Koreatown looks to lure lensing

Recent renaissance could boost production

Location managers are the ambassadors of the film industry to the non-pro world. And they are key players in bringing to life a director’s cinematic vision.

To expand that vision, more than 40 location managers found themselves bridging the cultural divide for local filming on a trek last month through Los Angeles’ Koreatown. The tour, sponsored by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, was promoted to open doors for filming that were previously closed.

Koreatown, with its multicultural mix and thriving Korean-American community, is in the midst of a renaissance boosted by the CRA’s establishment of the 1,207-acre Wilshire Center/Koreatown Recovery Redevelopment Project.

The tour helped introduce location managers to the owners of many K-town locales in an effort to make those owners more open to allowing lensing on their properties. The area is very film-friendly thanks to its mix of Old and New World settings that can easily double for foreign or various Stateside settings. It’s a blend of upscale malls and condos and traditional restaurants juxtaposed with modern dance clubs, sake bars and karaoke lounges.

But choosing a film location involves more than touring sites with great potential. Location choices are a big factor in determining a film’s budget. As a key component in that process, location managers must be aware when a change in foreign and local politics render a location film friendly (think Canada or Louisiana and New Mexico) or too costly (Massachusetts passed incentives after losing “The Departed” to New York).

In continuing the educational and creative process regarding the business of film production, the Location Managers Guild of America hosted a May seminar, “How Incentives Determine Locations,” at L.A.’s Mondrian Hotel.

The featured speaker, Joe Chianese, veep of Entertainment Partners, used the 1991 pic “Silence of the Lambs” as an example of how much has changed in the way films are budgeted and locations selected. He worked as the production accountant on that pic.

“Today, we would not even attempt to begin budgeting the film until the location had been chosen,” said Chianese in the session with international location manager Bill Bowling. “We would likely offer the director his choice of locations that had the strongest tax incentives or rebates.”

Those factors can also have a significant impact on the script: A surfer pic skedded to lense in Florida could become a ski film when tax credits make Canada, say, more attractive than the Sunshine State. And that’s just the beginning. According to Chianese, location managers must assess the incentives (caps; monies available; percentage that must be shot to qualify, especially when more than one location is required) in addition to available crew base and ancillary necessities that also affect the film budget.

California, which still dominates the film industry, is nonetheless facing stiff competition from outside jurisdictions with active or pending incentives. As those locales lure more film and TV production, their infrastructure grows, making them even more attractive to producers.

States hiring accountants to do economic impact studies justifying incentives have also proven they generate profit and promote tourism, Chianese said.

However, incentives have yet to provide as much financial benefit for commercial productions, and reality, gaming and animation productions are also trying to realize some value.

Perhaps location managers can work that out as well.