BIG BLUE on the BIG SCREEN | SierraSun.com

BIG BLUE on the BIG SCREEN

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Amy Edgett/Sun photo illustrationFrom its natural beauty to seriously moneyed mansions, the Tahoe Basin is a made-for-the-movies location.

The last thing Fredo Corleone saw was Lake Tahoe’s famous clear water. But for the millions of “Godfather II” fans, the lasting impression ” other than Fredo, Al Pacino’s celluloid brother, getting rubbed out ” is Tahoe’s striking screen presence.

From its natural beauty to seriously moneyed mansions, the Tahoe Basin is a made-for-the-movies location, said Beverly Lewis of the Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office. Despite the brevity of some Tahoe film and TV commercial scenes, the exposure promotes the area to countless viewers.

The 2007 Sean Penn film “Into The Wild” features a shot of actor Emile Hirsch trekking in Tahoe’s mountains. The shot was taken from a helicopter. The camera focuses on Hirsch hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, and then it rises up and pans out to reveal Lake Tahoe.

In “City of Angels” Meg Ryan pedals her bike near Fallen Leaf Lake with her arms opening wide to Tahoe’s blue sky.

And Michael Keaton’s snowman comes to life in Truckee and North Tahoe in 1998’s “Jack Frost.”

And in the seminal Tahoe film “Godfather II,” released in 1974, the wooden boats and classic estates of Fleur du Lac are prominent players.

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“The fact that [film crews] want to come here really says something about our destination,” said Pettit Gilwee, who promotes Lake Tahoe through her public relations business.

But Hollywood flicks, commercials and photo shoots don’t just promote the area to the outside world ” they also stimulate the economy.

During the fiscal year of 2006-07, productions and film crews generated an estimated $1.26 million for Placer County, Lewis said. The figure is based off a standard formula that looks at the average expenditures a production company spends while on location.

From lodging to retail, food and supplies ” film crews pump a significant amount of money into the Tahoe Basin economy, Lewis said.

“So we’re here to ensure that if they need to spend their money, we get them in touch with the local community,” she said.

The Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office, a one-person show headed up by Lewis, was created to promote the county’s diverse and stunning terrain to Hollywood.

With more than 55 film commissions statewide and more than 400 in the world, Lewis is, in a sense, Lake Tahoe’s agent and must compete to feature the region in the spotlight. Every year Lewis attends several tradeshows, both international and domestic. And she goes after production companies who have shown interest in the area.

“There’s a whole slew of things that we do,” Lewis said.

But the strongest marketing tool is the area itself, she said. Location photography is key to attracting scouts to Tahoe.

“The locations are just exquisite,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s snow-capped vistas or beautiful lakeside settings or pine trees.”

For the most part, the region attracts mostly commercials, especially car commercials seeking out rugged and winding roads, Lewis said.

Of the 21 filming permits Lewis has coordinated countywide so far this fiscal year, 14 are located in the Tahoe area. And they are mostly commercials, she said.

The film office is funded mostly by the county’s general fund. But the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association contributes nearly $35,000 annually ” a third of the film office budget.

The resort association sees its contribution as a way to leverage the economy, said Director of Tourism Andy Chapman.

“Any time you bring a large film production, or down to a photo shoot, it creates an economic impact,” Chapman said.