Film Commissions Step Into the 21st Century

Olivier-Rene Veillon

FILM Commissions and film support organizations are poised to become significant players, creatively and financially, on the 21st century media landscape.

That's the upshot of MIPCOM 2014's Film Commissions Day, held October 14 in Cannes. The event featured film commissions and film offices from territories across Europe, the Middle East and Asia unveiling their latest incentives, rebates, and support packages, all aimed at luring in producers from all sectors of the audiovisual world to their territories.

"It is only in the last couple of years that the media world has woken up to the idea that film is no longer the default first window, the holy grail, in the world of audiovisual," Marlene Edmunds, chief executive and founder of Marlene Edmunds Media Consulting and Future Vision creator told delegates in opening remarks kicking off the all day event.  "It is, therefore, no surprise that with a few exceptions, film commissions have until now been mainly focused on an aging 20th century model that for the most part has funded only film or long-form documentaries. Those days are over," she added.  

The UK, Italy and Lithuania especially have only recently changed their tax incentives to support TV as well as film and all have begun to cash in on the benefits.stefaniaippoliti "We're throwing bureaucracy out the window," Stefania Ippoliti, president of the Italian Film Commissions, an umbrella association of 17 film commissions across Italy, told delegates attending the event.  She noted that Italy's 25% tax rebate now embraces the entire audiovisual spectrum, adding that many of the regional film commissions also offer up local funds that can collectively make a significant difference. On top of that, some of regions like Tuscany invest funds of their own into a film or TV project. If the project makes a profit, it gets plowed back into the fund and is reinvested.

Lithuania's introduction in January of a new 20% tax relief that embraces TV has already resulted in successfully booking a major shoot for the future, the BBC/Weinstein Company's co-production War and Peace, into the territory.  War and Peace partners looked specifically at Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania before choosing to shoot in Lithuania, as well as the UK and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the UK, the recent introduction of tax relief for high-end television and animation has meant shoot requests for London are growing like wildfire. Productions can now claim up to 25%--up from 20%--on the first US$32 million of qualifying expenditure, a significant difference that has triggered, as an example, the filming in London of all 12 episodes of Fox's 24, and the critically acclaimed series The Honourable Woman, among others.  Film London, an organization supported by the office of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was also involved in smoothing the way for the now famous helicopter scene in Trafalgar Square, part of the shoot for the Tom Cruise-starred film The Edge of Tomorrow. During the Film Commissions Day presentation, David Shepheard, senior inland investment manager for Film London, cautioned that film commissioners and support groups can no longer rest on their locations laurels. If they hoped to attract producers, he said, they have to be be able to discuss not only what they are offering in terms of tax incentives, rebates, grants and support but also be intimately familiar with what everyone else around the globe is offering.

Shepheard's comment points to some major changes pushing the global media industry, and particularly affecting film commissions. They are as follows;

* The 24/7 world we live in means that producers can go anywhere in the world they want to shoot. Time and distance from the home office is no longer a hurdle.

*Broadcast licenses and even pre-sales are not enough to cover the cost of making high quality drama or even animation. As a result, producers are on the hunt for ways to make ends meet that do not sacrifice quality and they are more than ever before looking to film commissions and film offices for help.

*Screens matter, but only because the Steven Spielbergs, Katheryn Bigelows and other major creators of our audovisual times can and will choose to shoot TV, animation and games as easily as they might film. Film commissions that restrict incentives to a default screen--such as longform only--can lose out.

*There is a growing recognition that film commissions can and should be involved from the very beginning of the creative process, at the development stage and sometimes, even before, at the very birth of the idea.

Case in point is Ile de France Film Commission [IFFC], one of the most active and creative of the European film commissions. CEO Olivier Rene Veillon during Film Commissions Day unveiled the first footage from the Simon Mirren/David Wolstencroft's 10 part $30 million drama Versailles. Veillon noted that iconic locations such as Versailles can be crucial to the storyline and thus, the entire creative process. He told delegates attending that at the beginning of development for Versailles, producers at first had the idea that it might be impossible to actually shoot at the iconic location for which the drama is named. Veillon stepped in to to work his magic and on August 18 shooting began at the Palace of Versailles, a location that has inspired history not just in France but internationally.

One of the most striking aspects of the film commissions in the 21st century is a new "can do" attitude. That was especially evident during the presentations of Film Commission Poland, the Lodz Film Commission, Vilnius Film Office, South Korea's ministry of culture, sport and tourism's presentation of what Gwangju can offer audiovisual producers, and the Bilbao Film Commission [BIFIC]. Bilbao and Biscay Province in Spain has already established its audiovisual credentials on a number of fronts but confidence in its future was clear in a presentation that underscored aims of achieving no less than becoming the next film, cultural and creative capital of Europe. The 30% tax rebate Bilbao offers has already attracted shoots like Jupiter Ascending and the film commission is now on the move to offer even bigger and better incentives across the audiovisual spectrum.


Sameer Al Jaberi, production and locations coordinator for Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC),  called Film Commissions Day "a great way to disseminate important information to a large group of producers at one time." ADFC and it's 30% production rebate has managed to lure in a massive roll call of shoots, among them Star Wars: Episode VII. During Al Jaberi's presentation, clips were shown of J.J. Abrams on location where the desert planet Tatooine, the home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, was being recreated. Abu Dhabi's National Media Council requires script approval but Al Jaberi points out that it is one of ADFC's tasks is to help producers and directors move through the process.

There are currently some 100 films for cinematic release,  50 TV movies, 20 serial drama projects and 10 entertainment shows currently being produced in Berlin-Brandenburg. Recent shoots include The Hunger Games-Mockingjay,  Part 1, Tom Tykwer's A Hologram for the King and Nordic co-production The Team as well as The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Monuments Men. Funding by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg is given to all genres and almost all formats, including feature films, animation films, documentaries, children's films, art house and TV movies, delegates to the presentation A Look at the German Capital Region:Berlin-Brandenburg, were told.  Filming Europe, a network of 86 film commissions from 28 territories around the European continent, also gave a presentation aimed at highlighting the increasing interest international producers are showing in filming in Europe.



Top left, Ile de France Film Commission's Olivier Rene Veillon

Middle right, Italian Film Commission's Stefania Ippoliti

Middle left: Abu Dhabi Film Commission's Sameer Al Jaberi

 Bottom: Behind the scenes shot during filming of Jupiter Ascending at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.