Types of Film Ccommissions and Film Offices

As you reflect upon the make-up of your film commission, think about the following questions: Are you trying to increase film and media activity in your jurisdiction?  Do you need to simply manage the film and media that comes into your jurisdiction through a permitting process?  Are you a smaller film commission in an area where there is a film commission at a higher level of government?

It is important to determine what ‘type’ of film commission you are (or intend to be) and if a governmental hierarchy exists, to know where your office rests in this structure.

Throughout the world, there are various terms used to describe a film commission, which can be confusing.  For instance, a film office can have the exact same responsibilities and authority as a film commission, the only difference being that the ‘office’ does not have a ‘commission’ or a board.  A board of directors or board of trustees will generally have oversight and actual authority, where a board of advisors will have a role where they provide suggestions and recommendations but need not be directly involved in passing new rules or procedures.

Other terms include ‘film bureau’ or ‘film division.’   These entities are a subset of a larger organization, such at a Tourism Department, Economic Development Department or an Arts and Culture Department.  They generally have all of the same responsibilities and authority as a film commission.  However, some film offices, bureaus or divisions are specifically permitting authorities, that deal with the legal paperwork granting film activities in the jurisdiction.  They typically don’t engage with activities including but not limited to finding locations, marketing their jurisdiction or creating and implementing financial incentives.

Let’s say that you are a regional film commission.  Is there also a state or provincial film commission?  If so, almost without exception, there will need to be some form of relationship with that higher level of government even if it is just ongoing communication.  If there are financial incentives offered at the state or provincial level under which your region will qualify, production companies would be dealing with both the state/provincial film commission and your regional commission.

Policies regarding filming and film production are generally set by the highest level of government and all subsequent levels of government will follow suit.  For instance, if your federal/national government has strict policies about the type of content that can be filmed in the jurisdiction, it is very likely that the lower levels of government will be bound to that same policy.

Interactions that are fluid and positive with both levels of government will reflect well on each entity.  Negative interactions with one of the governmental levels can harm the other and ultimately both governmental entities.  Know where you fit in the hierarchy and work towards harmonious relationships with all film commissions in your jurisdiction.

Another level of support for film activity within your jurisdiction came come from the film liaison.  While the term has some variations in meanings across the globe, in general it refers to an individual, sanctioned by the region, city or town government, to work with and support the film commission.  Duties of the film liaison may include:

  • The arrangements for a scouting visit — finding hotels, car rentals, restaurants
  •  Finding locations and location owners
  •  Locating important municipal and private contacts
  •  Identifying appropriate vendors in the area
  •  Possessing an intimate knowledge of the area

Film liaisons can be invaluable to a film commission, especially in a large geographic region.  A film commission may have limited resources and personnel, and a trusted film liaison can make all the difference for landing a production as well as ensuring a positive experience for a production.

An issue that often arises has to do with individuals who self-identify as their area’s film liaison.  A person decides that he/she will represent the area but has no official capacity and has not been sanctioned by the governing body.  It is very important that the film commission not share information with that individual or validate his/her involvement with productions. Your reputation and that of your office can be irreparably damaged, business may be lost and professional relationships tarnished by an unprofessional liaison’s behavior.

There are actions you may take to ensure you develop a positive working relationship with a film liaison.  One effective method would be to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or similar formal document that provides a detailed outline of the relationship between the film commission and the film liaison.  This may include a formal commitment to confidentiality, protocol for speaking to the press, a commitment to not engage in conflicts of interest.  Refer to the AFCI bylaws which you will find in the shared document folder; much of the same language can apply.