While a film commission works with many different stakeholders, the two most important groups include the government entities you represent and the production companies you are working with. Film commissioners will often have to strike a balance between these two groups in order to move projects forward regardless of whether you work for a government based or private not-for-profit entity. Let’s examine the operational environments of each of these entities.
What do we mean when we talk about the environment of government as it relates to the work of a film commission office? Government has many different levels and many different groups that are relevant to the film commission office. These include:
• Agency where film commission office is housed.
• Government entity represented by a not-for-profit film office.
• Other agencies at the same level of government with whom the film commission office needs to work.
• Government offices at the municipal level all the way to the national/federal/sovereign nation level with which the film commission office interacts.
• Lawmakers at various governmental levels.
Most film commissions do not just deal with one level of government; they must interact with all of these levels in order to make the connections and find the services, solutions, or permissions that a production company needs. While each of these levels of government has differences and intricacies that need to be dealt with, in general, government entities have many similarities that drive their culture and the way that work gets done.
Many government entities share similar structural components that drive how they operate and how work gets done. It is important to understand what these components are in order to best work within these structures.
• Very hierarchical. Decisions and discussions may need to go up the chain in a very formal manner and people lower down the chain may not have enough authority to make the decisions you need.
• Leadership and direction are based on elections or appointments that may change regularly. Thus, building relationships is an ongoing process and it is important to make friends on all sides of the proverbial aisle.
• Laws, regulations, and policies drive decisions and focus and may make it difficult at times to move as quickly as preferred. Being aware of this and being prepared for it can help a great deal.
• Extensive paperwork is needed for most projects, programs or funding. Being familiar with the paperwork and who is in charge of it can make the process smoother and quicker.
• Government entities deal with mostly cyclical tasks that come up on a regular basis and are dealt with in standard ways rather than one-off, urgent requests (typical of production).
Government entities also have very specific needs that must be met.
• Accountability to the public. Accountability is the big buzz word right now in government in many areas of the world. The people want to know that their money is being spent appropriately. Assuring that you are helping the government entity understand and share your value helps them show accountability for your job.
• Balancing available funds to meet public needs. This means that funding may change based on the economy and based on public opinion. It is important to be prepared for funding to go up or go down. Either way, you need a plan.
• Communicating with the public. The more you are able to help the government show success and build relationships with their constituencies; the better off you will be in the long run. Share information with them that they can then share with the broader public.
In addition to understanding the structure and the needs of government, it is important to understand how decisions are made within the entity you are working with. While this may be different at different levels and in different regions of the world, there are some general decisions making concepts to be aware of.
• Many entities will require various sign-offs. In very few cases will just one person be able to sign off on a contract, a request, etc.
• Protocol dictates the ways and means.
• Decisions can take time – normal processes do not operate on the “crisis-level urgency” that is typical of a film production.
• The structure for decision making will vary from one country to another, one state/province to another but these are some typical levels of decision- making:
o Law – a lawmaking body must vote on and approve, and often also needs the signature of the executive branch. This process is very time-consuming and can take as long as a couple of years to accomplish, if ever.
o Regulation – not of the stature of a law, but more of an interpretation of a law or the rules and processes needed in order to follow a law. However, carries the weight of lawmakers’ power.
o Policy – can be from executive branch, regulatory branch or agen cy level. It reflects the meaning or purpose of the law, rule or regulation.
o Guidelines – may be adopting as operating principles, but carries the least weight.
Once you are working with a government entity, you will probably have some kind of reporting that you need to do so they can show their constituents that they are holding you accountable.
• There will probably be different reports for different entities and levels of government.
• Some entities may require multiple reports with very specific information. Having a basic document pulled together with many of your statistics and information all in one place can be helpful, but don’t ever assume that one report will be suitable for all. The statistics that you use may also not be appropriate for the questions that governments really need answered:
Example: Governments often want to know how many “Full Time Equivalent” (FTE) jobs a film or years’ worth of films have created. Crew jobs are generally free-lance in the sense that they go from movie to movie or commercial to commercial and are NOT what government would consider full time. However, a crew person could work 14 hours /day * 6 days a week for 6 months and make more than a typical FTE.
Possible Solution: many film commissions find a way to track “Worker Days,” a unit which represents one person working one day = 1 Worker Day. While the FTE and the Worker Day statistics are based on different systems, the latter will show growth from year to year which is ultimately the type of information that government needs in order to measure success, trends, cause and effect, and often future funding of the film commission office.
Rules are the fences that governments must operate within. If you are to be successful in helping navigate between government entities and the film industry, you need to be familiar with what the rules and how they may impact the work that you do.
• In governments rules are generally non-negotiable:
For instance, possibly the most difficult transition from the private sector to the public sector involves the manner in which funds are allocated and the processes involved with accessing those funds. Knowing the rules around funds can be very helpful. While not for profit film commission offices may have more flexibility, being aware of these types of rules when working with government partners will also be important.
o What can be paid for and accepted: for many government entities, accepting money, gifts, dinners, trips, or gifting of the same is illegal or at least a complex and stringent process for gaining approval. This can make things difficult when production companies are scouting and expect to be “wined and dined.” A film commissioner must strictly adhere to these rules and it can be a fireable or even legal offense.
o How funds are spent: for film commission offices that are under an economic development or tourism department, a line item may be allocated for film activity. This then becomes the film commission’s budget which is often broken down into categories such as salaries, operations (rent, telephones, copy machine, etc.) marketing (trade shows, events, advertising, giveaways, brochures, DVDs,) travel (in and out of the jurisdiction) and others. While in the private sector one can often move money from one category to another with ease, it is not unusual in government for these categories to be written in stone or at least involve a lengthy process.
o Budget cuts: whether in the public or private sector, budgets can always be cut, but in government, it is not unusual to have little or no say in where the cuts will be taken from.
o Protocols: It is imperative that a new film commissioner learns the protocols that dictate his/her office and its’ operations. This is going to be different from one jurisdiction to another.
o Etiquette: As is the case with protocols, these differ wildly, but knowing how to address leadership, colleagues, and co-workers is essential for success.
Communications amongst agencies
Finally understanding how communication happens within government can be very helpful in moving the process forward.
• Different agencies have different mandates and thus, you may not be their highest priority. While it may be a major priority for you and may bring millions of dollars into the area, agencies have to focus on their own mandates first.
• Building relationships is crucial. You will need to identify who the decision makers are and make efforts to build relationships with them. However, the decisions makers are generally very busy people and you may not always have access to them. Communicating your needs and getting decisions made can sometimes be easier if you have identified and built relationships with the gatekeepers. These might be lower level employees who have strong working relationships with the decision makers or it may be the administrative assistants. Spend some time figuring out the informal structure and building appropriate relationships.
• Information flows in different ways depending on structure and rules. Have a strong understanding of how the information flows at each level of government that you work with.