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Union Roundup: Film Commissioners Discuss More Than Tax Breaks at AFCI’s First Live Event Since 2019


AFCI’s Location Lounge image via Mark London Williams

As regularly recurring events attempt to, well, recur, in these still wildly uncertain times, so it was that the AFCI — the Association of Film Commissioners International — held their first live event since 2019, a 36ish-month stretch that feels like it might as well have been a decade or two ago.

But as Marjorie Galas, AFCI’s SVP for Membership & Industry Relations, told us (and astute minds will recall that Galas has previously been a colleague on this side of the journalistic fence at this publication and others), this year’s edition was a reworking of the Location Expos of yore.

As Galas explained, “many individuals think of the past Location Expo that AFCI used to hold in Santa Monica and confuse that with the updated AFCI Week event. They are very different. While at one time the Location Show was a successful model, over the years the caliber of attendee shifted to less industry and more of a curious observer.”

Which is a very polite way to put it. The Expo, which was fairly easy to get badged into, had a reputation for a steady supply of good swag, up to and including a lot of tasty eats, particularly at the “Taste of the World” themed event, one of the last before the forced pandemic break.

Marjorie Galas
Marjorie Galas image via IMDb

Not that this reporter foreswore all swag in previous shows, but it was also fairly clear what those curious observers were truly curious about.

“While our members are always happy to explain the benefits of their territories,” Galas said, “they were not making connections with decision-makers that would result in productions visiting their territories.” Thus, the Expo was completely dismantled and re-imagined as a four-day long event that focused on activities, education, and connections benefiting members and industry professionals.”

And most of those events were not open to the public. Held in the last week of June, the Expo featured a panel on “The Future of Production in a Post-Pandemic World,” though, of course, we’re not actually “post” yet.

Which brings us to the four-hour Location Lounge, held in the ballroom of West Hollywood’s hosting Sofitel Hotel.

This was about a week or so before the latest Omicron variant started dominating the news, along with a more ambient awareness of how many more people were suddenly catching Covid — either “again,” or for the first time.

Thus, it was perhaps not entirely surprising that most of the people who showed up at this year’s smaller venue weren’t masked.

In addition to masks, the various film commissioners themselves were hard to spot.

AFCI’s Location Lounge image via Mark London Williams

There were no longer “booths” like the previous Expo — Hawaii here, Georgia over there, Film Croatia a few tables away, and a slew of local California film commissions scattered throughout — but rather, rafts of literature (and a small bit of swag — branded caps, water bottles, etc.) left out. Film commissioners were circulating, but you had to get close enough to read someone’s badge. Some were having sit-downs at open tables in the middle of the room, with putatively interested parties.

But it was hard to tell if there was actually more dynamism in this model than in the previous version. Of course, the event wasn’t solely about potential facetime with interested production folk, but also, as Galas said, a chance for AFCI members to “reconnect with [each] other in person. AFCI Week has traditionally led to new connections forming amongst our members — and this year was no exception.”

Another welcome aspect of the show is always the surprise of finding out how many places and regions have their own film and TV commissions. Despite widespread culture wars raging like the current global heatwave, bringing in production dollars still remains a lynchpin of economic planning (or at least hope) in many areas.

Mississippi, for example, whose governor stands athwart nearly any story that has come out of Hollywood in recent years, was there touting their generous production tax breaks. Slovakia — perhaps not entirely a surprise — left pamphlets everywhere to remind interested parties of their tax breaks (which one film commissioner said have become the opening gambit of any conversation she has now), and the fact that the recent season of Amazon’s Jack Ryan was shot there.

Cherokee Nation
Little Blue Park image via Cherokee Nation Film Office

Here in California, numerous counties have their own film commissions to try and lure productions out of L.A. (though all eligible for the same statewide rebate credits), and in Oklahoma, one surprise was learning that the Cherokee Nation has its own film office, separate from the rest of the state.

Jennifer Loren, the director of the Cherokee Nation Film Office and Original Content, followed up with us, post-event, to shed further light on their own relationship with the Sooner State’s government:

“We work closely with the Oklahoma Film & Music Office in a variety of areas. We share all of our location photos with the state’s location gallery, as well as help them recruit communities (that fall within both of our jurisdictions) for their film-friendly communities program. We support them by making appearances at their request to sit on panels or attend important meetings, and they are always willing to return the favor. We help productions understand the state film rebate when they call us, asking about filming in the Cherokee Nation. We also receive leads from the film state film office for potential production activity in the Cherokee Nation.”

She also notes that “our Cherokee film incentive program is stackable on the state’s film incentive and our programs have many of the same program guidelines and rules and regs, making it easier for productions to apply for both programs.”

Cherokee Nation
Dwight Mission image via Cherokee Nation Film Office

And in a world where one imagines a lot of complications between filming on Federally-overseen tribal lands, versus dealing with the increasingly narrowing legal restrictions on Oklahoma’s stateside, the Cherokee Nation’s film booklet also touts connections to local expertise to “ensure your productions are historically and culturally accurate,” hinting at new roles for film commissions beyond production subsidies.

As for other new roles, Galas adds that “a major topic of concern around the globe continues to be how to serve the growing content boom. Production needs are growing in so many territories and finding [the] means to train or obtain qualified crew to meet the demands is of primary importance. Additionally, some regions have seen a boom in stage rentals and equipment rentals — finding innovative ways to meet these demands is also important. Obtaining and retaining tax incentives, or how to be competitive if a region does not have tax incentives, of course, remains a focus for film commissioners.”

And if they can do that, there’s the promise of more work for freshly-minted crew members in this Brave New World of ours.

MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark London Williams’ Union Roundup column will appear every Tuesday. You can reach him to give him tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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