Change is a constant. When working in an office that directly interacts with both government and this creative industry, change is inevitable, sometimes on a daily basis. For the film industry, the only constant IS change. A government, on the other hand, is often entrenched in processes that are seemingly set in stone. Film Commissioners that are most effective are those that deal with change well both on a personal level and as a manager. The first step is to know the key areas of change for your office. Here are a few key change areas that many film commission offices encounter regularly.
Film Commissioners who work within a government structure are often “appointed” by the highest ranking official – whether that be a Mayor, Prime Minister, Governor – as opposed to being a civil servant which has a certain degree of stability. As a result, a film commissioner may become – wittingly or unwittingly – connected with that political leader and his/her administration. Therefore, when there are political party shifts, film commissioners are at risk of being replaced. In a more general sense, the general public thinks that a film commissioner has a plum job – getting to rub elbows with the stars, going to parties, as if it is all champagne and limos. We all know that this is not the case but rather, it is all about problem-solving, promotion of the jurisdiction, and economics. Hardly the sexy job people imagine. But, perception is powerful and at times a political person will want their spouse, relative or friend to hold the film commissioner title regardless of the fact that he or she has no experience at all.
A not-for-profit has a degree of separation from the immediate politics within a government agency; however, it does not exempt them from some of these same issues. When you work for a not-for-profit you lose your ability to voice a personal opinion. It may be seen as unethical or a conflict of interest to sign a petition or attend a public protest even if it’s for the best of causes. It’s very hard to separate yourself from the not-for-profit organization you work for. The organization may lose its funding, or not be accepted for grant applications all because you voiced a personal opinion on a public issue.
What can you do to be successful with these changes? You can do the best possible job; treat everyone, regardless of politics, equally and fairly; make it known how hard you work and the type of work you actually do; be indispensable! Try to build relationships with people from all political parties (even those not currently in power). If you stay in your role for a while, the tide will change. There is no magic bullet but being cognizant of the position you hold empowers you.
This is the same or similar to a political party shift, but if the same political party gets into office from one administration to the next, you have a better chance of keeping your job or retaining funding, depending on your structure. The key is to be aware of who might be next in line. How you handle that is unique to your given situation. It is all about building relationships. Sometimes the only solution is to keep your head down and wait for the next change or find ways to make them look good through your hard work.
Whether in a government based or not-for-profit-based entity, funding can change rapidly and without much warning. It important that offices are prepared to deal with decreases as well as increases in funding.
This is very tricky but every film commissioner will be better armed if he/she is aware of the components that make up the office in order for the film office to survive. Make a list of all of the components in your office:
• Office space/expenses
Next, what programs could you cut? Or could you simply cut out your advertising budget? Is your office space too expensive? Could you move into government space that is free? And worst comes to worst – what can you accomplish with two people instead of four? Could you hire a contractor for specific tasks and on a part-time basis rather than taking on another employee? Every film office will have different answers to this. You have to prioritize and keep prioritizing.
What if your production level quadrupled but your funding did not? How would you quickly manage this sea change? Are there ways for the film community to help support these projects? Could they raise money? And you need to be prepared to know what you will need in terms of personnel, space, programs and marketing to deal with this new level of activity?
Not-for-profit entities also have some additional funding possibilities to think about. First, they can work to create multi-year contracts with funders that only require a review each year. This allows for some stability and a lesser possibility of having to deal with substantial changes in funding. They can also look for additional sources of funding through grants for things like professional development or technology.
For a not-for-profit entity, your board should be your strongest supporters. Keep your board well informed on all of your activity, establish an element of trust so you can tell them everything and seek their advice on tricky issues. In general, people sit on a board because they want to give back, and want you (the commission) to succeed. In some cases there may be politics at play, if so, learn what you can about who’s who on the board, and get board members to address issues that are inhibiting you at a board level. If a board changes, be in a position to demonstrate your value and competence to the new members, form a relationship with each board member.
Boards also have the ability to shield not-for-profits from some of the issues that government entities face on a regular basis. For instance, a community member or a production company may call the Governor or director of a government entity and complain about an issue that really has nothing to do with the film commission office, but is related to something that the office has worked on. If the person complaining has enough political sway it is entirely possible for the film commissioner to lose their position based on these complaints. However, if the Film Commissioner in a not-for-profit entity has a strong board with a good understanding of the roles of the commissioner and potential pitfalls, they are more likely to roll with the small issues.