New CEO is moving the commission to California

With tax incentives here to stay as an integral part of movie budgets, AFCI’s Locations Trade Show has become a mecca for indie producers and studio budgeting execs trying to manage costs on their projects.

They were among some 5,000 industryites at last week’s Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. annual confab in Santa Monica, though some stayed longer than expected due to the volcanic ash from Iceland, which hampered flights to Europe.

The event marked the industry debut of new AFCI CEO Larry Brownell, just two months into the job. He said the show was on track to draw about about the same number of attendees as last year.

L.A.-based Brownell is looking for office space for the org. He replaced longtime AFCI exec director Bill Lindstrom, who lived in Wyoming. “L.A. is now the home of AFCI, as it should be,” he said.

Domestic film offices are challenged these days. Budget cuts have taken their toll and some commissions were conspicuously absent this year — notably those of New York city and state.

Empire state was repped only via a small booth manned by officials from Long Island, Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls — who hung on to local funds. One New York official said the state office expects renewed funding next year.

Despite budget woes of its own, California fielded its usual contingent of state film office exhibits. Leading the pack was the California Film Commission — approaching the first anniversary of its first tax incentive program.

Per commission director Amy Lemisch, 73 productions have been accepted for tax credits so far. These projects will spend $1 billion, of which $400 million will go into the below-the-line sector. “Most producers based here would rather film here, and our program is enabling more of them to do that,” said Lemisch, who hosted a California breakfast for producers and unions on the show’s opening day. State’s next round of incentives applications kicks off on June 1.

Some new overseas film offices made their debuts at the show. The city and state of Rio de Janeiro exhibited for the first time.

The office is headed by Steve Solot, former chief of MPAA’s Latin American operations, and repped in L.A. by indie producer Daniel Marc Dreifuss.

The commission plans to add a Rio supplement to Brazil’s existing filming incentives.

Also new on the show floor: the year-old Abu Dhabi film office. Features like “The Kingdom” and “Syriana” have filmed there, and the wealthy emirate is trying to encourage additional projects by making production more hassle-free, said the commission’s Robert-James Bova, adding that the office has insulated film production from political considerations and streamlined permitting.

Streamlining is also the name of the game in Dallas, said commissioner Janis Burklund, whose agency has moved from City Hall into the city’s economic development office. Burklund anticipates a banner year, with new projects that include Fox series “The Good Guys” and Fox pilot “Midland,” which is set in the cities of Midland and Houston but shot in Dallas.

Hawaii is also on track for a good year, per film office topper Georja Skinner, despite the departure of ABC’s “Lost.” Skinner hopes the hole can be filled by a CBS pick-up of the new “Hawaii Five-O,” which shot its pilot in the Aloha State. She said about $180 million in film and TV production expenditures are already slated for Hawaii in 2010. “If ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 4’ finalizes its commitment, the total will rise to well over $200 million,” she added.

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