Shoot to thrill

Savvy film commissions worldwide hone pitches for local business

HOLLYWOOD — With its Oscar sweep, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” confirmed New Zealand’s prime position on the production map. But the Kiwis are just one of many international locales vying for Hollywood coin.

The quintessentially American “Cold Mountain” was filmed not in its putative North Carolina setting but in Romania, which has lately been giving domestic production centers a run for their movie projects.

All around the world, local authorities are realizing that luring Hollywood (or, for that matter, Madison Avenue) can provide big benefits in building an area’s film industry and its economy. Everyone seems to be fighting for their share.

“As the industry has globalized, our members are facing extraordinary competition,” says Pat Swinney Kaufman, president of the Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl., which hosts its 19th annual Locations Trade Show this week at the Santa Monica Civic Center.

“Even areas that offer powerful incentives to filmmakers are finding other areas popping up to challenge them,” says Kaufman, whose day job is director of New York’s Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and TV Development.

AFCI’s newest members include commissions from Brazil, Jordan, Trinidad & Tobago, Ecuador and Thailand, all of which will be exhibiting at the locations show for the first time. Foreign territories make up around a third of the 300-member organization and comprise what is easily its fastest-growing sector, says Swinney Kaufman.

The AFCI event brings that global competition for Hollywood dollars together in one place, in the industry’s backyard for once. It gives film commissions from around the world a chance to tout their attractions to a stream of commercial and feature producers and directors, film and TV execs, location managers and scouts in a venue that’s actually convenient to the industry.

With 250 exhibitors from more than 25 countries and an expected 3,000 visitors, it is the industry’s biggest trade show, and biggest marketing opportunity.

The show is particularly important for incentive-poor states such as Arizona, giving them a chance to compete, says Jami McFerren, communications director with Arizona’s Dept. of Commerce.

Many domestic film commissions have been battered in recent years by the recession and resulting deep government budget cuts. For many states, those trims killed incentives they used to compete with cheaper overseas locations.

Now, with a somewhat revived economy, and a growing realization of filming’s value, some states have restored production incentives. Louisiana, New Mexico, Hawaii and Illinois have even created programs to better compete against favored overseas sites such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Another boon to still-struggling domestic commissions is, ironically, the U.S. dollar’s plunging exchange rate, which makes it more expensive to film overseas.

“It’s certainly a talking point,” Swinney Kaufman says. “When we look at the difference in cost between the U.S. and elsewhere, the weak dollar has narrowed that gap.”

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