1 How to Start a Film Commission Starting a film commission is not really any different than starting any new business. You will need to so some research, develop a plan of action, and find people who are interested in working with you to make your dream a reality. When you set out to start a new commission, you should first consider the following questions: 1. Is there a need for a film commission in your area? 2. How can you best fill that need? 3. What tangible and intangible benefits will a film commission provide to your community? 4. Who will be the beneficiaries? 5. Who will support you in your efforts to create a new commission? 6. How will your commission be funded? It is important to determine the specific needs of your area, and then devise a plan, which will show how you are going to fulfill those needs. Since you are creating a new business, you should probably begin your venture by writing a standard business plan. This may seem like a tedious and uninteresting exercise, but the act of creating a strong plan will pay enormous dividends. Why do you need a business plan? Basically, it s because you are trying to start a business, and you need to prove that your idea is economically viable and will fulfill a real need in the community. It will help you to impress potential supporters and will establish your credibility. That s why your plan must be carefully researched and written and presented as professionally as possible. Most serious business people or government officials will assume that if you re not capable of creating a professional quality plan, you re not capable of managing a business and will decline to give you their support. Before you start your plan, it is important to do some in-depth research into the subject. Talk to anyone and everyone who knows about the history of film and video production in your community, province, state or country. Visit the library or the Internet and find articles written about the industry in your area. People who are working in economic development, tourism, or local government usually have helpful information as well. Don t limit your searches to information about feature films. Ad agencies producing commercials and television stations producing documentaries contribute to the existing industry as much as larger projects do. All of your research will be used as the basis your business plan, which you will use to get funding, and community support. One of your goals will be to
2 articulate the reasons you feel that a Film Commission is needed and how it will positively impact your area. Pay special attention to things you can quantify such as how many projects, how many crew members, how much it will cost or how much money it will bring in. People with money to contribute (particularly if they represent government entities) will always be interested in facts, which can be described through numbers. Detailed below are some areas of research that you should explore. The Existing Industry Start by doing an assessment of the film and video industry in your planned jurisdiction. How many crewmembers and related businesses do you have? Is there anyone in your area that is already producing film, video or commercials? Will they be interested in helping you establish your new commission? If possible, create a list of the people and businesses who are directly and indirectly involved in filmmaking in your area. Don t forget to include businesses that are only partially involved such as hotels, car rental firms or caterers, as well as those who primarily work in film or video production. What is the need? For any business to be successful there must be a need for the services it provides. Look carefully at your situation. Does your area really need a film commission? Have projects scouted or selected your area for filming? Does another commission (such as a regional or national commission) already represent your area? Are they already adequately filling the need, and will they be supportive of your efforts? Are the locations in your area useful for film production? Have projects scouted or filmed in your area in the past that would have benefited from the presence of a film commission. Determine why your area needs a film commission and then detail how you plan to fill that need. Assets and Liabilities What do you have that makes you unique or valuable to the film and video industries? What kinds of locations do you have? Do you have an experienced film crew available? What is the cost of essential goods and services and how does the cost compare with other jurisdictions? What are your liabilities? Is there anything about your area that is not conducive to a strong film industry? Economic Impact It is important to determine what kind of economic impact the industry has had in the past, and what you anticipate the impact will be in the future. You will need to do some research to determine the economic realities of the industry internationally, nationally and locally. There is a wealth of information on this topic on the Internet, and in trade publications. The AFCI may also be able to help you with some of your research needs.
3 If you don t have any real figures about film and video production in your area, you can estimate the economic impact by using the AFCI Economic Impact System developed to determine the financial impact of film and video production. To do this, you will need to find out what has shot in your area in the past and apply the formulas to those projects. You may have to estimate some of these figures, but it s best to do the research and find out as much real data as you can. A copy of the system is included later in this document. Benefits to the community Anyone you approach for financial or other kinds of support will want to know what benefits they will get by investing in your idea. Direct benefits may include increased employment of workers and increased revenue to area businesses. Another benefit might be in having someone to manage permits and coordinate essential services to film and video companies. Indirect benefits might include making the area more attractive for tourism or the stimulating the growth of technology in the region. You must be prepared to discuss the real benefits, whatever you determine them to be, and you must be able to discuss them in financial terms whenever possible. Government officials and business people alike will want to know the following things 1. What do you plan to do? 2. How much money will it cost? 3. How much money will it bring in? 4. What impact will it have on the area? If you have answers to these four questions you are well on your way to creating an effective plan. The Business Plan After you have gathered as much information as you can, it s time to begin writing a plan for your new film commission. You need to treat this endeavor in much the same way as any small business owner would, because what you are trying to do is prove that you are a viable business entity. Even if you envision your commission as being fully supported by the government, you need must prove that it is a workable and worthwhile enterprise. There are many styles and forms of business plans that you can use as a model. You may want use a model that is standard for your jurisdiction, or you can get some samples from the Internet. Part 1: The plan Mission Statement You will need to write a one-sentence statement describing the general mission of your business. This is an important step, as it will describe the
4 nature of the work that you are planning to do. Are you going to support the film and video industry within your region or country? Then your statement might be The mission is to foster the growth and development of the indigenous film and video industry. Are you planning to attract business from another area? Then you might want to say, "The mission is to attract film and video production to the area through aggressive national and international marketing campaigns. Describe the business Describe in detail how the commission will operate. You will need to discuss how it will be organized, what kind of work will be done, the number of staff members, and the kind of office space you will you need. Remember that many of the people reading your plan will not have a clear idea of what a film commission is or what it does, so you might want to include a brief statement about film commissions in general. In writing this section of the plan, you will need to consider what kind of film commission you envision establishing. Will it be entirely supported by government funds? Which agency do you envision being a part of, or will you is an independent office? There are pros and cons to be considered for each arrangement. Will you be an independent entity? How will you be funded? Do you anticipate private or governmental funding, or a combination of both? Will you represent one geographical area or government jurisdiction or more than one? Product Every business must have a product to sell or a service to provide. Describe what your product is. Generally you will be interested in selling two basic things: one is the film location in you area and the second is the goods and services that you can provide to support film production. Your research will help you to define what the product you have to sell, and how you might most effectively package that product to sell to your clients. Location In business, the location can determine whether or not a venture is successful. In film production, location is one of the greatest factors in determining how much and what kind of production will be attracted to your area. You will need to determine the ways in which your location is advantageous to your endeavor. For example, are you located in the capital city of your area? Are you near several major cities or other potential film locations? Are you near a major road? Is there sufficient hotel space to house a film crew? Are you in an area that is popular for filming, but has no film commission to represent it? These will help you to attract production. However, you must also be realistic about your potential to attract production and know your limitations as well.
5 PART 2 The Marketing Plan It may be possible that you only intend to respond to calls from people interested in your area, rather than attempting to get increased business (and thereby increased revenue). If so, you don t need a detailed marketing plan. However, most commissioners are interested in increasing business; therefore, having a detailed marketing plan in crucial to success. As with the business plan, there are many models used to create marketing plans. You may want to find a marketing plan that someone else has created and use that or you may want to create your own format. No matter what style you use, you may wan to consider the following points when writing your plan: Define your market You will need to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the film and video marketplace. It is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and growing faster than most other segments of the world economy. Describe the scope of the market internationally, within your country, and then within your region. Try to determine what your market share is now, and how you anticipate how it will grow in the future -- both with and without your efforts. This is a good place to use quantifiable information whenever possible. Define your customers It is important to know who your most likely customers are and how your can find them. Are your customers primarily from Los Angeles, New York, London, or your own country or region? Are they producers of film, television, commercials, or documentaries? Do they work for ad agencies or production companies? Can you reach them trough trade publications, direct mail, or personal contact? It s necessary to know to whom you are selling, in order to create an effective marketing and sales campaign. Define your competition One of the best ways to successfully market your area is to determine who your competition is, and why they may be more successful at attracting business than you are. Make a list of the places you feel you can reasonably expect you will be in competition with for projects. Who is getting the kinds of shoots that you think would be suitable for your area? Be reasonable about this. If you are in a small rural area, you probably won t be getting large feature films set in urban areas. Take a close look at your competition. What advantages and disadvantages do they have? Do they have more experienced crew or more locations. How does your area compare? What will you need to do to gain a competitive advantage? Do an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the competition and compare it to your own strengths and weaknesses. It will
6 probably be very obvious to where you are lacking and what you need to do to close the gap between you and your competitors Define your product Earlier in the plan you discussed your product. Now is the time to really define what exactly, you are selling? If you re like most film commissions, you are probably selling a combination of locations, goods, services and incentives. Determine what you have that s unique or may be of special interest to filmmakers. Is your product more cost effective? Are you locations unusual? Is your local government unusually supportive? Do you have financial or other incentives to offer? What do you have that you think will be impressive to your target market? You will also want to consider the kind of image you have in the market place, and whether this image is helpful to you or not. For example, do people always think of your area as being essentially farmland, but you feel that you have some beautiful small historic towns to sell. You may need to package your product in terms of the image you want to have, rather than the one you currently possess. How are you planning to sell your product? After reaching a clear idea of what you are selling, who you are selling it to, you have to come up with marketing goals and the strategies you will use to meet these goals. For example, you may have a goal of increasing film and video production in your area by 10% yearly for each of the next five years. Describe what you plan to do to meet that goal. You may decide that you want to advertise in national trade papers, make marketing calls on producers, and attend a marketing event such as Locations. These would be definite strategies that you intend to use to reach your stated goal. When you are finished with this part of the marketing plan, you should have several goals will work to achieve, and have a specific plan for reaching these goals. It is also a good idea to include a discussion on when you plan on realizing your goal and how you will measure success. For example, you have a goal of increasing production by 10% each year for the next five years. It is very clear from this statement exactly how much time it will take to achieve this goal, and it is understood that the work will be successful if it meets or surpasses the a 10% increase each year. III. The Management Plan In this section of the business plan, you will discuss how you plan to organize and manage the business, and the ways in which the business will connect with the community. You will need to describe your background and experience and that of other people who are working with you and show how your backgrounds will benefit the business. Describe the organizational structure of the business and how it will interact with other governmental or non-governmental entities in the area. Are you planning on having an advisory board or a board of directors? Describe who will be included and how these groups will function within your organizational structure. Discuss any salary and benefit requirements here, and describe how these may increase over the early years of the business
7 IV. The Financial Plan You need to put a lot of time and careful thought into creating a realistic and well presented financial statement for at least the first five years of operation, indicating what you anticipate your expenses to be and what kind of income you will need. Income may be in in-kind contributions (such as donation of office space, printing etc.) or it may be strictly financial. Most people who you are asking for support will carefully study your financial plans to find out whether you will be a good custodian of the funds they give you. You must prove that you can be responsible for carefully using all the resources at your disposal. Expenses you will want to consider include personnel, office space, fees, legal expenses, entertainment, travel, office equipment, insurance, supplies, and advertising and promotion expenses. V. Attachments When writing a business plan -- longer is not necessarily better. The actual written part of the plan should be of a reasonable length, and well written. Remember that you are trying to impress people who are too busy to spend an inordinate amount of time reading a long document. However, you will probably have collected lots of interesting support material and you should certainly include much of it. You should include it at the end of the plan as attachments and then add a comprehensive table of contents at the beginning of the plan. By adding documentation you add weight and credibility to your argument, while the use of the table of contents will allows readers to choose which of the documentation they are interested in viewing. Some important attachments include: Letters of support: Get influential people and groups to write letters supporting your work. These might include producers who have visited the area and who wold have appreciated a film commission, representatives of area businesses who will benefit from growth in the industry, your work, government officials. Resumes Attach your resume and resumes of those who are involved in your work, including other potential staff members, and anyone on a board of directors or advisory board. Research Include copies of the research you have done which you feel is particularly important, although be selective. Things to include are printed articles, information from other film commissions, or reports that support your cause. Financial documentation You may want to include a more detailed version of your budget, or research or data that supports your financial information.
8 GETTING SUPPORT While you are doing your research and developing you plans, you also need to be developing relationships with people who can assist you in getting your Film Commission started. It is important to determine what geographic area your commission will be covering, and then to get the support of governmental officials that work in that area. These could include mayors, city managers, legislators or people who work in economic development, chambers of commerce or tourism. Other people to get to know include those who are already working in the entertainment industry in your area, particularly those who are going to benefit from the increased production activity. The most obvious of these include any crewmembers and businesses that work directly with production. There are other, less obvious, beneficiaries, too such as hotels, florists, car rental firms or potential location owners. If some of these people seem to be particularly interested in helping, ask them to write letters in support of your efforts or serve on a board of directors. GETTING FUNDING As you might imagine, this is a very challenging job, and one that may take several years to accomplish. If you are asking for funding from governmental agencies, you will probably discover that money is scarce, and not readily available. In addition, most governmental budgets are established one to two years in advance, so it may take you a long time to get yourself put into the annual budget. The key to getting funding from any source is preparation, patience and persistence. Here are a few thoughts about getting money for your commission. Credibility Anyone who you approach for money will be concerned about your ability to put the money to good use. They will want to know whether you are honest, reliable, and knowledgeable about business affairs. That s one reason it s so important to have a well- written business plan and the support of as many well-respected people in your community as possible. One rule of fundraising is that people don t give money to ideas, they give money to people. You must be ready to convince some very knowledgeable and suspicious people that you are worth their time and consideration. Knowledge You must know as much as possible about the industry you are representing, and be able to use that knowledge to support your case. The more intelligently you can converse about the entertainment industry, film commissions and related topics, the more you will be able to convince people that your idea is worthy of consideration.
9 Enthusiasm You must believe in what you are doing, and convey your excitement and enthusiasm to everyone you meet. If you believe passionately that your commission is exactly what is needed for your area, you will better be able to convince others to work with you to make it happen. The opposite is also true if you don t absolutely believe in your idea, you will not be able to convince anyone else. Know your Constituency It is extremely helpful to be able to show that your film commission has a wide base of support in the area. Potential funding sources, particularly those in government, will be looking to see how many people and businesses believe that your idea is a good one. Besides the letters of support you have collected, you may need to ask the people and businesses who support your efforts to write letters of your behalf, or to sign a petition asking that your commission be given serious consideration. Potential funding sources will be looking at both the numbers of supporters you have, and kinds of supporters you have. If you have one or more extremely influential or successful businesses or individuals working with you, it can often make the difference between success and failure. It s all about money Anyone how you approach for funding will be looking very closely at the financial aspects of your proposal. They will want to know how much money you propose to spend, and how much money this will potentially bring into the economy. They will want to know that they can get a reasonable return on their investment. That s why it s so important to get good financial information about the industry and its potential impact on your community. Be very clear about how much it s going to cost, and how much money it could bring in. In-kind Don t forget that all your funding doesn t have to involve money. In-kind contributions of things like office space, printing, production guide creation, or photography are invaluable and can help you to get your office started. GETTING STARTED It is important to establish an identity for your office as soon as possible. You should get a name for it, find an office space, and get a telephone and fax number and address. If you are a real operating entity, with an established place of business it will help you to establish your credibility. Due to the realities of securing funding, you should be prepared to operate for the first year or two on a very limited (or non-existent) budget. Those who start entirely new commissions are often faced with the need for fundraising events to fund their efforts, or with soliciting in-kind and other.
10 One of the first things you will want to do when you get your office established is to start making an inventory of possible movie locations in your area. Start developing a location library comprised of some of your more unique or interesting locations. If you can get a website established, you should make sure that some of your more important locations appear on the site. A second useful project is to begin compiling a production services director of the film and video related goods and services provided in your community. This will be an extremely valuable resource for you and for potential clients, and can also serve to show potential supporters the extent of the industry. You must be very vigilant about keeping accurate records of the people you assist and the kinds of business you are bringing into the community. Most film commissions are at least partly supported by government dollars, and it is important to have detailed records showing that this money has been well spent. GET A MENTOR/BE A MENTOR The Association of Film Commissioners International is probably one of your most valuable resources that you can use. The mentor program, in which veteran film commissioners are assigned to assist new commissions, can provide you with the kind of advice and assistance you will need to get your commission established. The association was first established so that film commissioners could share challenges and exchange information, and that important tradition continues today. You should never be reluctant to call on another AFCI member for assistance. By this time, there aren t many challenges that someone else hasn t already faced and solved. You are invited to use their expertise to make your experience an easier one. You are invited to contact the AFCI office if you are interested in having a mentor assigned to you, or if you would like to visit other film commission offices to see how they operate. Then, after your commission is fully established, you may want to return the favor by volunteering to be a mentor yourself.