A film commission is a specialist business unit mandated by government to contribute to competitive, sustainable, local economic development by promoting and supporting film and video production and other film-related activities in their respective jurisdictions. There are some 320 registered film commissions and film offices from more than 40 countries on every continent.
There is no typical home for a Film Commission; they are set up by cities, counties, states / provinces or federal governments, and are generally operated and funded by various agencies of government, such as the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, chambers of commerce, convention and visitors’ bureaus, tourism offices and business and economic development departments. Although I like the concept of a Film Commission as an Economic Development vehicle, my advice is to place it where there are allies and champions who are prepared to support and fund its work. There’s also no typical institutional structure; Film Commissions can be private-non-profits, Private Public Partnerships, government line departments or divisions of Economic Development Agencies of Cultural Offices.
The common thread lies in what Film Commission do; without exception they are formally mandated to represent their jurisdictions on all film related matters. Essentially that means attracting films and television programmes to be shot in the location, ensuring that the production goes off smoothly, and making sure that the local community and workforce also benefits. They therefore act as liaison between local governments and communities with production entities by educating, setting standards of professionalism, and serving as a clearinghouse for production information.
In order to deliver on their mandates, most Film Commissions undertake a standard set of functions including:
- To act as official adviser to government on the policy, legislation and regulations necessary for the promotion of the film, television and related multi-media industries.
- To act as official intermediary on behalf of government with the film sector, and vice versa.
- To market and promote their region as a cost-effective, quality location for local and international productions using a variety of tools
- To compile a database of locally-available crew, talent, services, facilities and equipment in the region, and promote their use to international and local filmmakers;
- To advise film makers on any other aspects of production including, but not limited to, municipal by-laws, traffic ordinances, environmental legislation and employment legislation and practices;
- To support learning and training opportunities to build skills in the sector;
- To conduct and coordinate research into all areas of film, television and multimedia productions locally and internationally, and to be informed on best practices within Film Sector development and management.
- To collate reports and statistics to complement the work and to draft reports where required; and
- (where necessary) To raise money for the programs and projects of the organization.
However, as a starting point, the primary responsibility of any Film Commission is thus to attract film and video production to an area in order to accrue locally-realized benefits from hiring local crews and talent, renting local equipment, using hotel rooms, rental cars, catering services, or any number of goods and services supplied on location. In other words, Film Offices attract Film & TV productions to their locations, and then ensure that the location capitalizes on that production activity by coordinating and making available local labor and services.
In the past, the work of film commissions largely revolved around promoting locations. However, in response to the growth of on-location filming, the services provided by film commissions have expanded dramatically. For producers of film, episodic television and commercials, Film Commissions today provide a gamut of free services, from scouting locations within their area, to trouble-shooting with local officials, and helping cut through red tape. Some also provide economic incentives, such as tax credits, cash rebates or simple hotel discounts. Others offer a variety of essential free services like research for screenwriters or liaison work with local government agencies. More recently too, more progressive Film Commissions around the world have begun developing an even broader scope for their activities – not merely addressing Hollywood, but by becoming the hub and thrust of ALL film related activity within a jurisdiction. The role of this new generation of Offices often includes encouraging the development and distribution of local productions, increasing audiences for film product particularly via film festivals, encouraging the study of film and the acquisition of film related skills, supporting a climate of entrepreneurship.
Film Commissions are not “the industry”, nor are they usually an elected body that’s representative of the industry. However, there is nevertheless a clear requirement for Film Commissions to take on the role of industry “champion” within their jurisdictions, and to argue the industry’s positions and concerns to the powers-that-be. Similarly, the Commission frequently has to take care of the community and its rights, and has to argue the government’s case to filmmakers. Both requirements demand a comprehensive approach to communication, co-ordination and collaboration.