Spotlight: Key players draw projects by reinventing locations & services

NYC

Name: Katherine Oliver

Post: Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting

Recent Shoots: “The Producers,” “Fur,” “The Good Shepherd”

Making Waves: “We can point to a rich talent pool that is very attractive to directors and producers. … For productions, we are always looking at strategies to lure more business.

“A lot of people consider New York to be too expensive or complicated to work in; the reality is that it is not; the last three years I’ve been clarifying and promoting what the city has going for it. We want to make it easy for people to shoot in locations in our city and get permits, and we try to cater to the needs of productions. The city passed a tax credit, called the ‘Made in N.Y.’ incentive program, which includes a tax credit and an array of other incentives.

“We have also created a marketing credit, which offers free advertising to productions that shoot in New York City that will entitle you to free outdoor advertising, such as free media on the bus shelters and agreements with Jumbotron in Times Square. Another accomplishment is that employment levels in the entertainment industry have never been higher, 2005 has been the best production year ever, with film crews in the five boroughs filming right now.

“There is also the ‘Made in N.Y.’ vendor discount program. … We’ve identified hotels, car rental agencies and other vendors that would offer discounts to these production companies of 10% or more; we have 500 vendors that are participating in this program, and it’s also a way for us to introduce vendors to the industry.

“We have saved a lot of productions that were going to go to Canada, and we managed to keep films in New York City like ‘The Departed,’ as well as ‘The Good Shepherd.’ And we have a huge number of television pilots shooting right now.

What’s Next: The office is working to extend the incentive program. “We are working on workforce training programs within the community, and we are also working on job training programs.” Upcoming shoots include “Michael Clayton” with George Clooney and Sydney Pollack; “Mostly Martha” with Catherine Zeta-Jones; “Perfect Stranger” with Bruce Willis and Halle Berry; “Pride and Glory” with Colin Farrell and Ed Norton; and Dick Wolf’s new series “Conviction.”

— Lisa D. Carroll

NORTHERN IRELAND

Name: Andrew Reid

Post: Head of Production for the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission

Recent Shoots: “Breakfast on Pluto,” “The Secret Life of Words”; “Closing the Ring” which is in pre-production; “Puffball” which is being financed; and “our first horror film called ‘Wilderness,’ which is due for release in the spring,” says Reid.

Making Waves: “We are particularly proud of some of the smaller films, such as ‘Middletown,’ which was written and produced by a Northern Ireland creative team. It’s an important film for us because we used to have difficulty attracting people to make films in Northern Ireland, but we are also delighted to have people to write and produce indigenous films. Between the 1940s to the mid-1990s, there were very few films shot in Northern Ireland. We are happy with the general increase in films being made and that more and more people are coming to see the country.

“We lost a new film fund two years ago, so the first thing we focused on was raising money for the fund, which was a big coup; none of the films would’ve happened without the new film fund. We had to convince the Northern Ireland government and the taxpayers that it would create wealth. Another big coup was in 2004, when our first indigenous film called ‘Freeze Frame’ went on the release in the U.K. and in Northern Ireland. It was the first time on the cinema screen that we were able to see a film written, produced and shot entirely by a Northern Ireland crew. It’s been difficult, because you used to say ‘What about filming in Northern Ireland?’ and people would say ‘Where??’ Not quite like Hawaii! But we are getting through to people eventually.”

What’s Next: “We are hoping to do our first animation feature called ‘Gene Fusion’; we hope to have a thriller in the style of ‘Seven’; a romantic comedy is scheduled for the summer; and also we hope to have the first feature film shot in English and Irish, called ‘Kings.’ Also watch this space for April 2007 for a whole raft of new initiatives.”

— Lisa D. Carroll

PRAGUE

Name: Matthew Stillman

Post: Stillking Films honcho

Recent Shoots: “Casino Royale”

Making Waves: British-born Stillman is one of the pioneers of the Eastern European production boom.

Since launching his outfit Stillking in Prague in 1993, he’s serviced around 30 high-profile pics, including “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Van Helsing,” “The Bourne Identity,” “From Hell” and “Alien vs. Predator.” Yet, undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Stillman’s portfolio is the new James Bond pic, “Casino Royale,” on which Stillking is acting as a co-producer.

Stillman is not just active in Prague. When a pic such as “XXX” also requires shoots in other European countries such as Austria or, as in the case of “The Last Holiday,” in Rome, Stillking will handle these, too. “If some of the shoot takes place in the States, we usually don’t do the U.S. part, but we¹ll do the entire European side of it. But there’s normally a Prague component to it,” says Stillman.

Stillman will put together crews, find locations, hire studiospace and sometimes even help with the casting. Yet, as with “Casino Royale,” his activities now go further. “We help access finance, whether that be from film funds, tax schemes or subsidies. For example, ‘Doom,’ ‘Tristan and Isolde’ and ‘Alien vs. Predator’ are all co-productions on which we helped access German or U.K. finance.”

Stillking runs an office in London and, mainly for his commercials division, has either offices or contact persons in Cape Town; Barcelona; Santiago, Chile; and Tokyo, where he looks after Japanese commercials.

He’s currently just doing commercials in Chile but is establishing the infrastructure to do features there soon.

Meanwhile, he’s setting his sights further East, on Bulgaria. “At the moment we haven’t done any films in Bulgaria, but we will probably soon. It’s cheap and it’s got some infrastructure, and it’s good for any lower-budget stuff that really can’t afford anywhere else,” says Stillman, who thinks that the best production value is still in Prague, which still offers prices around 30% lower than Western Europe. “But for projects that can’t afford Prague, Bulgaria is an option.”

The Far East is also on Stillman’s radar. “I’m going to China next month to have a look. We already have a contact person in Shanghai, and we’re going to see whether to establish a company over there.”

— Katja Hofmann

LONDON

Name: Adrian Wootton

Post: Chief Executive for Film London

Recent Shoots: “The Da Vinci Code,” “Children of Men,” ‘Stormbreaker”

Making Waves: “Probably our biggest accomplishment over the last 12 months is that we have invested time and energy in the London Film Partnership led by Lord David Puttnam; we have brought London film organizations together and set up new measures in place. Those new measures include sorting out red tape and bureaucracy, accessing unusual locations, support on the ground and doing troubleshooting and brokerage. We are providing a whole new different level of service to the film and television industry that wants to shoot in London. We had 12,000 filming days in 2005 as well.

“We are announcing the creation of the Metropolitan Police Film Unit, which will deal with troubleshooting and coordinating things and this will be a single contact with them.” In “V for Vendetta,” the crew was able to shoot in the heart of the government buildings for the first time, “We actually closed Whitehall down to allow them access …. (for) “Stormbreaker,” which Marc Samuelson produced, the filmmakers wanted to film a cavalry charge across Hyde Park, which is in the movie.”

To achieve our goals, we have worked very hard with the U.K. film industry and the U.K. government; (Chancellor) Gordon Brown has created a new tax incentive which is coming into effect for the next financial year. What it’s meant, is that we’ve put together our own package of incentives and discounts and we now have a competitive series of tax breaks for local filmmaking and (Hollywood).

“People are looking at London differently because of the Olympics coming too; we are all very excited about it and the opportunities. There’s an awful lot of activity going around the Olympics already, we are getting scripts about athletes and setting things up around the Olympics.”

What’s Next: “His Dark Materials,” based on the books by Phillip Pullman; “Holiday” with Kate Winslet; “Penelope” with Reese Witherspoon; the “Elizabeth” sequel with Cate Blanchett; “The Flood”; Robert Altman’s “The Tortoise and the Hare”; “Believe It or Not,” from Tim Burton with Jim Carrey.

— Lisa D. Carroll

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