How Does a Film Commission Work with Clients?

Film Commission clients include:

Major and mini-studios
 Independent filmmakers
 Production companies
 Commercial production companies
 Advertising agencies
 TV Networks, Cable Networks, Public Access stations,       Government Networks (different for each country – know your broadcasting structure)
 Interactive Game companies
 FX companies
 Animation studios
 New Media companies
 The general public in your jurisdiction
 Local crew and businesses

What do clients expect from a film commission? What can you do to make the very best impression on behalf of your jurisdiction? How can you give them what they want, while also helping them to find what they really need? This section will explore some of the best ways to turn clients into customers.

One way a Film Commission helps their clients is to read the screenplay (if possible) or review storyboards and provide the filmmakers with substantial photography for potential locations that would work for the scripted scenes from the screenplay. Your Film Commission needs an extensive online digital location library, to provide filmmakers online access and for efficiency of compiling a selection of photos from an Internet photo sharing site, accessible from any computer.

If the Film Commission can offer the resource of sending out a location photographer (at no expense to the filmmaker) to shoot specific locations for them, it is in the best interest of the Commission to do so.

As a film commissioner, when speaking with the filmmakers, the more information you have about their needs, the more informed of a response you can provide. Think like the director, and then consider the locations in your community. Does the location have 21st century technology in the shot that would have to be eliminated by visual effects, or can the shot be achieved without capturing the technology in frame, helping the production save money? Is there a deep, experienced crew base in the community that will keep the filmmakers from having to spend more money by bringing in crew from out-of-town? Is the location owned by the municipality and as such, can be provided free? Do the local vendors have the necessary equipment limiting the need for filmmakers to transport costly equipment into the region? It’s these kinds of questions a film commissioner must think about before presenting location photos, promoting the region and aggressively pursuing filmmakers to film in their community.

Studio executives are looking for ways to produce quality films at a relatively low cost. The deeper and more experienced your crew base, the greater the argument for filming in your community. The more readily available soundstages and warehouses are for filmmakers to use, the more likely they are to consider your community as a crew base. Remember that to a studio executive, a location may look like what the director wants, but it may not make the best sense financially. Help the filmmakers, and yourself, by fully understanding the financial limitations your community places on a filmmaker, and actively find solutions to this issue.

Know Your Abilities

While all film commissions are required to provide the same essential services, there is a great deal of latitude in the level of service your commission will be able to provide.

Be very clear about what your commission can provide and communicate that to those visiting your area. If you are uncertain about whether a competitor commission is offering the services that your client is telling you about, simply get in touch with the commissioner from the area in question. One of the most valuable assets about being a member of the AFCI is the ability to know who your fellow commissioners are, and to feel comfortable in asking for advice from time to time.

Communicating with Clients

One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of a film commissioner’s work is personal interaction with those interested in filming in your area. The personal relationships you develop during the initial phases of working with a potential production have far-reaching consequences. The personal relationships you develop are a marketing tool for your jurisdiction, even if they don’t film there. Those who feel they were well served by your office will be more inclined to contact you again, and to pass your name on to other colleagues.

Identify the Right Locations

Once you have someone interested in filming, you will need to act as quickly as possible. The first thing you need to do is to determine what kinds of locations the client is looking for and you must be honest about whether you have what they need.

If you don’t have the right location photography on hand you may need to go out and search for the perfect locations. In all cases, it’s important to determine exactly when the photos are needed. You must be honest with the client about when you can deliver pictures — and then be sure to meet your commitment. At this point in production, your client is often on a short deadline and needs to know exactly when to expect your information.

You can create preliminary electronic location packages that can be used to showcase the kinds of locations that are acceptable.
One of the most valuable things you can obtain is a location breakdown, which is a list of required locations along with information about how they will be used and what they may need to look like. It is very helpful if you can get a copy of the script, photos of locations that are similar to what is called for or a list of locations, although these are sometimes closely guarded and cannot be released. It would also be wise to ask the client what other locations are being considered for the production.

You should be aware that you may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement (sometimes called a ‘non-disclosure agreement’ or NDA) with a production company, promising that you will not divulge information about a particular screenplay. You may want to check with a lawyer to determine whether you are able to sign agreements such as these. Find out sooner rather than after you need it.

Here are some of the details you will be looking for in the script and asking your production contact about:

• What does the location need to look like? What is the size of the location? Is it a small town or large city; smaller house or large estate; executive office or cubicle? What is the town’s population?
• What is the time period of the film?
• Are the characters poor, middle class or wealthy?
• What is the genre? Is it a comedy, drama, adventure, satire, thriller?
• What is the mood of the film? Is it dark, fanciful, comedic, satiric?
• Does anything special or dangerous happen at the location?
• Are there any unique details needed? For example, does the house need a porch or a garage?
• Is the location isolated or part of a community?
• Will you need both the interiors and exteriors?
• Will you need complete access to the location, and if so for how long?
• Will the owners need to vacate the property during pre-production and filming?
• What type or style of architecture is envisioned?
• Are any particular kind of building materials required: brick, stone, stucco or wood?
• What time of year will shooting take place? Are green leaves and/or grass required? What about fall colors or snow?

It’s important for you to get a good visual picture of the location in your mind without allowing this picture to limit your imagination. It’s also important to get some basic information about the production which is often more difficult than it would seem, since many producers prefer to keep the details confidential.

Some information you should try to find out:

• What is the working title?
• What type of project is it? Feature film, television film, documentary, independent feature, student film.
• When will it be made? The majority of projects that are ready to be made will be coming to your attention only a few months (or even weeks) before they start into pre-production.
• Who’s working on it? Try to get the name of the producer, director, designer, line producer, location manager, and/or studio executive involved. If it’s a large feature, who’s starring in it?
• When are they planning to scout?
• Does the project require availability of local crew? If it is a small budget project, there probably won’t be enough money to take a crew to a remote location. Therefore, you will want to look at locations that are within 30-45 minutes of your main crew base. If it’s a small project such as a commercial or documentary, or if there is enough money to pay for housing, you can look farther away.
• Is it fully financed? Does it have a distributor yet?
• Does it have a green light? (A green light indicates that the company providing the financing has given approval for work on the project to begin.)

Many of the calls you get will be from people who are in the preliminary stages of projects that may never get made and it’s important for you to make a determination about which are ready to shoot and which are in the early stages of development. Although you need to treat each project as important, you probably have limited time and resources and you will need to put your greatest efforts toward projects that have a good chance of being made in the near future.

In the case of commercials, find out if the company calling you has gotten the contract to make the ad, or is bidding on the job. Often you will get calls from several companies who are preparing bids on the same project, and you can spend an inordinate amount of time assisting many different companies who won’t be getting the contract.

Is the Project Legitimate?

At times, you will find yourself wondering if the person or production company that is approaching you is legitimate. If you have any doubts at all, it’s a good idea to check on them. One good way is to determine what projects they have worked in the past and call the film commissioner from that area to ask about them.

There are also subscription computer programs such as Studio System, or internet sites such as the Internet Movie Database ( – standard is free, IMDBpro is more detailed and has a moderate fee) that list the credits of people and companies working in the industry and lists projects in development or pre-production. Publications such as Hollywood Reporter and Variety also list films that are in development or pre-production along with some of the staff members.

Many small budget, local or independent productions are perfectly acceptable productions. The industry is changing and film commissions are seeing a much larger percentage of independent filmmakers whose projects do not appear in any printed or online list. As film commissioners, we need to offer assistance to all kinds of productions, large and small. Just be observant of how each different group behaves and conducts business in your area and trust your intuition – your ‘gut’ feeling.

If you’re at all suspicious and you really need to research them, don’t hesitate to ask for help from AFCI members. One of the most effective ways that film commissioners work together is by sharing this kind of information with each other, so don’t be afraid to make a call!