“If you do not seek out allies and helpers, then you will be isolated and weak.” – Sun Tzu
And what is the best way to acquire allies? Entrepreneur and consultant Keith Ferrazzi explains, “The only way to get people to do anything is to recognize their importance and thereby make them feel important.” He offers the following basic reminders when establishing new relationships:
• Be bold.
• Be willing to ask questions.
• Be willing to share.
• Be passionate; we all know how attractive and contagious passion is!
• Be interesting. Say something meaningful; don’t just make conversation.
• Be sincere. The surest way to become special in the eyes of another is to make them feel special.
• Differentiate yourself and your program. You work in an industry perceived as being fun, interesting, sexy, and attractive; use that to help you open doors.
And once you have these allies in place, part of your job is to keep them informed and educated about your program and the industry.
Several actual case studies are presented in this section; they illustrate the value of good partnerships. Film commissioners from around the world have shared these examples of alliances that proved successful. Remember that other film commissioners are some of your best mentors.
Local Business and Community Relations
Your Production Community
Needless to say, these are important advocates. Spend time nurturing support from your local producers, equipment houses, actors, and others. Maximize opportunities for locals when production comes to town. It is especially important to have strong positive relationships with union and guild leaders in your jurisdiction.
Obvious businesses are food, lodging, auto and equipment rentals. But production impacts so many other business: grocers, lumberyards, hardware stores, clothing (new and used), art stores, junk shops, parking garages, dry cleaners to name a few. Don’t forget about all the purchases crew and cast make while on location: jewelry, art, clothes, food, childcare, gifts of all kinds. On a day off, the local tourism attraction or a relaxing massage will be popular with cast and crew. It’s always a valuable exercise to make a list of all the various types of local businesses utilized by one film that shot in your area – and share that with your potential partners. Business owners outside of the industry, but ones who benefit from filming (airlines, restaurants, etc.), can be especially credible voices when talking to legislators. These are also important partners when you need to bring a filmmaker to your area to show off your extraordinary locations and local resources.
Your community needs to know you – and to trust that you are also serving as an advocate for them as well as the production company. The Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), based in New York City, authored two documents worth noting: The Commercial Filmmakers’ Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Commercial Filmmakers’ Code of Conduct for Filming on Public Lands. These are excellent agreements outlining the production company’s obligations to respect a neighborhood or public use area during filming. You might want to draft something similar for your area, so that each production company understands your expectations when they film in your jurisdiction.
Organizations and Associations
You can find some real gems here when it comes to partnerships – including your local film and video association, marketing organizations, film festivals, business groups, and others who have missions complementary to your own. Don’t forget other trade associations such as those serving hotels, restaurants, and the like. Service organizations outside the realm of the entertainment industry (like Toastmasters, Rotary, and Lions International with clubs all over the world) are also great groups to speak to in order to educate others about the positive economic benefits of the film industry – and to expand your base of support. You’ll be doing them a favor as well, as they are always looking for interesting topics and speakers. And remember, you never know whom you might meet at these gatherings….
Form alliances with high schools, colleges, universities, art schools, and other educational institutions in your region – even elementary schools. Technology democratizes media and is available to almost everyone. Partnerships with those in education can be some of your strongest alliances and regional advocates, especially if you have a burdgening local indigenous production community. Your role may be as the connector to spark other projects that move your local industry forward or more hands on, depending on your jurisdiction.
Members of the media are important allies but remember:
• Learn who the important members of the media are before you reach out to them.
• Be sure you have all the facts before speaking to any member of the media.
• Be very careful with confidential information. You must protect your clients.
• Don’t expect your media contacts to be advocates in print on your behalf. They may help you to promote your local industry, if it provides a good story.
• Send out press/news releases.
News Release Guidelines
• Be sure your subject is newsworthy and will advance your objectives. The more unique your story, the better.
• Create a headline that will catch the media’s attention. Use smaller sub-headings to include secondary information.
• The first paragraph should summarize your message and what you want to say. Always include a date line; one standard format is as follows: Paris, France (14 February 2017).
• Include information by level of importance with the most important information always provided first. Your final paragraph could easily get cut due to space considerations.
• Write in the present tense and use action verbs.
• Write clearly and concisely.
• Answer all the logical questions the release is likely to raise (who, what, when, why, where and how).
• Include a quote from the commissioner, a producer, or spokesperson.
• Include statistics and attribute the announcement to an official source whenever possible.
• Keep the length of the release to one page if possible, but never longer than two pages.
• Be sure to include contact information (name, phone number, e-mail).
• Include company boilerplate at the end of the release. This is a standard paragraph about your film commission.
• Always check information for accuracy and spelling!
• Ensure you have individual’s names listed correctly – avoid nicknames and check for spelling.
• Make certain your contact / spokesperson is available upon distribution of the release.
• Distribute the release only after you have obtained all necessary approvals.
• Post the release on your website, if applicable.
• Email the release to relevant online publications or Websites.
• Share it on Facebook, Twitter, your blog or e-newsletter
• Industry publications like Creative Handbook have a press release section on their website.
Governmental Relations: National-Regional-Local
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation.”- Robert H. Schuller
You need to have good relationships with as many governmental and agencies in your area as possible, including law enforcement, highways, economic development, chamber of commerce, and many others. These are the folks who can shut a production down – or grant permission, make exceptions to the rules, advocate for the economic impact of your program, help attract production, introduce you to other important people, get incentives passed, and provide funding. Nurture mutual trust with these contacts, take good care of them and work with them regularly to develop film-friendly policies and incentives.
Not only is it essential to know the right person to ask for help, but to have a positive relationship with that individual prior to the crisis arising is the difference between success and failure.
Your relationships with all governmental agencies are vital to your operations on a nearly daily basis, but one worth highlighting is tourism.
The Tourism Connection
Develop strong ties to your tourism agency if not already in place. At this point, most tourism professionals understand the link between the entertainment industry and tourism. There are numerous examples of films that have had a dramatic effect on visitation to a region, either because they were filmed there or the story is about that particular jurisdiction. As the film commission profession matures, its members are putting an increasing amount of importance on the relationship between film and tourism by actively working with production companies and studios to maximize the cause-and-effect relationship between the two entities.
Examples of the value of film and television programs to tourism are plentiful. An obvious one is the effect of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on New Zealand. The annual tourist influx to New Zealand jumped from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2006, a 40 per cent increase. Authorities with Tourism New Zealand acknowledge that Lord of the Rings was the best unpaid advertisement that New Zealand has ever had.
“Friendship is essentially a partnership.” – Aristotle
Once a relationship has been established, the major part of building and maintaining it is just staying in touch. We’ve already discussed the importance of thank you messages. There are all kinds of other ways to stay in touch:
• When you see an article that might be of interest to one of your contacts, clip it and send a note or e-mail the piece.
• When you see a flattering mention of someone you know in the press, call and let them know or send a copy with a note.
• Share exciting successes of your community/regional partners and friends on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites.
• Let your contacts know when someone else has made positive mention of them.
• Send birthday cards. People love it when their special day has been remembered.
• And if one of your contacts / friends / partners comes to mind and you just can’t shake it – that’s a sure sign it’s time to get in touch
The Center of Your Universe
“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” – Jimmy Stewart
The film commission is the center of your local industry universe. Your office is the one entity that knows what is coming in, what is happening locally, who the players are in film, education, the arts, business, politics, and many of other arenas. “Film commissions serve as a focal point and clearinghouse,” stated a 2003 University of Colorado research study; this is true for most film offices in most jurisdictions.
You are poised to be the master connector in your production community. Make sure your “audience” feels like partners; they’re more likely to become ones. Consultant Keith Ferrazzi claims, “Real power comes from being indispensable.” You are in a unique position to be that indispensable connector in your universe, to match people with opportunities and spark activity in your own backyard.
Connect Others/Connect With Others – An Open Door Policy
As we all know, your clients, your community, the people you work with are all your customers. You are selling yourself every day to every individual with whom you come into contact. You know this when dealing with production companies you’re courting to come film in your town; remember the same rules apply in your own neighborhood.
The only way to connect the players is to know the players. For this, it’s important to keep an open-door policy. I once had one of those phone calls we all get (over and over and over) from someone who told me he worked in the industry in L.A. and wanted a production guide because he was “retiring” to my state. He didn’t tell me much more about himself but simply asked for our production guide and asked how to meet industry people when he moved here. I gave him the same information I share with anyone who asks that question (and had trained my staff never to shortchange this never-ending request). Much of the information was on our website, and I directed him there. I ended the conversation by inviting him to the next monthly film association social gathering and asked him to find me so that I could welcome him to our state. Then he gave me his name and address so I could send the guide, and I checked his credentials on IMDb – and boy did he have credentials!
Mystery man was an esteemed cinematographer and director of photography in motion pictures and television. His credits went back 30 years with an Emmy award and three additional nominations. Needless to say, we got him teaching at the film school and involved with the film festival. A call like this is one in a thousand; just take care with each new contact you make because you never know which of the next thousand it will be.
Of course, you can rarely drop everything to meet with someone who just walked in (who has that luxury?), but if possible, shake their hand, make eye contact, thank them for dropping by, and ask for a bio or resume if they want to schedule a meeting. You’ll have time to assess and decide if it’s worth the time to meet. More times than not, they don’t need you; they need the information you or your staff can provide. You can help them connect to the person, organization, agency they’re really looking for. By inviting a stranger to the next get together of a local industry association, or a film premiere, or any number of gatherings that are open to the public, you will help them connect to others in the industry.
I recall attending a reception in the midst of a very busy week. It was cold and rainy and I was quite weary but forced myself to attend for I had assured an admired business colleague I would attend. I met a lovely woman there who was in a totally different line of work (investments for people worth a minimum of $5,000,000). As we sipped our wine and munched our appetizers, she shared her weariness at serving on boards of directors for organizations concerned with various diseases; while they were very worthy causes, at that time in her life she needed something a little lighter. I had no openings on my board but signed her right up for one on which I served, an international film festival based in my state. She was a terrific member who opened doors for them, and she had a great time getting involved in a new industry. As for my program, the film festival director felt I was owed a favor that I was able to collect over and over again.
I also introduced this woman to a good friend and colleague, an attorney and owner of a high-end jewelry store. He had helped draft a business plan for a new film commission simply because of his interest in the industry. (This came about from an article he had read about our program, which prompted him to call and volunteer his time and expertise.) There was no way I could repay his generous work – until that introduction. This woman has been hosting receptions for her clients at his lovely location for a couple of years now. And her clients love jewelry.
You must be very strategic about how you spend your time. Be with the people you have identified as the players who can help you succeed. Just don’t get tired or jaded; always stay open to meeting more. And be passionate! Those qualities will help you gain credibility and support in your local film community.
Mark McCormack notes in his book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: “Creativity in business is often nothing more than making connections that everyone else has almost thought of.” Constantly be thinking about your indispensable role as master connector.
• Deal with good people and always be open to meeting more. Ferrazzi goes on to explain in his book Never Eat Alone, “Connecting is a philosophy of life, a world view. Its guiding principle is that people, all people, every person you meet, is an opportunity to help and be helped.”
• Do your homework. Between your own network of contacts (local, regional, national, international) and the Internet, there are many ways to check credentials. Take the time needed to be sure you know with whom you are dealing. If you can help it, never go into a meeting with someone new without at least checking him or her out through friends, on Google, in the newspaper.
• Trust your instincts. After a bit of experience, you’ll often “just know.” If you get a feeling you need to touch base with a new acquaintance, do it! If a red flag goes up at an initial introduction, trust that instinct, as well. And if you can’t shake the notion that two associates of yours should be introduced – even if there’s no concrete reason, just “a feeling” – well, take action. Now.
For many film commissioners, one goal is to build a strong, vibrant, local film industry that doesn’t only rely on the chance or choice of a movie or commercial shooting on location. This is an incredible business – and we all want more. Some locations have distinct advantages as previously established centers of production, or they enjoy stable financial backing and incentives. For others, this isn’t a realistic possibility in the near future. But technology has made it possible for some unlikely places to develop film industries of their own.
Many government agencies have instituted exciting programs in the past decade to build a local industry. In order to stay informed, do research and find mentors to help learn more. For instance, the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the home corporation to the Ontario Film Commission, provides a variety of incentives, content creation and marketing support, and more. You’ll learn a great deal just perusing their well-organized, informative website. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have that kind of support – and a staff of 50 for an organization that boasts “Culture is our Business” – well then, read on….
Following are cost effective tips to help grow your own, even with limited financial support. You’ll recognize some of these points, but they are the ones worth repeating: