More than just location, location

AFCI trade show highlights the expanding role of film commissioners

Because Hollywood's entertainment industry is always invading the rest of the world with its film crews, it's fitting that this weekend the world gets to invade the entertainment capital of the world for the Association of the Film Commissioners International's 22nd annual International Trade Show.

The event, which runs Thursday-Saturday at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, with seminars at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel, will feature 260 exhibitors representing 43 countries from six continents.

Given today's global filmmaking climate, it also is fitting that the organization is now headed by its first non-American. Robin James, the new AFCI president, also is CEO of the Pacific Film and Television Commission in Queensland, Australia.

But while AFCI will be tackling globalization, another topic on the agenda is the shifting role of film commissioners in a landscape that has become increasingly dominated by incentives. With incentives now driving the locations locomotive, a commissioner almost needs a bachelor's degree in number crunching combined with a master's in government relations.

"It's not simply a case of the local tourist agent becoming a film commissioner because they've got an understanding of locations," James said. "Governments, for example, rely more and more on their film commissioners to give them policy advice as far as the film industry is concerned."

Film commissions also must deal with such issues as accessing permits amid the heightened security of the post-Sept. 11 world, dealing with a public that can be hostile toward film productions and marketing the actual locations themselves.

With the film commissioner's job becoming more complex, the AFCI, under James' leadership, is launching what it calls its global initiative, which includes the Certified Film Commissioner Program.

"As an organization, we acknowledged that standards did vary around the world," James said. "The AFCI is now in 43 countries, and in order to provide the best possible services to production companies, and in order to ensure that governments continue to be supportive of their film commissions, we need consistent standards to be introduced."

The program covers incentives, navigating government relations and managing a film office, among other topics.

James' to-do list also calls for the AFCI to develop programs for film commissioners that will support independent production within their jurisdictions.

"It will also boost the level of production, particularly when there is a drought of major production in their regions," James said.

California also hopes to use the trade show to claim its own place in the sun.

"People forget there's a world outside of L.A.," said the California Film Commission's Amy Lemisch, who hopes to remedy that with the second annual California Locations Reception on Thursday.

The breakfast, thrown by the CFC in conjunction with Film Liaisons in California Statewide at the Wyndham Bel Age in West Hollywood, will bring line producers, commercial heads of production and physical production heads of the studios face-to-face with film liaisons all over California in a speed-dating format. Organizers even plan on dinging a little bell at the four-minute mark.