NEWPORT BEACH —Addressing more than 200 film commissioners from around the globe, industry production execs reminded government representatives that despite big budgets, the pressure to shave every dollar off the bottom line has never been greater.
“For most of us, we approach our jobs the same whether it’s a $10 million or $100 million movie,” said Michael Grillo, DreamWorks’ head of production, at the Assn. of Film Commissioners’ Cineposium ’97 in Newport Beach. “We are still trying to make the best on what we can, in a responsible manner.”
On Saturday, at a panel discussion entitled “Making the Megabudget Movie,” production heads and producers emphasized that above-the-line costs are driving big budgets, which often forces studio execs to cut back on location lensing. The panel was moderated by Isabel Hill, Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. board member and director of the South Carolina Film Office.
“I hope there is no misconception around here that if you have more money, in terms of budgets being $100 million plus, there is more money to go around below-the-line,” said producer Dennis Jones. “We are still forced to pay the craftspeople their going rates and to (make sure) the film commissioners get us the best possible rates.”
In fact, several execs believe high-powered filmmakers are getting too much leeway. “It has been my observation over a number of years that there is less and less of a desire of the creative element to compromise,” said production manager and co-producer John J. Smith.
Donna Smith, chief exec of insurer Entertainment Coalition and former head of production at Universal, took the point one step further. “The director always has got this pal that’s encouraging (her or him) to ‘give us the best,’ but it’s never best for the money,” Smith said. Panelists emphasized that location lensing is a luxury. “If a film comes back to L.A. because of a studio, nine times out of 10, I would bet it would be” because of financial needs, Grillo said. But speakers also pointed out that the stars are having more and more say on where a pic is shot. “That’s next on (an actor’s) agenda,” said Amblin Entertainment producer Gerald Molen. “Right now, they already have got everything else.”
Later, speakers told attendees that a film commissioner’s most important job is cutting a quick path through the state’s bureaucracy. “I think the film commissioner can be most helpful in dealing with your red tape,” said John Smith. ” I don’t think it’s necessary for a production to waste the time of the film commission because you need a house or a scene in a movie.”
In responding to a query from one state representative, panelists said that film commissions should not rely too much on technology, mainly the Internet, to sell their locales.
“I am afraid that production designers or directors are going to look on a screen and see a photograph that may not be updated,” Grillo said. “They might make a choice on whether or not they go to a state (based on) a photograph that’s coming off a computer, and that’s very dangerous.”