Groups work to bring films to Tahoe |

Groups work to bring films to Tahoe

Megan Michelson
Tribune News Service Posters of movies filmed in and around Lake Tahoe are displayed at the North Lake Tahoe Historical Museum.

TAHOE CITY – Lake Tahoe, known for its natural beauty, has long been a popular backdrop for films ranging from high-budget Hollywood productions to low-budget independent films.

Dating back to 1914, more than 120 films have been shot in Tahoe, including “The Godfather Part II,” “The Bodyguard,” and “City of Angels.”

In recent years, however, the number of films shot here and in California in general has decreased due to a trend called runaway production, where Canada and other foreign countries lure Hollywood filmmakers to their locations with tax incentives and rebate programs. As film crews seek cheaper shooting locations abroad, organizations like the Nevada Film Office and the Placer County/Lake Tahoe Film Office are working to bring feature and independent films back.

Robin Holabird, deputy director of the Nevada Film Office, said because Tahoe offers similar landscapes to places in British Columbia – lakes, mountains and rivers – many crews choose the less expensive option.

It used to be the Tahoe area was a more cost-efficient place to shoot than Hollywood or other locations, said Beverly Lewis, director of the Placer County/Lake Tahoe Film Office, which operates under the county Economic Development Office. But now this is often not the case. “These incentive programs have been very successful in Canada, so other U.S. states and other countries have jumped on the bandwagon.

“California, however, offers nothing like this.” In addition to Canada, countries such as New Zealand, Australia, the Czech Republic and South Africa offer financial incentives for filmmakers.

According to a 2001 U.S. Department of Commerce report, runaway productions have cost the United States economy upwards of $10 billion annually. These losses affect not only the entertainment industry, but also local businesses catering to visiting crews.

“Here filmmakers have to pay union costs and high wages. It’s much cheaper for them to leave the country. Business is business. It’s called show business for a reason,” said Lewis.

Holabird said Tahoe and Reno experienced a peak in film productions around 1995. But now, most local filming is smaller projects, advertisements and television movies. “We’re not seeing a big $120 million production here for three months,” she said.

Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to offer a similar tax incentive for domestic film productions to those currently provided outside the country. Holabird said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an active proponent of this legislation. “The bill is moving,” she added, “but not very quickly. It’s not dead, just crawling,” she said.

Despite the downward trend, local film offices provide convenient and free services for visiting movie crews. “We’re here to find the location, the local resources, and the crew people. But often it’s being creative with what you have that helps get the production,” said Lewis. Local film offices offer free filming permits that require little paperwork.

Lewis also claimed that despite setbacks, the Tahoe area still attracts a relatively high number of film crews. The promise of great scenery and diverse landscapes keeps them coming back.

“I think that first off, the beauty of Tahoe can’t be compared. The look of this area is unique – that’s what’s appealing,” Lewis said.

“The Deep End” (2001) was the most recent feature film to be shot entirely at Lake Tahoe. The filmmakers of the low-budget, independent film liked the look of Tahoe, but considered shooting in Canada to save money, according to Lewis. Due to complications with crews and weather, they eventually returned to Tahoe. “They just couldn’t reproduce the look of Tahoe. If they had to pay a little more money to shoot here, they were willing to make that choice,” explained Lewis.

The film “True Lies” (1994) with Arnold Schwarzenegger was shot in part on Donner Pass, a substitute for the Austrian Alps. The Kevin Costner film “Dragonfly” (2002) shows images of Tahoe area forests purported to be Venezuela. And “Gentle Ben” (2002), a TV movie on Animal Planet, was set in Alaska but filmed here.

Overall, business is still show business as usual, Holabird says. “We have fought well against runaway productions. Some communities have dried up, but we are still going strong.”

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