this whole thing that's not too fragrant