Santa Barbara's New Incentive Program Targets Unscripted TV Shows

Courtesy of Santa Barbara County Film Commissioner

The program is expected to pump $500,000 into the local economy annually from hotel rates, permit fees and local law enforcement costs.

Santa Barbara County expects to pump at least $500,000 a year into the local economy with its recently expanded movie and TV incentive program, placing a special emphasis on attracting reality shows.

“We are targeting unscripted television shows which we consider to be ‘on brand,' ” said Geoff Alexander, the Santa Barbara County film commissioner, “that is, driven by themes of romance, culinary, and outdoor and aspirational lifestyle.”

The program has $50,000 in annual funding from two tourist organizations, Visit Santa Barbara and Visit Santa Ynez Valley. Each have committed $25,000 for at least the first year of the program.

The program provides cash rebates for eligible productions that book a minimum number of hotel room nights in specified areas of the county while they are in production locally. To qualify, photo shoots and unscripted TV must each commit to 50 room nights, while a scripted TV show or commercial shoot needs to commit to at least 100 room nights. A feature film must commit to at least 200 total room nights.

“We are projecting that this incentive will result in approximately 2,000 room nights booked in Santa Barbara County [in one year] with a spend of somewhere in the range of $500,000 in direct spending being pumped right back into the economy,” said Alexander.

The program will also rebate local permit fees and police or CHP sheriff cost billed to the production, Alexander said. The maximum rebate is $2,500 per production.

“We had to create a minimum criteria that would justify the expense for our local communities here,” he added, “and really determined that most productions are going to come in and are going to book a minimum number around that depending on what type of production it is.”  

In the infancy of the California movie industry, Santa Barbara was a popular filming location and in 2010 celebrated its 100th year of filmmaking. In recent years, movies that have used Santa Barbara locations include Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End, There Will Be Blood and It’s Complicated.

Alexander says that the county is already in talks with a few productions.

“We’re in waiting to go ahead and lock down our first customer here, but we have some folks that are circling that I think are going to land shortly,” he said.

The county program is independent of the state program, but Alexander said it supports the state’s annual subsidies and, in fact, are working with others to expand the amount the state spends each year.

“We absolutely support it. We need to be competitive with other states, and not only would we like to see a major expansion of the amount of money that’s available, but we also need to see an additional incentive for out-of-zone production,” he said. “We need to see people getting a higher incentive rate when they shoot outside of Los Angeles County that will distribute this benefit throughout the state.”

For now, Alexander hopes that Santa Barbara County can be a role model for other parts of California: “We are definitely hoping to start a trend of increased incentives throughout the jurisdictions and the state, which we believe will support the statewide program.”

Incentive zones include Santa Barbara County’s South Coast, which consists of Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Santa Barbara and Goleta, and the Santa Ynez Valley communities of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang.