States Woo Hollywood for Film and TV Productions at AFCI Locations Show

6:07 PM PST 06/16/2012 by Alex Ben Block
'The Lone Ranger' is currently in production in New Mexico, which is third only to California and New York in the number of skilled crew members locally available.

UPDATED: The annual event in Los Angeles drew more than 180 exhibitors, who touted the tax incentives, physical locations and manpower their areas had to offer.

Pat Swinney Kaufman has seen huge changes in her 18 years as executive director of the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, but one constant has been her attendance at the annual Locations Show organized in Southern California by the Association of Film Commissioners International.

“You want to be out here because there’s always a story to tell and information to share,” said Kaufman, who was accompanied on her trip by her husband, Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Films. “You want to touch base with people you’ve known for years, and there are always new people to meet.”

So Kaufman spent most of Friday and Saturday in the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center doing exactly that -- along with about 180 other exhibitors from states, cities, regions and a wide range of countries -- all seeking to woo productions. What has changed dramtically over the years is that in addition to the actual locations they have to offer, most now dangle a range of financial incentives – from tax credits to cash rebates – to sweeten the deal.

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“It used to be people wanted to talk about the locations in the state where they might film,” said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission, which was grouped with film promotional booths from all over the Golden State. “Now we spend almost the entire time talking about our incentives.”

To lure productions, Florida spent about $246 million in 2010 and recently boosted that to $296 million, according to Sandy Lighterman, film & entertainment industries liaison for the Miami-Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment.

The payoff can be well worth it. New York State, second only to California among U.S. states in film and TV production, has seen the money spent by productions rise from $600,000 in 2004 to $1.5 billion in 2011. That included money spent in the state from 90 feature films (primarily shot there, not including many that only came for a shorter time), 24 TV series and 21 pilots.

New York now allocates about $420 million a year in tax credits to lure those productions, but it doesn’t offer the highest incentives. Kaufman says people come for the locations, the infrastructure and the crews and because talent loves to be there. She says the program has grown because it has proved to be a hit.

“This is a program that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs,” said Kaufman, “and not only pays for itself but actually makes a little money.”

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New Mexico, third only to California and New York in the number of skilled crewmembers locally available, spends about $50 million a year to attract productions ranging from Disney pair The Avengers to the upcoming The Lone Ranger, a production whose budget has ballooned back to near $250 million and which is now shooting all over the state.

It is not just jobs, either, that makes it worthwhile, says Jason Hool of Sante Fe Studios, which opened two soundstages in the past year. He says that in regions where wages are low, kids often drop out of school. But by offering courses that train them to be crewmembers who might work on the next Transformers movie, or something else that excites them, they stay in school.

“It’s sort of sad, but for a lot of youngsters in New Mexico, it’s a choice of, 'Do I work at Walmart or go out of state to find work?' ” said Hool. “Film and TV gets kids excited and so they stay in the state.”

Since 2008, New Mexico has benefited from about $1.2 billion in direct spending from film and TV productions, says Luca Ceccarelli of Santa Fe-based HDNM Entertainment. “It’s outside money coming into our state,” adds his partner, Eileen Street.

“There are few industries where they can spend $50 million in three months,” said Ceccarelli, “and get people so excited.”

That excitement also is a benefit, he adds. New Mexico is now developing a smartphone app that will guide tourists to sites where movies like The Avengers or No Country for Old Men were shot.

Last year, the Locations Show was incorporated into the Produced by Conference, but this year it stood on its own, as it has for most of its two-decade run. There was strong attendance on Friday and somewhat less of a crowd on Saturday.

Mary Nelson, communications manager for the Virginia Film Office and president of the AFCI, said her organization is seeing more people. And more importantly, the people who are coming are the industry's influential decisionmakers. 

“Not as many crazy people.” added Nelson with a laugh.

The business has become much more complicated with more competitors and the new incentives, noted Andrew Edmunds, locations manager for the Virginia Film Office.

“This show used to be about the creative opportunities," he said. "Now, it's much more about economic options.”

Wanetta Ayers, director of the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, said that you have to be at the show. “All business is personal,” said Ayers. “At the end of the day, it is all person to person.”

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