Beyond the government organizations, the production companies, and the workforce, there are a variety of other community stakeholders that a film commission office must work with. These may include anything from a chamber of commerce to the mom and pop shop on the corner. Regardless of size, they are important stakeholders in the process.
There are so many types of community stakeholders that we have broken them down into categories.
In order for film production to be successful in your area, you need the buy-in of your residents. They often have a great deal to say about continued production activity in their neighborhood and if they are unhappy, their elected officials will hear about it and look to disallow certain types or production altogether. Also, residents are terrific assets. The more help you get and the production gets from the residents, the happier and more successful a project will be.
Residents want to be informed, first and foremost. Effective communication with neighborhood residents and/or business owners can be the difference between success and failure. People get upset when they do not know what is going on. Productions often forget that actual life continues on while the movie is being made. The basic needs of the citizens have to be taken into account by the production:
• If streets are blocked, what is the detour route? Is it clearly marked?
• If parking is restricted, where is alternate parking?
• If there will be a major noise factor (playback, etc.) –how long is it going to continue?
• If night shooting is involved, what precautions are being taken not to keep the residents awake all night? Are those closest being offered a hotel for the night?
• If prop guns with blanks are being used (which are extremely loud and sound very real), the residents need a heads up so that they will not be frightened and think that an actual gunfight is taking place.
• Is there a proper presence of police, fire, other security to keep both the crew and the neighborhood (and drivers) safe?
• If there are purchases to be made for the production and shopkeepers in the vicinity offer these items, will the production consider purchasing from them – offsetting inconvenience with a positive economic boost?
• If traffic is being held – for how long?
A notification of film activity to each home and business affected by a shoot has become an industry standard.
This includes anyone and everyone in your jurisdiction that considers film their profession or that has film productions as major clients for their business.
The film community is YOUR community. It is in part for their benefit that you do your job every day. While you do not work directly for the film community, you have their best interests at heart. As the old adage goes: you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. But we tend to try, nonetheless. While rules may be different from one film commission to another, favoring an individual or business over another can run the gamut from “frowned upon” to illegal.
Just as the citizens’ buy-in is important, the business community’s is equally important. Business leaders have a tremendous amount of influence in any community and their cooperation is not only needed and necessary, it signals overall that the community is in support of local production. And on the flip side, if the business community is unhappy, the elected officials will most certainly hear about it and again, it may sway their support overall.
The business community, at the very least, needs to feel that film activity is not hampering their business. When businesses actually gain from a production’s presence, whether it be by an increase in sales, a location fee or general positive exposure that is when there is a true win-win situation. Helping them understand what these things may be is up to you.
It is very common for a film to be shooting on a street filled with shops and when parking is taken up by movie trucks, and/or business entrances are blocked by the production’s activities, there is going to be trouble unless this is addressed. There are some typical ways for a movie company to deal with this, including:
Minimizing the impact to stores that are not in the scene itself (the latter typically receive a fee)
• Parking trucks that are non-essential in a “base camp” off the street.
• Paying a reasonable amount to compensate for business interruption (this can be difficult)*
• Doing something for the “community-at-large” – something that benefits everyone such as contributing to a “beautification” project, paying for a much-needed swing set in the park, donating to the town’s library, or other priority projects for the town.
Communication is vital. Just as with the residents, knowing what is going to take place on a shoot will help to quash a great deal of anxiety. Production personnel (locations department or others) often go from shop to shop to explain what they are going to do. Other times, when the activity is minimal, a flier given to each shop affecting, explaining the upcoming activity including a contact name and number of the film personnel may be sufficient. In the case of a massive or lengthy film shoot, it is quite common for a town meeting event to take place.
Key Businesses: Real Estate & Lodging
Realtors are a special type of community connection as they can be enormously helpful in two ways: 1) to find locations – homes, offices, warehouses, etc. and 2) to find high-end homes for stars, director, producers to live in during production. In many areas, there are realtor associations. Reaching out to that organization can be very helpful.
Finding “film friendly” hotels or other forms of lodging is critical to the film commission office. Productions are unique visitors and the more hoteliers are aware of their needs, the more likely they are to increase business.
For example: a production may have 100 people to put up for a month. They are going to want to get a deep discount on the room rate due to the volume and the length of the stay. If a hotel expects rack rates in this scenario, it is likely that the production will look for an alternate hotel.
Hoteliers are also an important part of the business community and to local tourism and their support is helpful in many ways.
As film production spreads out around the world more than it ever has in our history, many communities have become savvy about what to expect but also what their cooperation may be “worth.” This can lead to residents or businesses using their position as a way to extort the production company. Extortion is not a word to use lightly. And there can be a very fine line between being compensated fairly for inconvenience and extortion – and it often comes down to differing points of view. But this is an area where the film commission may be asked to step in. Be very careful in this situation. There usually are two sides to every story and you can listen to both sides, so both sides feel that they have been “heard.” But do not be put in the position of “negotiating” on either side’s behalf. When money is involved, you will most likely have to leave that to the two parties to work it out.
If your jurisdiction has colleges or universities that offer film courses, it is a good idea to reach out to them as their students could conceivably become the future workforce for your region. There may be situations where film students can shadow or have a mentor or become a production assistant. These are all experiences that can help with a student’s career. Plus it is a sign of goodwill with the community. That being said, never make a promise for or force a production company to work with the local students.
The press can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. On the positive side, the press can let the entire community (or if it’s a national or international show or publication, the entire country or globe) know what a great job your office is doing. If controversy or a negative story arises it will also travel widely but perhaps even more rapidly.
The press always wants access. Access to stars, access to sets, access to insider info. Most of what they want is outside of your purview. It is up to the production company or studio to give them access. You are simply the messenger. This is one of the most difficult situations a film commission has to deal with: you want to keep the press friendly to your office and the industry, but you cannot break your word and the project’s confidentiality.
When news is leaked to the press prematurely, it can literally ruin your chances of landing a specific project but at the least may permanently damage your relationship with the production company. And THIS kind of news travels the fastest of all. If one company loses faith and trust in your office, every production company will know. You will want to make sure that everyone that you work with understands the need for confidentiality whether this is the staff in your office, the person you report to, or the governance structure that you are responsible to. While it may not be you that directly were responsible for the leak, anyone associated with your office will be a problem.
If you are fortunate enough to have a communications person in your organization, they can be the buffer between you and the press. Sending all press to them will help a great deal as they can discern what the reporter wants and whether or not it is safe to have your speak with them. They are on deadline, all the time. So finding a way to respond in a timely manner, even if it’s your communication’s person saying “we don’t have any information at this time, ” may keep the relationship friendly. If you don’t respond, you will likely see “film commissioner unavailable for comment” which can be perceived as a negative.