Although there are many definitions of mediation the one we will focus on here is “Facilitating Negotiations.” As a film commissioner, you will frequently find yourself in settings where you have to be the center point of communication between two parties. This might be between a government entity and a production company, it might be between a community partner and the production company, it might be between a private citizen or business and the production company, or it might be between your film community and your governing body. In any case, these are essential skills you will need in order to deal with a wide variety of situations.

You will often use mediation outside of a formal mediation setting where there are rules and timeframes and everyone agrees to the goal, which is why it is important to get comfortable with the skills and using them in real time. Many times you will not have the luxury of a set future appointment with time to prepare. You will need to address situations as they arise.

While being able to successfully negotiate between and among different parties allows for a smoother more harmonious climate, it is also necessary in the overall scheme of things to promote efficiencies and effectiveness throughout a specific project and day to day activities.

A prime example may be a discussion over budget. You are faced with requesting more funds in an already tight budget year due to an unexpected opportunity. Your effectiveness as a negotiator can have a direct impact on the results of that request. Consider laying out the potential positive outcomes (being as quantifiable as possible) that a budget increase would afford. Such as: “if we pay $500 for a scout for this specific production, we could land a $10 million dollar movie. In turn, this could mean X number of jobs, X number of hotel rooms, etc.” Frame the discussion around the positives.

Having a Plan B (and C and D) is also advisable. For instance, you might look at a “trade” – offering to drop one activity (one that has not paid off for your office or is less of a priority) in exchange for funding the new opportunity. Ultimately, being willing to look at a variety of solutions is the difference between an ultimatum and a negotiation.

Think about the people and organizations you deal with over the course of a project. How often does one organization need something from another that may be outside the scope of the original request? Getting non-production people familiar with and accepting of the inherent, inevitable and constant changes ahead can be challenging but also key to a successful outcome.

Timing is another common area where mediating between parties is likely to be necessary. Production companies and government entities work at different paces. How do you help them, help each other? Along with timing go schedules; if the production crew needs to start by a certain date – in order finish by a certain date – what happens if they’re still waiting on a permit? What do you say? And just as importantly, how do you say it? If you are calm and collected, able to deal with the amorphous nature of production, it will help others around you find their comfort level. If you begin by showing compassion for the stress the production’s needs/requests are causing, you may create trust that could lead towards a solution. From there, ask what obstacles this request poses. Is it financial? (would a certain amount of money solve this problem?) Is it a lack of workforce? (only one person is in that day) Or is it an issue of “that’s not how we’ve always done things?” A reluctance to be helpful is the most difficult, but like any problem, breaking it down into smaller pieces is a good starting point.

These are just a few examples of when you need mediation skills, there are many, many more.

Mediation Skills

There are a couple of things that will help you when going into mediation.
In the book by Christopher Moore, The Mediation Process, he has a list of desirable attributes for a mediator.

• Originality of ideas
• An appropriate sense of humor
• The ability to act unobtrusively in a conflict
• The ability to create the feeling of being ‘at one’ with the disputants and concerned with their well-being.
• A willingness to be a vigorous salesperson when necessary
• Control over his or her feelings
• Persistent and patient effort
• The ability to understand quickly the dynamics and complexities of a dispute
• Some specific knowledge of the field in which he or she is mediating

While Moore’s book is directed to the formal mediation process, every one of the attributes listed can be helpful when you’re working between the parties regardless if it’s one at a time or if you’re all in the same room.

The first characteristic to focus on is credibility; everyone involved needs to know you know what you’re talking about and can help them come up with the best resolution to the situation. They need to trust you.

Be knowledgeable about everyone’s processes and the exact situation that’s causing the friction. That doesn’t mean you have all the answers, it means you can guide them to the answers in part with your objective viewpoint and by asking the right questions. A good mediator asks many questions and listens carefully to the answers. If you are new to the film commission office or the industry in general, it will take some time through networking, study, and general experience to gain all of the industry knowledge you need to be credible. However, asking questions, taking an active interest in the information and showing a desire to learn can go a long way to building initial credibility.

The next thing, and probably the most important, is to have a good rapport with those involved. Without it, you’ll struggle to get them to work with you.

If you don’t know the parties find out what you can and what’s appropriate to the situation. Do you have any common interests or experiences? Be genuine and sincere in your communications.