Confab crowd has eyes on the big prize

Location reps flock to Santa Monica trade show


What: Locations Trade Show

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

Who: 240 film commissions from 30 countries, up 15%

More info at

The economy’s weak and people aren’t flying, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of U.S. and overseas film commissions from signing up for Locations Trade Show 2003, the annual confab taking place this weekend in Santa Monica.

One reason they’re coming is the potential reward: luring a film production — and its sizable crew.

Bill Lindstrom, Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. CEO, reports that this year’s event will showcase 240 film commissions and service providers from more than 30 countries. The number of exhibitors and preregistrants significantly exceeds last year’s gathering, which was impacted by the wake of 9/11.

The number of exhibitors this year is up more than 15% from 2002, when 150 AFCI film commissions exhibited. Last year’s show attracted over 3,000 attendees. All but 2% of exhibit space was sold out a month before the confab.

While the amount of exhibitors has not fluctuated greatly over the past decade, the number of attendees was down almost half last year from a peak of 5,000-6,000 a decade ago, when the event was held in conjunction with the American Film Market. (AFCI started going it alone in 1995.)

But Lindstrom says a difference today is the show is marketed directly to professionals who decide on and manage locations.

Another reason for the healthy participation may be the more urgent need for commissions to attract biz. “In the U.S., some film commissions are threatened because of (state government) budget cuts and deficits,” observes Bill Bowling, location manager on such films as “Red Dragon,” “Rush Hour 2” and “The Insider.”

Certain commissions feel the pressure to get a film to justify their existence, he says. “The payoff of bringing a big movie to your area is a lot of personnel who spend a lot of money. Plus, the publicity.”

Attendance at the Locations Trade Show seems to be rebounding because of a change of time and location in 2002: The confab was moved from February to April to avoid competing with AFM, and returned to Santa Monica Civic Auditorium last year after seven years at the L.A. Convention Center.

That film commission reps are showing up is good news for the few thousand Hollywood location managers and other production execs expected to attend. AFCI markets the show to Hollywood decision-makers: producers, directors, cinematographers, and location and production managers. “Anyone with logistical, financial oversight,” Lindstrom notes.

Many look forward to the event each spring to make and renew professional contacts and research locations, he says.

AFCI is the official worldwide association of government film contacts. Members include more than 300 commissions globally, from nearly every continent.

More than 170 AFCI members will exhibit at the show this year, says Maggie Christie, event producer; the rest are location service companies including hotels, directories and the like.

Exhibit costs for an AFCI member ranges from $1,950 to $2,500; for a nonmember, the cost rises to $2,450 to $2,950.

“A location manager never knows where his next picture’s going to take him,” notes John Panzarella, location manager on “Bandits,” “What Women Want” and “Nurse Betty.” “The local film liaisons are vital resources for us. This is the best way to stay in touch with everyone.”

Panzarella says he has worked on pics where he has had to call on state reps he met through the trade show. The locations biz is very much about relationships: In searching for a site, a scout is likely to call his trusted contacts first.

“If you know a person they’ll go the extra mile for you,” Panzarella says. “When I get a script I can call around, tell them what I’m looking for, get fast feedback. They’re an invaluable resource.”

Locations manager Bowling observes, “This is an international group. Other production centers are booming: South Africa is hot.”

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