'It's all about incentives'

Rebates mark AFCI locations show

Scanning the floor of the Santa Monica Auditorium this weekend at the 22nd annual AFCI locations trade show, it seemed film incentives have reached a critical mass this year as more states and countries than ever before are offering them — and also at higher percentage points than ever before — in attempts to woo production to specific locales.

"We have incentives, we do," a lady at the Trinidad and Tobago booth announced as she handed out flyers to passersby.

"Oh, for sure," a rep for Yukon, a territory in Canada's north, responded when asked whether his location offered rebates.

Wyoming was showing off its month-old package, while Oregon was heralding its upcoming enhanced rebates. Iceland said it recently upped its numbers, while Turkey — its film commission only 1 year old — said it was working on a package to unveil next year.

"It's all about incentives. I need to build up ours to stay in the competition," said Sten Iversen of the Montana Film Office. He said the race to secure production has a lot of money riding on it. "For every dollar we spend on promotion, the state gets 20 in economic spent. It's definitely worth it."

Canada pioneered the incentive lure years ago, and this year it again set off envy among competitors because of its unified approach to the trade show, which won it the award for best booth. All the provinces and territories were grouped together in a red and white alley, and if one location couldn't help a producer with a matter, he or she was directed to another Canadian locale.

The singular approach was ironically spearheaded by the Canada's separatist province, Quebec, making its first appearance at the trade show in five years.

"There is irony there, Quebec bringing Canada together," said Hans Fraikin, film commissioner of the Quebec Film and Television Council. "I knew that having New Brunswick in one corner and Ontario in another and Manitoba in another, there was no synergy. And Canada is a brand as well as individual provinces."

The Canadian booth only highlighted that in the U.S., states were competing against other states, and cities were competing against cities.

"There's going to be a stabilization reached at one point because you can't continue to one-up each other like this," said Rick Ferguson, director of the Houston Film Commission. "I think there's going to have to be more done on a national level."

Others were focusing on issues beyond the numbers, including on how crews and studio space also are important in attracting productions.

"We can beat Vancouver budget-wise, but there is such an established base there," Oregon Film and Video Office's Kayla Thames-Berge said. "Once you get the infrastructure, people stay."

Added Ward Emling of the Mississippi Film Office: "Infrastructure is going to be the big issue in the future. It's not like we can keep adding percentage points. It's got to stop somewhere."

Many European countries like Hungary were touting new state-of-the-art studio space on top of their incentives, while Eastern Europeans flaunted their lower labor rates.

All of this made the California Film Commissions nervous. While out in force, commissioners from around the state wondered how the filmmaking capital of the world, in the face of all this competition, could be letting productions simply run away.

"We might not be here in 10 years (if this continues)," one commissioner said.
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