Building Your Incentive Program

Once you’ve decided the kind of incentive you want, and what you want it to achieve, it’s time to begin the process of actually building the program.

At risk of over-simplifying the process, building a film incentive is much like managing any other project; it requires a combination of facilitation skills, attention to detail, lobbying and communication.

Obviously, you need to know what you’re talking about. Film incentives are basically legalese to a whole bunch of folks who are not in the industry and are not therefore current with the terminology. And these are the very same folks you’ll need to be persuading to support your initiative. It’s important that you not only learn about what makes other incentive programs a success but also why others have failed.

Assemble Your Team
Your team is the most important element of pushing forward an incentive program. The idea is to get representatives from as many stakeholder groups as possible, essentially to cover all your bases, and to have direct connections with other stakeholders.

Your team should be made up of anyone who is willing, but ideally could include:
• Local economic development officials
• Key legislators (preferably representative of all political parties)
• Local filmmakers who can make use of the incentives to stimulate production
• Reps from local tourism bodies that stand to benefit from increased activities
• Individual crew members and industry participants
• Reps from your local filmmakers association
• Union representatives from the Teamsters, the Screen Actors Guild etc.
• Chambers of Commerce and small business organizations
• Educators
• Tax specialists
• Professional lobbyists in your area who might have represented film interests

Organizing a team early in the process maximizes their ownership and buy-in to the project, and maximizes what they can contribute. Given the passion the film industry engenders, you’ll find that most of these people are willing to volunteer time to the cause.

Evaluate the Status Quo / Design your Incentive
With your team in place (and therefore with a group of informed but different inputs and opinions at your disposal) begin evaluating the potential processes available to you locally for offering and/or updating incentive programs.

Determine what kinds of incentive programs are already available to mainstream businesses considering relocating to the area, and how readily these are adaptable to your use. Find out what the local government’s current position is on incentives, and find out whether are they generally supportive or generally opposed.

Identify key allies and key opponents – particularly in the legislature and the media. With your legislators, it really helps if this is seen as being bi-partisan, so try to identify people who have worked together successfully on previous bills.

If the legislature is opposed, what are the sticking points? Lack of available funds? Reluctance to use taxpayer money on something apparently so frivolous? Fear of lack of control? City-Countryside divides? Fear of pornographers?

You’ll now use your researched knowledge of the benefits of film incentives to build effective counter-arguments to the challenges you know you can expect.

You’ll begin to identify the kind of incentive you want, the kind of incentive that has the best chance of constituent support, and the most likelihood of being accepted by the legislators. It will be an incentive in which you have clearly outlined your objectives, and are equally clear about avoiding unintended consequences. In other words, you have developed an incentive

Project Spec
Once you’ve decided on the kind of incentive you are working towards, you’ll then need to create a term of reference on how you are going to move the project forward. This “project spec” is an accurate descriptor of what the project aims to achieve, and the criteria and flexibilities involved, its parameters, scope, range, outputs, sources, participants, budgets, and timescales.

A project specification is essential in that it creates a measurable accountability for anyone wishing at any time to assess how the project is going or its success upon completion. Project terms of reference also provide an essential discipline and framework to keep the project on track with the originally agreed aims and parameters. A properly formulated and agreed project specification also protects you from being held to account for issues that are outside the original scope of the project or beyond your control.

At the end of this process you have a draft manifesto, a document that describes your plan which can be adapted and amended depending on your audience, and that, in edited form, is distributable to stakeholders, media, government and other interested parties.

If in your jurisdiction you are going to be creating a “law,” you will need a sanctioned bill drafter (often a lawyer) to turn the concept into an actual piece of legislation. During this process, it is imperative to continually think of the “what ifs.” Meaning, for instance: what if a person came along who was trying to launder money through this program? Would there be a stopgap? What if you propose that 50% of a production must be filmed in your jurisdiction in order to qualify, but a huge tent pole movie comes along and only wants to shoot 20% of their film with you – and yet, that 20% would hire 400 locals and be in production locally for 6 months?! Considering the “what ifs” can save you from enormous problems down the line. Also, there will always be those in the film industry whose special skill is finding loopholes in your law/program. It is your job to try to think ahead and shore up potential loopholes. Start by carefully looking for language that is subject to interpretation or subjective or that would allow for something that is contrary to the intent of the law/program.

Plan the project
Once you know what you need to achieve, you begin planning how to achieve it, by determining the various stages of the project and the activities required to deliver each of those stages. A useful tip is to work backward from the end, identifying all the things that need to be done, in reverse order. And make sure your planning is INFORMED – there’s no point planning a timeframe if you haven’t identified the milestones (such as legislative sessions) set by the legislators. Brainstorming with the team, noting ideas and points at random, will help to gather most of the points and issues. Put the issues in the right order, and establish relationships and links between each issue. Complex projects will have a number of activities running in parallel. Some parts of the project will need other parts of the project to be completed before they can begin or progress. Remember, all goals should be SMART – that’s Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, and Timely.

Communicate and Lobby
Most of your expectations from your stakeholders revolve around lobbying the legislators. Your role is to notify your stakeholders WHO to lobby, WHEN to lobby them and WHAT to say when they do. Generally, it makes sense for people to target their letters advocating the film incentive to their own representatives; there’s nothing like the direct appeal to someone who is dependent on your vote.

A template for project specification:
• Purpose, aims, and deliverables?
• Parameters? (timescales, budgets, range, scope, territory, authority).
• People involved and the way the team will work? (frequency of meetings, decision-making process).
• ‘Break-points’ at which to review and check progress, and how progress and results will be measured?
• It’s also important to collate a lobbying team for the time when you need to present your arguments to the legislators. As a group, determine who best represents all sides of the argument, from labor to communities, to film sector reps to business. Create a presentation schedule that makes logical sense.