Marin Netflix series shoot brings economic benefits

By Janis Mara
Marin IJ

Cameras are rolling in Marin as Netflix films its new series, “13 Reasons Why,” in San Rafael and Novato. And along with crowds of extras and a touch of glamour, the production is bringing economic benefits.

“It’s a very big positive impact,” said Joanne Webster, head of San Rafael’s Chamber of Commerce. “It’s heads in beds — a lot of hotel nights. It generates restaurant and retail sales. They have all these vehicles they use in the film, and sales tax on the gas goes to the city. It’s an influx of activity.”

Based on a best-selling young-adult novel about teenage bullying, the 13-episode series is directed by Tom McCarthy, who captured a best picture Academy Award this year for “Spotlight.” It is co-produced by Disney star Selena Gomez and backed by Paramount Television.

Shooting in San Rafael will continue for several months, with shoots also taking place in North Bay locations including Novato, Sebastopol and Vallejo.

“The last I heard, it’s about 11,000 hotel room nights in San Rafael between now and November,” said Deborah Albre, creative services director and film liaison at the Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Netflix got a special rate of $140 a night. Because they had so many people, they negotiated the price down,” Albre said. She offered a ballpark estimate that the city of San Rafael would receive about $130,000 in hotel tax revenue — about 10 percent of the hotel bill.

“I was there on Monday and the Royal Ground coffeehouse on Fourth Street was jam-packed with extras who were there for a shoot, and I’m sure other storefronts were affected,” Albre said. While the cast is served refreshments while on the set, this is not the case with extras, she said.

“(Director) Tom McCarthy was there on a truck with a crane rolling down Fourth Street. That was fun to watch,” Albre said.

“They are trying to keep it (shooting) mainly in Marin, with San Rafael as the center location,” Albre said.

The creative services director said the producers chose Marin because “they wanted a little bit more of a suburban environment that was close enough to a major airport such as San Francisco with an existing film community. I think they did location scouting in various places and decided that the North Bay was a good choice.”

SIX-MONTH PROJECT

Tom Adams, San Rafael’s economic development director, said officials have been told the production is likely to continue for about six months. Production crews are staying at the Four Points by Sheraton in San Rafael and the Courtyard Marriott in Larkspur Landing, he said.

“There is a little bit of branding benefit if the show is successful, just as there is with larger film productions such as ‘The Hobbit,’” Adams said.

“There is tourism associated with that. We don’t expect anything like that, but there is an intangible benefit with having the community associated with a film production,” the economic development director said.

Chris Stewart, Novato’s economic development manager, predicted that Marin’s attractions will sell themselves.

“The best advertising we have are the views and vistas of Marin County, whether the oceans or the mountains,” Stewart said. “My wife and I were up on Mount Tamalpais the other day and we were just absolutely stunned at the view. When people see shows filmed in certain areas, many of them say, ‘Ah! I want to go there. I never knew it existed.’”

The economic development manager added, “I think a lot of these movies and shows that are coming out on Netflix are great to promote the economic vitality of communities.”

FILMING SEQUELS

Robert Eyler, chief economist of the Marin Economic Forum, said Marin cities could use the Netflix filming as an opportunity to attract other film shoots.

“As the entertainment world slowly migrates northbound to San Francisco from Los Angeles, the city of San Rafael could say, ‘Hey, guys, we are a potential destination,’” Eyler said.

Eyler pointed out that “Blue Jasmine,” a 2013 Woody Allen movie featuring Cate Blanchett, was partially filmed in Sausalito and Tiburon.

“It harkens back to the days when Industrial Light & Magic was in San Rafael,” Eyler said. “The movie business is not new to San Rafael. It’s a good signal that there is a possibility of it repeating itself.”

Albre noted, “If the city could streamline its permit process, that would be great.”

San Rafael Economic Development Director Adams was noncommittal about the idea.

“We’re feeling our way on it at this point,” Adams said. “We’re seeing how the current production goes and we’ll be reviewing how permitting might work in the future. We’re not ruling out changes but at present keeping an eye on things.”

Adams said, “Larger productions such as this one are something we’re just kind of monitoring as we work with them over time.”