France’s pioneering Lumière brothers, arguably the founders of the movie industry at the end of the 19th century, shot on location in Morocco. What better fact to underscore the key role of international shoots in filmmaking from the very birth of the business.
This burgeoning sector of the screen trade is supported by London-based exhibition and conference Focus, whose second edition runs Dec. 6-7. Officially dubbed Focus 2016: The Meeting Place for Intl. Production, the event is mounted by The Location Guide. It aims to position itself as a leading assembly for the international production biz. More than 150 film commissions, location providers, and service companies from 55 countries will exhibit.
Focus co-founder and Location Guide publishing director Jean-Frédéric Garcia says the itinerant nature of production as well as the ever-growing convergence between the different sectors — film, TV, gaming, new media, and advertising — reinforces the demand for networking events.
The show has undergone refinements this year. All the panel discussions, which include more than 70 speakers, are free and have been integrated into the exhibition side of the event. This will encourage more people to attend, and increase interaction between participants, according to program director Sue Hayes. “We needed to open it up,” she says. “There are a lot more networking opportunities this year.”
“It’s like one big meeting place, where you have different ways of engaging with clients and peers,” Garcia adds. The event has also introduced “ways that [delegates] can get in touch with each other prior to the show” to set up meetings.
Another innovation: an advisory board, comprising representatives of bodies across all sectors of the U.K. screen trade. “We didn’t want to be the only ones to decide what the industry wanted to hear,” Garcia says.
This has helped Hayes shape the panel debates to reflect what is being discussed in industry circles. “It gave us an awareness of what they’re facing, what their concerns are,” Hayes says. “The topics are very much a reflection of what’s happening on the ground.”
It has prompted sessions on diversity, sustainability, and training, as well as discussions about technologies such as virtual reality and drones, and the increased use of digital applications in, for example, location scouting.
National film commissions have found that competing simply with production incentives is not enough. Producers also consider such factors as the availability of high-quality crews, good facilities and infrastructure, and security, and this, too, will be evident in discussions at Focus.
“When incentives are so competitive, what else [a country] can offer is sometimes going to tip the balance,” Garcia says. So if the Lumière brothers were still around, they’d find Morocco offers the use of its army as extras at a reasonable rate.
The Brits have made a big effort to raise their profile at Focus — partly because the event is held in London, but also because the British production scene is so buoyant. This has seen the creation of a U.K. Village on the exhibition floor, grouping together screen agencies from Britain’s regions. There is also more U.K.-related content in the debates, with panels such as Shooting in London, U.K. Tax Breaks Beyond 25%, and Regions and Nations, which looks at the explosion of production in the U.K. outside London.
Other countries are competing. Following Brexit, many producers are looking for business outside Europe, with China now being the territory du jour. One of the sessions will be devoted to a presentation by Wanda Studios, a production facility on China’s east coast that is due to open next year and will offer a 40% incentive to filmmakers. Another session, Access China, draws on the first-hand experience of Western producers who are already doing business in the country, such as Lion TV’s Daisy Newton Dunn. The recent news that U.K. visual-effects firm Framestore is to be bought by a Chinese company is a reminder of the ties being forged between the two countries.