Lesson Four – The Film Industry

The Film Industry is a Film Commission Office’s primary client. Whether it is a large production company looking to film a big name film in the area, or a small documentary company in your region, it is the responsibility of the film office to help them move their projects forward. Understanding the environment of a Production Company can help a Film Commissioner better prepare for building the relationship.


When it comes to actual film activity, whether it is small local commercial or a blockbuster summer movie, in the broadest of terms, the operational aspects are the same or similar the world over. This involves investment/funding, creative product/intellectual property, actual production/ post-production, and distribution platforms/ancillary markets.

There are, however, differences between the various types of film, television and media production. 

The major studios are all part of large corporations, some of which change ownership from time to time. The studio system is complex but in simplified terms:

A major studio may:

  • Own or develops a property (script, book, concept), fund and produce the product, and do the marketing and distribution.
  • Own or develops a property, fund the property, but farm-out or share responsibility with another film entity or entities through production and post, but then market and distribute.
  • Agree to the distribution of a film but the owners of the property raise their own money for development and production and maintain primary control of the product up to distribution (that doesn’t mean that there aren’t as many side deals and alternative agreements as there are movies.)
  • Hybrids of these arrangements are more and more common including more than one studio being involved with a large production, thus sharing the risk and the profit.

A television network/cable company may:

Have similar scenarios to those above, but networks have advertisers who are THEIR stakeholders. Cable companies have more freedom with content but also tend to have less funding for their various projects and types of projects.


Like government or any other stakeholder, production companies have specific needs that they need to have met. Being aware of these and how they interact with the needs of other stakeholders will be important.

  • Ability to make changes quickly. Time is money for film production companies and thus when there is a problem or changes need to be made, they frequently need to be made quickly in order to not throw things off schedule or cause problems with the budget.
  • Access to resources. Resources can mean “contact information” for public or private individuals or companies; a phone number of a local realtor that works closely with the industry and is keyed into homes, warehouses; a parks department chief who knows where all the best public forest locations are in the area. At the end of the day – being a resource for information means saving the production time and money.
  • Confidentiality. Film production in your area can be very exciting. It pulls in fans and visitors, famous talent may be involved and it may be tempting to tell everyone you know. However, production companies expect that you will keep their information confidential until they say it can be disseminated.
  • Certainty! They want to know that the information and decisions that they are given can be relied on. They don’t want to be told that they will be able to move forward with a scene or a project just to have a higher level of government come back and shut them down.
  • As much control of the environment in which they are filming, as possible. This may mean permission to hold traffic all the way to rerouting planes for sound reasons.


  • Production company decisions may start out being made fairly slowly. However, once locations are chosen and filming is underway, decisions are made very quickly and they will want the stakeholders they work with to make decisions quickly as well. As a film commissioner, it is part of your job to help those decisions move as quickly as possible. It is important that you do not become the bottleneck.
  • The Production company may make a decision, change it, change it back, change it, and change it back again, but still expect certainty and a timely response from the government.


  • Whether it is small indie or a huge studio movie, the standard in the industry is for a “production report” to be made on a daily basis – keeping investors apprised in great detail every single day. This is an internal process – not one that is commonly shared with the film commission.


A movie company at work may look chaotic, but it is “organized chaos.” Being on time is very strictly adhered to and a crew member can get fired for being late at any time. To follow suit and show respect, you should always be on time, or even a tad early, as well.

“Set etiquette” may have added cultural etiquette depending upon the part of the world one is shooting, but in general terms:

  • Never interrupt the director or actors when they are working, and in general, only speak when introduced via a second party.
  • Shut off all devices and anything that can create even the smallest noise when going on to a set.
  • Do not speak loudly – disruption is taken very seriously. These are people at work.
  • Do not overstay your welcome. Make your set visit relatively short which will aid in being asked back or to invite others.
  • If it is not clear, you cannot go wrong by addressing a director, producer, actor or actress by Mr. or Ms. and their last name. Generally speaking, you will be instructed to address them by their first names. (Make sure you know how to introduce your elected officials too!)

Communications :

NOTE: If your Film Commission office is under a larger Film Commission, it may not be appropriate for you to speak to the press without the larger entity’s involvement. And the same may be true in terms of connecting with Studio Executives. Be cognizant of your jurisdiction’s internal politics.
The chain-of-command for communication with and within a movie company is very specific and strict.

  • Who and when it is appropriate to contact production or studio executives varies greatly. If you have already been contacted by a Studio Executive in the early stages of a production, they will usually pass you along to the Line Producer (LP) and/or Unit Production Manager (UPM) once hard prep begins. From that point on, you will probably communicate at this level, as the Line Producer and UPM are the ones to handle the day to day issues of production. *
  • You will most likely be dealing with the Location Manager, Assistant Manager, and/or Location Scout throughout the movie. The entire Location Department should be fine for you to speak with at any time, once you’ve first connected. Establish that relationship and its communication as soon as possible. *
  • You should also ask the LP or UPM to connect you with the Unit Publicist as you may have press matters that you need to refer on to the Unit Publicist, as well as working with him/her on joint announcements and the like. *
  • Most importantly: do not speak out of turn with the press without conferring with the Unit Publicist. Depending on the request, the subject matter, or the severity of an issue – this may require doubling back with the LP, UPM and even the Studio Executive. *

*If you are a small film office under a larger governmental film commission/office, you may very well have no contact with the studio, the producers, UPM or publicist. Almost always, however, if filming is actually taking place in your jurisdiction, Location personnel will be in touch with you and you with them.

The Tension Points

Now that we better understand the two major players, let’s take a look at where the tension points lie in this relationship.


A production company or studio may need you to be available during unusual hours, and for some, 24/7, at least during production. If work for a government entity, it may be fairly uncommon for employees to work outside of the normal working hours. If you are a not for profit, this may not be as big of an issue for you, but still may be difficult if decisions need to be made with government stakeholders during non-working hours.

How to deal with it: Work with your government agency to move beyond the 9-5 mentality. For many government offices, “flex time” is a concept that is understood and embraced. If this means you need to work weekends or nights, your regular hours are cut back to accommodate. If this is not allowed and you are busy with production, you may want to seek funding to hire a film professional as a contractor who can cover you during crucial production periods.

If you are not for profit entity, find out if there is any way to contact government employees at night or over a weekend when they might be needed for a production issue. If not, try to work with production people to determine what might be needed in off hours and work to see what can be done ahead of time.

The speed of decisions:

As discussed, film productions need decisions to be made quickly, as well as to have the ability to make changes should illness, weather or other obstacles affect the shooting schedule.

How to deal with it – The more you prep the government agencies that have the most interactions with film production on the nature of the beast, the better off you will be. Rather than expecting a bureaucratic agency to come up with a solution – be creative, think outside of the box, and offer up unique solution.

Example: a production wants to film at a city building at night. The city does not have personnel that work at night. The production needs to hire a city employee to stay with them throughout the night in case of any problems or if they need access to specific areas. But City does not have a way to pay overtime to their employees. You might suggest several things: That the production put the employee on their own payroll for that night, at an overtime rate, and pay the person directly; that the City bill the production for this person’s overtime which is then cut as a separate check to the individual, once that money is in hand; or that the person does “flex hours” and works these hours in lieu of a normal shift (in this scenario, however, the employee would not make any extra money.)


Various local people (elected officials, founding fathers, other influential community leaders) may have expectations of hobnobbing with or at least meeting the stars.

How to deal with it: Try to layout a realistic picture for community leaders: that you will try, but that actors often need to stay “in character” and it is not feasible to do a meet-and-greet. The actors also work odd and long hours and inviting them to events rarely works out. Better to know this up front rather than disappoint people.

Be careful not to promise anything since you cannot control whether or not a meet-and-greet can actually take place. Also, try to limit the “favors” asked by these leaders of the production as expectations of a quid pro quo situation can easily develop.

That being said, in many cases, including this one, think in terms of an unspoken “trade.” If the production has a huge “ask” of the community and you are aware of the high interest of community leaders to make a set visit – consider using this as a trade from the get-go. This way, everyone wins.


Ironically, whereas a film production makes changes on a dime, the industry expects and demands “certainty” from the jurisdiction. This certainty comes in different forms:

Financial – if your jurisdiction has an incentive that the production is counting on and that incentive changes, this bad news will travel around the world in a heartbeat. Not only will the current production leave and probably never return, but they will be sure to get this word out to their colleagues worldwide.

This is an area where the industry is a round hole and government is a square box. Ironically, while bureaucratic procedures can be set in stone – but officials, funding, policies, laws, undergo constant change.

How to deal with this: There is no one good answer as this is a case by case situation. But in general, keep an ear to the ground for potential changes in policies, funding, and laws that would either favorably or adversely affect film production. This will probably require building relationships with lawmakers, monitoring legislative sessions and generally understanding the law making process. You cannot control all change just as you cannot control the weather, but if you build strong, trusting relationships with the industry and are honest with them about potential changes, that will go a long way.

Navigating the tension points can be a challenge, but many film commissioners have successfully navigated these waters. In the next series of videos, Jeanne Corcoran helps us better understand how these two pieces fit together.