Part One: Alliances, Partnerships and Personal Relationships

There are many elements to film commission work. In a typical day you might be working with government services to get a road closed or secure a public building. You might talk to a client, conduct a location tour, interact with the media, calm down a nervous producer, or help to inform a neighborhood about filming plans.

A common denominator between all these different aspects of your work is a connection with other people. In order to be successful, you need to develop good working relationships with a wide variety of people including government representatives, community leaders, location owners, vendors, crewmembers, actors, journalists and many others.

In addition to identifying people within your jurisdiction who you can count on to support your efforts, it’s equally important to maintain good working relationships with industry people, including directors, designers, location managers, production staff, and others

Because personal relationships are critical to our work as film commissioners, this section of Film Commission Professional will concentrate the ways in which commissioners can manage and utilize crucial relationships to our best advantage.
The following section is a revised writing by Stephanie Two Eagles, a long time AFCI member and former Board member (now retired).

Alliances & Partnerships

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation.” – Margaret Wheatley


Film offices are incredibly diverse worldwide – their authority, their mandates and their restrictions vary greatly. However, they all operate within this universal reality: relationships drive one’s success or failure. Whatever differing conditions commissions operate under, there are basic truths that guide the outcome of personal and professional interactions, and these truths, though sometimes influenced by culture, are governed primarily by fundamental human motivations.

Film commissions operate within a network of allies and partners that include numerous entities. Who you know and what you can get them to agree to – this is the essence of a film commissioner’s job. The ability to work successfully within a framework to manage effective business, community, media, and governmental relationships while interacting with production entities and the local workforce is essential for fostering a film-friendly environment. The success of the alliances formed could impact a film program’s very existence when political priorities shift.

How do you establish credibility, meet the right people, and motivate someone to form a successful partnership, whether you’re asking them to fund your operation or to film in their backyard? In this section, you’ll be introduced to some basic principles that govern relationships. You’ll also learn how other film commissioners establish and benefit from these contacts.

Provided by film office directors from around the world, they will offer practical knowledge from experienced, successful colleagues about real partnerships that have worked. The film commission is positioned at the very center of the film universe – and you can be the key connector; it’s a powerful position.

Placed strategically right between a slow-paced bureaucracy and a film industry moving at warp speed – there stands the film commissioner furiously attempting to perform miracles, big and small, that will insure everybody’s happiness at the end of the day. The following practical advice will help you enlist the support needed to successfully handle the juggling act that is the job of every film commissioner around the world.

The Basics

“The greatest change in corporate culture – and the way business is being conducted –may be the accelerated growth of relationships based…on partnership.” – Peter F. Drucker

Partnerships include everything from nurturing a corporate donor through on-going sponsorship to forging an informal alliance with an admired mentor. You will learn the importance as well as the mechanics of forming alliances with those individuals, companies, agencies and organizations that can help you accomplish your overall mission.

First, you must establish your own credibility and protect your good reputation. Then, you will need to understand that every relationship must be mutually beneficial in order to succeed. It must be clear what both you and your partner will gain from an alliance.

Every relationship you have is significant because any person you know has the potential to open doors for your film commission. Put yourself in a position to meet the “right” people at meetings, conferences, parties, and other events. You must evaluate and nurture those individuals you need on your side. Consciously decide who you want to know and learn from and do business with; then meet and spend time with those people.

While there are the strategic alliances you’ve planned for and researched and cultivated – it’s important to embrace unexpected alliances. Always be open to those serendipitous surprises: the person you meet at a birthday party, waiting for coffee at a café or unrelated, non-business functions. The lesson here is to take good care of all your existing relationships, and every day in every way, be ready for the next.


“To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible.”
– Edward R. Murrow

First and foremost, always act professionally. Here are some essential professional guidelines:

• Call when you say you’re going to call.
• Do what you say you’re going to do.
• Be generous; give others the opportunity to save face.
• Take good care of your staff and colleagues.
• Be gracious.
• Thank everybody (more about this later).

Your film commission needs to look professional. Just as you dress for success; your office needs to appear polished as well. If you have the funds, invest in the look of your film commission. When you show that you’re proud of your program, others are more likely to climb on board.

Even if there’s no budget for it, you can still produce a strong brand for your program.

One way to overcome a budget handicap is to find a local advertising agency willing to work pro bono, at least to get you started. When I was working with the Colorado Film Office, I was contacted by a top local ad agency. The timing happened to be perfect: our film commission budget had been slashed after a stable, generous allocation for more than 30 years. Every year, this agency selected one nonprofit organization and donated their services. I wanted to know what was in it for them – and they had a very good answer. They were very strategic about whom they selected, with two simple rules: (1) it had to be a “fun” client, an organization with cachet. They wanted to offer their resident geniuses the opportunity to let loose creatively in order to showcase their extraordinary talent and imagination; and (2) they wanted to win awards. They noticed that ads for various film commissions were getting national recognition year after year, and the film industry fit the bill for fun.

Before committing to a mutually beneficial arrangement, I carefully evaluated the agency. Although I was familiar with some of their work, I looked at their portfolio and phoned a couple of their clients; I was delighted with what I saw and heard. No matter how desperate you are, always check the credibility of others.

The agency developed a simple, elegant, updated logo for us, volunteered extra time to help with the look of our new website (funded through grants and donations) – and the agency did indeed produce award-winning print ads and a direct mail campaign for our film commission. This was some of the most successful marketing our office had ever undertaken, and certainly the most cost effective. And the partnership resulted in long-term business relationships for several of those involved.

Don’t wait for someone to call; find a way to look good. Apply for grants. If there’s a prestigious art school in your area, talk to them. Just keep your standards high and make sure you get what you’re looking for. If you’re lucky enough to have the funds, don’t skimp on your look; it’s an important way to establish your credibility and attract partners – and business.  And once your credibility is established, do everything in your power to insure that you protect your good reputation.

Two more ways to establish and maintain credibility are to have good data and keep informed. Make sure you stay knowledgeable about your industry locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Track local production; make a habit of reading industry trades and online resources to search out other facts and figures that can keep you up-to-date and help you make your case.

Synergy and Reciprocity

“It is probably not love that makes the world go around, but rather those mutually supportive alliances through which partners recognize their dependence on each other for the achievement of shared and private goals.” – Fred Allen

Personal Relationships

• First and foremost, each new relationship has to be mutually beneficial. The dictionary defines synergy as “the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.” And reciprocity is simply “a mutual exchange.” Maybe your sponsor just wants an introduction to a certain government official, or to visit a film set, or to feel part of an exciting economic development program in your community. It may be that simple, but it is possible their needs may be far more complicated. As you embark on any new partnership, be sure you understand exactly what your partner hopes to gain from it, and clearly outline your needs, as well.
• When you help others, they are often motivated to help you. As more than one expert will tell you, it’s a constant game of give and take, but one at which you don’t need to keep score.
• Understand the art of negotiation. Almost every situation – or partnership – you engage in will require some bargaining to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. In his popular book The Psychology of Persuasion, social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini illustrates how compromise is a powerful force in human relations. There are many good books on negotiation and influence, including a large body of scientific evidence explaining how, when, and why people say “yes.” It is well worth the effort to research the processes that cause humans to agree, change, and act.
• One note of caution: When it comes to financial partnerships, be very certain you know what you want and need to do. Remember that financial stakeholders each have a right to a voice, a vote, and often the reality is that you will be governing (or governed) by committee. This can make life a little trickier for you, slower, more time-consuming, and even contentious. But if all partners have a clear understanding of the agreed upon roles and rules, a financial partnership can help move your program into new arenas that wouldn’t otherwise be open to you. Just go forward with your eyes open.

Follow Up

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” – William James

It is a fundamental human need to have one’s contributions recognized. Albert Schweitzer said, “To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Train yourself never to put off the…expression of gratitude.”

If you want your partnerships, your alliances, your friendships, or any of your relationships to work for long, you have to let your partners know you appreciate their contributions. Follow up with an e-mail, a phone call, a handwritten note (which always gets noticed) – whatever is appropriate for the situation, even if it’s just a quick message to thank someone for taking time to have a cup of coffee with you. This strategy is key – and it is not negotiable.

When you follow up, it helps others who don’t know you well to remember who you are. The sooner you reply after meeting a new contact you want to cultivate, the more likely they’ll be to remember you later. This can be a brief phone call or note or e-mail. Don’t forget that you are laying groundwork in many of your relationships that will pay off later, and in ways you may not conceive of now. And for those you do know, a thank you clearly conveys the message to your partner, mentor, colleague, friend that you appreciate their contribution of time, funds, an introduction, input for your new marketing plan, or whatever the case may be.

Recently a friend told me the story of landing his first job out of college. John was a Stanford University grad and took a great deal of pride in his work in medicine as a physician’s assistant. He applied for a prestigious internship at a hospital, along with three other eager young grads. John got the job, and 20+ years later, he’s still performing his good work at that same hospital. Years after the internship, he asked his mentors why they had chosen him that summer, thinking he’d hear about his superior education or his great interview or impressive standards. He was told that all four applicants had fairly equal backgrounds and recommendations; ultimately, the doctor in charge said, “Call the kid who sent us the thank you note. He’s the kind of person we want here.” And obviously, it turned out to be the kind of place John wanted to spend his career.