Return To 'Dorset On Screen' Report
 

Arts Council Brief On Screen Commissions 1992
Below is a copy, in plain-vanilla printable form, of the brief I wrote for the public consultation called 'Towards A National Arts And Media Strategy' which the Arts Council conducted in 1992-3. It's reproduced here in the hope it may be of some use when we finally get a local screen commission or film office going here.
Click here to print
. (If you have technical difficulty printing out the web-page, email me and I'll send you the Word document.)


An Introduction To Screen Commissions
Preface
AS regional Film Commissions and local Film Offices constitute a new type of development agency, this brief is intended to give some idea (a) what they are, (b) how they are usually organised and financed, and (c) survey the current line-up of such agencies in place in the UK in July 1992, under the umbrella of the new British Film Commission which was launched this year to represent such municipal and regional initiatives internationally.

Definition
The film or screen commission is a type of official trade commission promoting national or regional products abroad: in this instance, what is being promoted is the country, region, or city as a filming location for film and television drama.

In terms of national organisation, there is really a 3-tier system involved:

1. A co-ordinating national agency (here, the BFC) which, after helping organise regional and local initiatives, acts as a clearing-house for enquiries, and handles high-profile international promotion at film festivals, etc.

2. Designated Film Commissions with regional jurisdictions, or representing the larger cities which are virtual counties in themselves and contain a variety of film-industry services as well as being credible operating bases for the surrounding area. Regional bodies may have a steering committee which is the commission proper, such board members often being delegates from interested bodies such as Economic Development or Tourism in each town or district represented, as well as local film-tv representatives able to offer expert advice. However there is often a full-time salaried staff representative, the Film Commissioner, or at least a contract Location Agent acting for the region, so that a wide range of professional publicity and liaison services can be offered, including “long-arm” marketing via overseas film festival and industry trade-shows.

3. Film Offices operated by the major municipalities.
Film Offices usually offer filming permits and location assistance within a municipal area, and are usually run by city employees. However a more comprehensive commission- level service may be offered by a municipality in an area where there is no regional commission. (This is the case with the Liverpool Film Office, which is recognised as a full Commission by the BFC.)

Each of these issues its own advertising and publicity material aimed at the film-tv industry. Promotional material also exists by itself at what might be called common-core level, produced by tourism agencies. This is often helpful during the organising phase. The best-known item would be the British Tourist Authority’s “The Movie Map” of British film and tv locations, used as a hand-out by the British Film Commission.

History Of Screen Commissions
The first municipal Film Offices were founded in 1948. The New York City Mayor’ s Office formed one, the City having granted permission for the Hollywood hit “drama-documentary” The Naked City to be shot entirely on location there. Today, the Office Of Film, Theater & Broadcasting, with a staff of 10 and annual budget of $750,000, negotiates the filming of over 130 features per annum, creating 80,000 extra jobs, and bringing in an extra $3,000 million in municipal revenues. At the same tine, one was formed by Moab, Utah, in an area that was then a popular location for westerns made by John Ford and others. The Utah Film Commission now holds the Chair of the Association of Film Commissioners International.

Regional film commissions really began in 1954, though not under that name. Films Of Scotland was referred to organisationally as a Committee rather than a commission. A spinoff of the old Scottish Development Council, it had no government funding in itself but had broad personal support from the 15-plus members, who included (as the FOS Director 1955-75) film-journalist Forsythe Hardy of the Scottish Office, scriptwriter Neil Paterson (Room At The Top), and the “father” of British documentary John Grierson (who by then was in fact a Wiltshire resident).

FOS not only assisted Hollywood and European filmmakers scouting Scottish locations. Right from the outset through the 1970s, they also chose film themes showcasing different aspects of Scottish life, and in effect commissioned documentary and (starting with The Duna Bull in 1972) acted comedy shorts for theatrical release, by negotiating financing arrangements with sponsors such as COI. Sometimes scripted by FOS members, these often won awards (including an Oscar), and became attractions in themselves and a key part of Scotland’ s film industry. Over 150 shorts were made, providing a spring-board for film-makers like Bill Forsyth, and thus (when British cinema revived in the 1980s after Chariots Of Fire) to popular features like Local Hero - whose “local colour” was based largely on the experience of a documentary shoot. (Britain had a US film-investment boom in the l960s, but with no serious attempt by British producers to establish other genres beyond the popular youth comedy of the day, the new British cinema predictably collapsed after 5 years, the creative impetus then shifting to television in the 1970s.)

Film commissions by that name were not in fact organised until the 1960s, with the first regional body being Colorado State’s Motion Picture And Television Commission in 1967. US State and Canadian Provincial Film Commissions proliferated through the 1970s and 80s, the Association Of Film Commissioners International being formed in 1987 to embrace what had become virtually a continent-wide network of municipal, county, and State or Provincial agencies, with an HQ in New York. Dwight V. Swain’s revised text Film Scriptwriting remarks, “today each of the 50 states (plus a fair number of counties, cities, dependencies, and even the Navajo nation) maintains some sort of office designed to lure producers.”


The “Devolution” Mechanism

The actual pattern whereby film commissions have quickly spread from such precedents of decades ago can be understood in terms of a ‘devolutionary’ effect, whereby more local film commissions spring up out of dissatisfaction with existing centralised representation. This is a mechanism worth noting about the role of a national or central screen commission, for it means even when it does nothing to help organize local commissions, it still has a role, inspiring copycatting merely by its existence.

This is also true of the regional commission, or the municipal office which covers a region. By organising a local commission or film office, the local authority soon has its own direct access to the film industry, and to funding. Even without organising a municipal film office, a municipality can still gain a seat on a regional commission, even causing one to be formed, simply by complaining. There is also a ‘domino’ effect in regard to the usual initial bureaucratic resistance at the local level, whereby as soon as one municipality gets a film office, its neighbours suddenly want one too, and parallel initiatives are confirmed in neighbouring jurisdictions. Such a process ultimately creates the one thing a screen-commission falls down without: access to local knowledge of the entire country.

The process can be seen by a study of their growth in North America -- not the US, but in Canada, which offers much more fruitful comparison with the British situation.

The Development Of “Hollywood North”: A Case Study
When the British Film Commission was first planned, the Working Party of the then-Films Minister, Lord Hesketh, made a 1990 research visit to US commissions. However, they might have been better to study the Canadian model, not to emulate it but rather to look at the problems that had developed, in Canada through the 1980s, from copying the US model of a purely economic agency.

There is ground for comparison here first because of the comparably weak position of both Canadian and British cinema vis a vis Hollywood, which targets both countries as their prime English-speaking export markets. Secondly, the European Single Market finds something of a precedent in the free-market GATT trade agreement, and the “Hollywood North” idea of an international production centre for co-productions is echoed in the so-called “Hollywood Europe” idea now being bandied about by the British film industry. (Canada has co-production agreements with 22 nations, and ‘hosts’ up to 40 such productions p.a., e.g. the French film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, The Bear.) Thirdly, film commissions are considered there as here to be economic “handmaiden” agencies with no cultural role.

The “Hollywood North” chapter in the history of screen commissions is thus worth detailing as it offers a cautionary tale, wherein an economic initiative becomes a cultural disaster virtually destroying the reputation, morale, and the bankability, of national cinema for a decade.

In the Pacific Northwest (where the author previously worked), the largest jurisdiction, British Columbia (almost 1million sq km) is known as “Hollywood North.” For example, last year, noted the Canada News of March ‘92 in a standard claim, “the Province became the third busiest production centre in North America, after Los Angeles and New York .“

Until about 1970, nearly all films set in BC had been shot in California, these being Mountie or North Woods melodramas set in an American notion of “The North” as an adventure-and-romance playground. The unrealistic impression these films gave was documented in Hollywood’ s Canada: The Americanization Of Our National Image (1974) by Canada’ s leading popular historian, Pierre Berton, and documentaries such as CBC’s Backlot Canada and NFB‘s 0 Dreamland and Has Anybody Here Seen Canada? These also documented how attempts to protect “Canadian culture” by legislation were quickly compromised by Hollywood’s free-market lobby which has always enjoyed US State Department backing.

In order to protect Canadian culture and industry, feature films began to be subsidized in the 1970s via a CCA or Capital Cost Allowance personal income-tax shelter scheme for features officially certified eligible by the Canadian Film Development Corporation, the CFDC. This was very popular with investors (primarily dentists) as it offered great tax-deferral “leverage” -- up to ten times any actual cash outlay, with only 10% down in cash, and the rest simply a non-redeemable promissory note --which was in fact never called in as productions of necessity have a completion-bond guarantor in case they go over-budget.


The effect of the CCA scheme on Canadian cinema is generally considered disastrous. (See annual reports by Ontario Film Institute founder Gerald Pratley in International Film Guide over the past 20 years.) The “tax-shelter film” became so disreputable leading filmmakers began to boycott it. Over 90% of the productions were not only deemed theatrically unreleasable, but were then also refused a television showing. Any production labelled “Canadian” -- even independent award-winning films (such as The Grey Fox and My American Cousin) -- found itself tarred with the same brush. Even the national CBC-TV service refused to run any Canadian features until ordered to do so by the regulatory authority CRTC at a public hearing, after which they ran a season of what we may call bona fide Canadian features, i.e. those made by their producer/directors for intrinsic interest rather than for extrinsic considerations of finance.

Efforts were made to disguise the nationality of the tax-shelter films on grounds Americans could not relate to them if overtly set in Canada. The films thus acquired qualities of both the spaghetti western and the Twilight Zone, with their odd accents and art direction striving to create a kind of untraceable limbo-like setting. (Not surprisingly, the only genres that succeeded with these restrictions were Gothic melodramas and youth-market sex farces – both usually set against a Gothic small-town background with almost zombie-like adults.)

In the 1980s, pay cable was seen as the “great white hope” that would redeem the industry, providing a new source of finance (as broadcast tv does in Britain). To launch the two rival movie channels in 1984, there was a great backlog of tax-shelter features available, almost all of which were unseen by viewers. In the event, managers of the new cable-tv services soon complained strongly, both to government and on-air, about the CRTC’s quota of 1/3 Canadian features, on grounds that viewers, from early experience, had gotten savvy and learnt to check the TV Guide for the “Canadian” label. They would refuse to watch any Canadian film, and even phone in to complain about the lack of good, meaning American, films. Soon, as many people were cancelling cable subscriptions as were signing up, resulting in the near-collapse of the pay-cable market within about a year. (The two competing channels had to merge to survive, as First Choice/Superchannel, resulting in reduced consumer choice, and the promised Culture Channel was cancelled altogether.)

Nevertheless, the CCA. scheme was maintained (till 1987, when it was reduced from 100% to a 30% maximum write-off). To expedite a continued flow of “Hollywood North” productions, regional and municipal film commissions began to be organised. BC had seen a few US filmmakers coming north for cost-savings since Bob Rafelson’ s Five Easy Pieces (‘70) and Robert Altman’ s That Cold Day In The Park (‘70) and McCabe & Mrs Miller (‘71). This was a strong start, but Altman had departed swearing never to work with Canadian unions again, and production had fallen into the doldrums. After more than a decade of competing to attract tax-sheltered US co-productions from their hub in Toronto, British Columbia created the BC Film Commission.

This was authorised after the neighbouring Province of Alberta formed the Alberta Film Commission and obtained shoots like Little Big Man and the Superman films, the AFC being modelled on US State Film Commissions. As it was considered an economic-development rather than a cultural agency, the BCFC was set up originally as an office of the BC Trade & Development Corporation, (itself an arm of the Ministry Of Overseas Trade & Development), based in Vancouver. Within 3 years, officially-certified feature production companies rose from 6 in 1987 to 92, with a film industry employing some 4,000 people and grossing overall about $600 millions per annum.

However, the overall jurisdiction was far too large for a single commission. (And there is no national one, the CFDC accepting no responsibility here.) This soon led to complaints the BCFC was acting like a municipal film office, promoting only Vancouver and area. The original Film Commissioner tried responding to these accusations about lack of equal representation, good faith etc. by extensive location-scouting “recces” - to the point of personal exhaustion. It was of course impossible for any one film commissioner to have the local knowledge, including of back-road attractions, that was really needed for effective marketing of the Province’s diverse location resources which were its main attraction to producers.

The BC capital formed its own rival Film Office, which later became the full-fledged Victoria And Vancouver Island Film Commission. This did not resolve the general grievance most filming was still at the Coast. (It was in fact a running dispute over dispensations of per diem payments for overnight stays that was keeping the crews closer to Vancouver.) In the Interior, the first regional screen commission was formed in 1987, via the Economic Development Officer of a Regional District, who simply took the initiative of making himself the Film Commissioner. However there were then complaints from other townships within the R.D. that only his city was really getting promoted.


About this time I started promoting our company’s District as a location, it being closer to the Hollywood-North HQ in Vancouver than the area around the film-commission offices, and our company quickly managed to arrange a shoot (of a western-series TV pilot) in the District, which gave us an idea of the realities of production-liaison. After the (Canadian) production company insisted on dealing with us instead of the Film Commission farther afield, the Commission asserted exclusive future jurisdiction via the one option by which a local authority can require producers to deal with it, a By-Law requiring filming permits. The same By-Law created on a statutory basis a Regional District Film Commission, which was a Board of officials and retired businessmen from around the District (plus my Canadian partner). The Commissioner was made accountable to this statutory body, with the chairman designated as Head of the Film Commission and also attending annual trade shows such as FILMEX in L.A., for which I prepared a filmographic publicity database just before leaving.

I remarked in my final report at the time that the problem of equal representation lay partly with the Ministry of Tourism’ s having been mandated ‘to encourage the development of the motion picture in the Province,” it being formally the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation & Culture -- akin to Britain’s new Ministry of National Heritage. With responsibility for related (film tie-in) promotion, they had done little with this, while the Tourism Zones made internally-equitable promotion by anybody difficult because the Tourism Regions cut right across other official boundaries in a nonsensical fashion.

Then a rival regional commission was created in the neighbouring Regional District (via Employment Canada’s federal economic development programme Community Futures, which established local planning committees) to emulate the success of the first. As no-one had any film-commission experience, the federal organiser had to ask for neighbourly advice from BC’s one regional Film Commissioner, but despite the overlapping Tourism Region boundaries he refused on grounds of conflict of interest. (This was an aspect that had already become touchy over various alleged outside interests of Commission members.)

Next, Vancouver’s largest suburb established a Film Office. Then, in 1991, the Economic Development Office of the old BC capital, an outlying Vancouver suburb straddling Hwy 1 east, put together an application package for a third Regional Film Commission (with the promotional theme, “The Country Side of Vancouver”) to fill in the gap between Vancouver and the Interior commissions. Thus the process continues.

The BC Film Commission did not actually organize any of these regional or local initiatives which made its life easier, and was not even able to offer organizers information as to what films had been shot in their area as it did not maintain regional files or indexing and “had no way of accessing such information.” (Private communication from BCFC to author in 1990.)

Nor did the Provincial Commission “commission” inexpensive showcase productions, such as documentaries, with seed money, etc (as, say, the Australian Film Commission does). This was handled separately through an unrelated agency which was in fact a straightforward quango, incorporated as BC Film for $30 under the BC Societies Act in 1987 to administer the BC Film Fund. This was a 3-year $10.5m cash float drawn from the BC Lottery Fund set up to assist charitable projects. By means of equity investment and/or loans repayable on first day of principal photography, participation of up to 25% (later 50%) or $500,000 maximum was offered to Canadian independent filmmakers who had a distribution guarantee, creating by 1990 an estimated 1,493 person-years of production work. The requirement for a distribution guarantee, along with equity participation, had to be dropped thereafter as distributors increasingly refused to distribute Canadian product.

The screen commissions, being identified as economic rather than cultural agencies, got little support rather than in advice or necessary training from the Arts Council system, which (unlike the British system) did not have regional Film/TV/Video Officers.

As the regional commissions did not even have proper database information on films made in their area, they lacked the ability to create their own publicity. (Not only could BC Film Commission offer no help but the BC Motion Picture Ass’n database was in such a state they were seeking funding to reconstitute it, while the leading national archival database did not list major productions which I later verified were in BFI ‘s SIFT database.)

More fundamental problems remained from the limited conception of the role of a film commission as a passive production-facility agency, with no “pro-active” attempt to promote the area as a setting for indigenous stories. Because the US films (often made-for-television movies) were almost never actually set there, it was difficult to find tie-ins to promote the area through them for tourism. Alternatively, when the film was set as well as shot in BC, e.g. the Canadian award-winners My American Cousin and The Grey Fox, local co-operation was also enhanced, and such filming was also a promotable “production value” for the producers ... a point however that, sadly, has continued to elude policy makers.


Belatedly, Canada did pass a provision in its co-production certifications that “nothing shown would be incompatible with a Canadian setting,” which meant no more shooting in Canada but disguising it with US dollar bills, flags, posters, etc. However, by that time (1987), the kind of films being made had long alienated not only the public but many people in the film community, who either left Canada, in a talent exodus to Los Angeles, or stayed but actually quit the film industry.

Furthermore since the reason for filming there was not that the stories were set there and were being authentically shot on location, but because it was cheaper, there would be periodic production-boycott scare tactics of the sort levied by Hollywood producers against New York City, until concessions were offered.

This happened in BC at the end of 1989, on the eve of GATT (colloquially “Free Trade”) which created a single North American market for most products. “Fleeing Film-Makers: Hollywood North Hits The skids! Boom Going Bust,” said the Sunday Province headlines, the story saying announced production starts for 1990 had fallen to zero.

In hindsight this was more planted scare-story -- a (publicly) threatened rather than an actual boycott. While Canadian activity remained the same 1989/90, US 1990 investment fell about 10%, from $20lm. to $188m., i.e. by S13m. -- about the budget of a single feature. The occasion for the scare was a currency-exchange hiccough, in this case a result of the Americans own actions. They insisted that Canada’s deliberately-devalued 80-cent dollar was a form of protectionism, and had to be refloated before the GATT deadline. The resulting rise of a few cents then had, they insisted, to be compensated for in all already-negotiated and pending film budgets.

It was in fact no longer cheaper to shoot in BC by this point, as US film unions had slashed their day rates to recover while BC companies kept their rates high in anticipation of continued boom. This was a manifestation of another phenomenon where the screen commission can play a positive role, in countering the inevitable negative effects of a production boom.

What inevitably happens is that a location area becomes too popular and the service-companies sector, which has built up over, say, 5 years to exploit the boom, begins to price itself out of the market, thinking the boom will go on forever. Hollywood then threatens boycotts, and if that does not work, enacts them, and finally, moves to another locations area. Spain for example had been popular in the Sixties before it became expensive, Mexico had lost its 1960s-70s popularity for Hollywood westerns and action films after its currency inflation, and New York had undergone a production boycott in 1990 -- until the Film Office itself demonstrated how the screen commission could successfully act as an intermediary in negotiating lower rates.

To have to take day-by-day currency-exchange fluctuations into account when negotiating budgets was a fact of life many have learned to accept when dealing with US producers, but the permanent instability of trying to base a national film industry on such economics was to be demonstrated further. Though the US long had 97% of the Canadian distribution market, President Reagan at the “Shamrock Summit” in Ottawa had expressed America’s concern about the remainder. (“Don’t worry,” the Canadian PM told Reagan, according to Gerald Pratley’s International Film Guide report, “it’s only 3%.”)

The Americans were also concerned about repatriating what the Hollywood unions called “runaway” productions, i.e. those shot outside the USA and with “foreign” (meaning in this case Canadian) crewing, as per the requirements of tax-sheltered co- production. The entire BC film industry was basically a 'handmaiden' one of service companies built up of catering, lighting, etc companies existing to service tax shelter co- productions, and this too was now threatened.

In 1991, the US announced it was going to broaden its (GATT agreement to prevent Canadian filmmakers continuing to receive “cultural” subsidies e.g. from Telefilm Canada (the former CFDC) on the grounds this constituted “unfair competition” with the USA. (The GATT agreement was consolidated and extended via NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which included Mexico, in August 1992.)

The US is also attacking Canada’ s co-production agreements with European countries on grounds that “Canadians will have unfair access to European television airwaves.” (Screen International 20/12/91) Another threat appeared in the form of the so-called “death stars,” which are US satellites that beam down US programming without being subject to the same content and ownership regulations as all Canadian broadcasting-receiving undertakings.

 


In his latest annual report on Canada in International Film Guide, Gerald Pratley said the damage had been done through allowing film and television to be referred to as ‘Cultural Industries”: anything tagged with the word “industry” was fair game in the eyes of US State Department free-marketeers. The original argument that Hollywood production would subsidize indigenous production has finally been discredited, since the bulk of the industry is geared to its handmaiden role, and could or would no more create national cinema than, say, Britain’ s many corporate video producers who flourished in the 1980s will produce features. The outcome, say some commentators, is predictable - in the industry’ s own quip, “Being Canadian means always having to say you’ re sorry.”

Yet a new-found common purpose has been found in a final realisation of the need to defend “cultural sovereignty.” An alliance has been formed to fight the US attempts to continually renegotiate GATT agreements whenever they prove not to their own advantage. Canadian cable systems are finally financing overtly Canadian programming as domestic competition (after being forced for the first time in 1991 to pay royalties for all the US programming they traditionally cablecast). And the final draft version of NAFTA signed in principle in August 1992 exempted cultural industries from free trade, MPAA chairman Jack Valenti saying this was an “ominous and threatening” development, which “sets a dangerous precedent, giving Canada ‘cultural exclusion.’”

It may seem that a screen commission has no role to play in the matter of cultural protection and development. But the arrangement has been shown to be workable whereby the screen commission is not a separate agency but merely one of the roles of a film development corporation which has some financial clout during the planning stages.

The CFDC, which undertook no screen-commission role, had been principal promulgator of the tax-shelter film which benefited so many Toronto dentists and lawyers. The CFDC during this phase was referred to in one of Gerald Pratley’s annual International Film Guide reports on the lamentable state of Canadian cinema as “the chief instigator of our follies” just before its head was replaced, the end to the CCA scheme being compensated for via a provincial Film Investment Programme with more local control. Now, the Ontario Film Development Corporation, the Saskatchewan Film Development Corporation, and the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation are all members of the Association Of Film Commissioners International. Their formation basically forestalls the creation of a separate pan-regional film commission which would have no cultural role.

The irony that throughout all this, Quebec, while missing out on almost all the Hollywood North production, has maintained more of a “national” cinema culture has been noticed there. As some say, Quebecois cinema is the only real Canadian cinema. Here, it offers a potential analogy with Britain in Europe. In other words, while Europe will do well out of the Single Market as the language barrier will protect their culture, Britain would become a service industry for the so-called “Europuddings” with no more of a national cinema than it has now.

The Growth of The British Film Commissions
In Britain, the current cycle of development began in June 1990.
The British Tourist Authority together with BAFTA (British Academy Of Film & Television Arts) and Shell, in a £3-million joint venture involving some 60 projects, co-published a brochure of British film-tv locations, “The Movie Map.” Though skimpy and somewhat inaccurate, this was the first systematic documentation of the way films are useful in boosting local tourism, making a useful organising tool in introducing the concept to local councils. For example, Castle Howard had reported a trebling of visitor revenues since Brideshead Revisited was shot there. And All Creatures Great And Small, another of the brochure’s 75 listed attractions, had since 1977 helped create some 3,000 tourism jobs in Yorkshire’s “Herriot Country.” (Radio Times)

With the Single Market approaching, there was also a high-profile Downing Street meeting with Sir Richard Attenborough, producer David Puttnam and other representatives of the British film industry, which resulted in a famous exchange:
Mrs Thatcher: Dickie, why didn’t you come ten years ago?
Sir Richard: Because I wasn’t invited, darling.
Subsequently, a £3.5 million budget of DTI funds was announced for several research and development initiatives to be planned by two Film Industry Working Parties. The first was to look at film finance structures, the second “to look at ways of establishing national and regional film commissions.” The formation of a British Film Commission was subsequently announced at the Cannes Film Festival. “UK NFC ASAP” headlined Screen International in October.

There was already film-industry talk at this time about Britain becoming “the Hollywood of Europe” due to its being situated strategically between Hollywood and Europe, and the fact that even official “Euro-productions” will need US distribution agreements, Britain offering Hollywood a production base within the EC but without the difficulties of a foreign language. Conversely, Britain is able to offer European partners a way to participate which negotiates the language barrier that till now has kept the giant European and North American markets apart. In the words of the British Film Institute’ s director, “Britain is uniquely placed to be the bridge between America and Europe in film production. The opportunity must not be lost.” At this time Japanese-owned MCA Entertainment (Universal Studios etc) was thinking of establishing a European “Universal City” style complex just outside London at Essex’ s Rainham Marshes, with up to 12 soundstages -- plus a theme park for tourists. However, despite the first Working Party’ s recommendations over withholding tax, the Budget in March 1991 offered exactly nothing, which was regarded by the industry as a deliberate public humiliation after all the Treasury and ministerial consultation over the year.

 


Big-budget US-financed films with much soundstage and special-effects filming, such as Star Wars, Superman, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Batman had been shot largely in England since 1977, but the presence in them of major Hollywood stars earning millions meant pressure for tax relief for such temporary residents. It was said because of the continuing lack of tax concessions, this breadwinning activity was disappearing, the case of Jack Nicholson being cited. He reportedly refused to make Batman Returns in Britain because of the tax situation, and despite the fact the studio thereupon wrote his character (the Joker) out of the sequel, and the original Batman sets still stood at Pinewood, the sequel was still shot in the US. MCA’ s £2 billion Euro-studio-cum-theme-park project was also put “on hold” due to a downturn in their profits attributed to the recession. The film commissions project nonetheless went ahead.

The first British film commission to appear, Scottish Screen Locations, had been proposed back in 1986. The shelved proposal was picked again in early 1990 after a favourable review from a Scottish Development Agency report, and organised by a working party consisting of Scottish producers, members of the just-revamped Scottish Film Council, and of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. SSL’s Working Party modelled the commission on Australian as well as American examples. In its recruitment ad for a Commissioner, it described itself as “the UK’s first Screen Commission, dedicated to attracting film and video production into Scotland,” and noted that “Its strategy includes aggressive overseas promotion ... and the development of a local authority network sympathetic to location shooting.” The £83,000 of initial finance was raised piecemeal: from the Scottish Development Agency (£25,000), the Highlands & Islands Development Board (£8,000), participating local authorities (£46,500), and industry (£4,000), the first full year’s projected finance for 1991-2 being £110,000. Local authorities’ contribution increased to £100,000 per annum after the service was fully operational in 1991 as a public service “to market Scotland for incoming productions.”

Scottish Screen Locations launched itself at the European Film Awards held in Glasgow in December 1990, when a version of Lorna Doone on ITV was creating press and industry comment as it was shot not on Exmoor, but - to the annoyance of West Country Tourist Board -- in Scotland. SSL had an office in Glasgow, with the main HQ becoming the Edinburgh Film Festival venue, The Filmhouse Cinema. With a Commissioner recruited from the industry (a former film-tv production manager), SSL set out to educate local authorities about the importance of film liaison, with a nationwide series of training seminars, and SSL is now assisted nationwide by local councils, who charge no location-filming fees. Commissioner Lee Leckie has estimated SSL brought £4 million into Scotland in its first year. It is in fact just the first planned phase of a planned “full-blown” Scottish Screen Commission that could offer film-development services.

The first British city to create a Film Office was Liverpool, and this was in fact a full-scale commission making a rival claim to SSL to being “the longest established Screen Commission in Britain.” With a staff of two, LFO estimates it has brought at least £2 million via 150 film-tv productions in 2 years.

Despite styling itself an Office, Edinburgh & Lothian Industries Office is also recognised by the British Commission as a commission proper, being set up in 1990-1 as a joint effort “to promote the city and the region as a location for film and television production” Begun by the Department of Economic Development & Estates‘ engaging a freelance worker in spring 1990 with this mandate, the resulting commission was originally based in the City’s Economic Development offices, and now located with Scottish Screen Locations in Filmhouse, from where it publishes a free directory of services and a newsletter.

Birmingham became the first City in Europe to become an AFCI member, the Birmingham Film Commission being a development of the Birmingham Media Development Agency. It was set up by the City Council, West Midlands Arts, BBC Midlands, and private sponsors with a capital fund of £0.5 million and two production funds (in effect commissioning local production with grants of up to £20,000). The Commission offers a database of personnel and facilities, from which a directory is being published, plus business seminars and media training. Its avowed aim is to make the City “the Hollywood of Europe.’ Its location-finding and liaison service is the first in Britain to operate on a privatised or contracted-out basis. Focus Point Midlands Ltd, a private company formed in 1990, are the official “Film & Television Location Agents” for the City, offering producers “a package of scouting, stills photography, access details, site administration and liaison with authorities.”

 


At this time, there were almost no official film-liaison services to help filmmakers anywhere in Europe, except Germany (which had official services like “Location Berlin” and the Munich Film Information Office, a pioneer European AFCI member). “The Film Commission Concept For Europe” was discussed at the first film-tv “Euromarket Exhibition,” Emporium 91 (at Nice), with a seminar “to demonstrate to European regional institutions the advantages of having a film commission, an informative bureau specifically designed to support film and television production.”

The lack of shared database information had already became noticeable. The head of Network International Film locations (based at Pinewood Studios), noted Screen International in April 1991, “tried to recreate his database on North American locations for European producers with a reciprocal service for American producers wanting to film in Europe, but he found that (unlike the US where every state has its own film commission), ‘Europe is too disorganised.”’ Britain’s senior film producer, David Puttnam, later suggested to the Media Business School seminar sponsored at Madrid by MEDIA 91/5 ‘a better dissemination of database information.’

In July 1991, the meeting of European AFCI members hosted at Munich Film Festival by one of its organising agency’s offshoots, MFIO, the Munich Film Information Office (formed in 1987 as the “Informationsburo Film”), and attended by the AFCI president, included British representatives from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and London. The outcome was a European counterpart of AFCI, EFCOM, the European Film Commissions Network, to expedite the growth of film commissions throughout the EC. The first “film commissioners trade show” was planned for the next Festival in July ‘92, with the first AFCI annual convention outside North America including a ‘Cine Expo 92’ (modelled on AFCI’s Locations Expo at L.A.), and a ‘Cineposium’ day-long training seminar for officials.

Announced in summer 1991 was the EC’s MEDIA 91/5 initiative “ARCHIVE” ‘that will link film archives of all EC member countries through a database.’ Later, in October 1991, an International Film Register of audiovisual titles which ‘aims to build a central database .... accessible to anyone’ was announced. Also, at MIPCOM in October, the MEDIA 95 initiative Euro-Aim advertised a Production MediaBase with ‘access to detailed information on over 5,000 titles,’ plus a Producers MediaBase, ‘giving the profiles of over 700 European independent companies.’ At the same time, the Council of Europe, backed by the EUREKA Audiovisual programme, advertised MAP (Memory Archive Programmes) TV as a network of over 100 producers, broadcasters and archive libraries across Europe, whose aim is ‘to exploit Europe’s audiovisual heritage. The Federation Internationale de Festival Independents (an initiative of Edinburgh Film Festival ex-director David Robinson) announced FIFI ‘would provide an international film database.’

In 1991, BBC’ s resident film critic Barry Norman had written in Radio Times after a visit to NYC

why can’t the Lord Mayor of London have an Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting? Why? Because we don’t care about cinema in this country ... we have a new £3.5 million film commission to draw production to Britain. But that’s never going to bring in anything like the $3,000 millions of business New York attracts.

This was at a time when the NY Office was helping negotiate away a production boycott over high location-filming subcontract costs. Ironically, the City, in financial difficulty, then tried to slash the Office’s staff (of 10) and budget ($750,000) (largely due to its expensive downtown Manhattan location), threatening to turn over the issue of filming permits to the NYC Police. The threat was abandoned, but the incident demonstrated a new danger: that success may make city councils think the expense of a commission is no longer necessary.

Discussions about a London Film Commission were begun in summer 1991 between the British Film Institute, The Producers’ Association, London Tourist Board, the Lord Mayor’ s Office, and the police. The BFI, via its new London Film & Video Development Agency, announced it was looking into ‘possibly setting up a data base with information about areas such as film crewing and servicing.’ These meetings however yielded no immediate result, largely due to the lack of a single Council to establish it, though there was a plan to have London’ s “flagship” Borough of Westminster spearhead it. Like other London councils, Westminster Council had been criticised cf. Eureka’s Locations Manager in April 1991:

London is over-run with tourists, traffic, demonstrations; filming is just another hassle for the authorities. A council like Westminster has a policy of ‘We can’t stop filming, but we can make it difficult.’ They have no special department in Westminster to deal with it, and you get tied up in bureaucracy.

To “get shot of its poor reputation” the Council did appoint a project officer, and a liaison office was established. Because of regular use of the area by film-makers, and subsequent complaints from industry and public alike, various London Borough councils have gained experienced and set policies, upon which filming permits are now based.

 


Ealing, after some bad press, established a Location Film Unit via its Press Office. (“We cannot pretend that Ealing’ s record has always been perfect in the help it offers film companies,” admits the front page of their brochure, but “the council is now setting out clear guidelines and charging scales.”) Greenwich Council have set out filming policies and produced an info-kit via its Leisure and Marketing Departments. Richmond-Upon-Thames Council also established a Film Unit via their Press & PR office.

Yorkshire Film Commission, supported by Yorkshire & Humberside Arts, Yorkshire Television, Yorkshire Facilities, and the Media Development Office of the City Council in Sheffield, where it is based, became the first commission in eastern England. It now offers “a network of film officers in most local authorities of cities within the region” of the three Counties.

A two-year campaign by an ad-hoc “Northern Media Forum” and the Northeast Media Development Trust was necessary to get underway a neighbouring Northern Screen Commission. The Forum had been organised in 1989 by the Northern Development Company, with remit to promote the Northeast as a production base, with a film commission only part of a larger package. Beginning in January 1990, The Forum also administered a £3 million Northern Film Investment Fund to stimulate indigenous production, as the first of a intended series of “regionally targeted film investment funds.”

To give credibility to their argument the Northeast had considerable potential, the Forum published a directory, Northern Lights, funded by private and municipal sponsors. Northern Arts also offers access to a “complimentary database” for similar local referrals. The directory noted that “Gateshead and Newcastle have Film Officers to liaise” -- i.e. municipal liaison officers within the regional commission. “If film-makers can be persuaded that the geography of the environments is varied and photogenic enough,” commented Screen International, “the other elements of thriving film culture, so the logic runs, will follow.”

Modelled on the Scottish and Liverpool precedents, the Northern Screen Commission was launched, via the Media Development Unit of the Regional Arts Board, Northern Arts, based in Newcastle, in 1992. The NSC’s press-sheet says it “is the first Commission in England whose commitment extends to a whole Region” (i.e. Arts Region of 5 counties). A Director was hired at around £25, 000 (competitive with Scottish Screen Locations) on a 3-year contract, to “sell the region and its location advantages to the international film and tv industry, provide advice and facilitate productions in the area....”

In March 1992, there was a day-long CBI conference co-sponsored by the British Film Institute, “The Hollywood Of Europe?” held at CBI headquarters on the premise “it is time to set the industry’s agenda for the l990s.” According to a Screen International editorial (20/3/92), this event “made it clear that the industry is not the match-girl with the begging bowl it is so often portrayed as, but a disparate collection of experts who have looked long and hard and ways of recreating a rapidly disintegrating UK industry.”

In January 1992, the British Film Commission, formed as a company (The Film Commission Of The United Kingdom) limited by guarantee, with an operating budget of about £1 million per annum, opened its offices on Baker Street in London with a staff of 6 headed by a BAFTA alumnus, Sydney Samuelson CBE as Commissioner. The BFC ‘launched’ in March in Hollywood at the American Film Market and the AFCI ‘s Locations Expo trade show, with an exhibition stand showcasing promotion by all extant British commissions and Film Offices, attended by 15 representatives. The UK launch, at The Television Show in London, immediately followed.

The BFC booklet gave their own manifesto. “The British Film Commission aims at nothing less than the re-establishment of the United Kingdom as the preferred European location for producers from all over the world.” In terms of the relationship with regional and local initiatives, it noted it would assist these in their organising phase. Where local-regional services are operational, it would “refer producers to regional commissioners when the selection of location areas becomes more focused.” These enquiries are in effect, competitively tendered without delay.

Nevertheless, noted the booklet, “The British Film Commission will provide a computerised database of the necessities of production which will offer information of all kinds to the regional commissions as well as enquiring end-users.” The BFC launch 36-page colour booklet documented the status quo of the film commissions infrastructure in Britain. Promoted as Film Offices are the 3 London boroughs mentioned above which have organised film-liaison services, plus The City of Westminster and the Corporation of London (for the City of London district). The booklet indicated that in 3 other regions, Film Office responsibilities were being taken on in the interim by caretaker agencies: in central and south Wales, via a pair of Welsh development agencies and Media City in Cardiff, and on the Isle of Man and in Northern Ireland via their Tourism departments. Six agencies were classed by the BFC as full-service screen commissions: Birmingham, Edinburgh & Lothian, Liverpool, Northern, Scotland, and Yorkshire, all being represented on the BFC’s Board of 13 members. Evidently too late to be included in the BFC launch booklet but with a leaflet at UK launch was the initiative of Gwynedd County Council Economic Development Department’ s Media Development Office, which issued a trade-show brochure on behalf of north Wales as ‘The Hollywood of Wales.’

 


Negotiations for a London Film Commission had been re-launched in January via a steering committee chaired by the British Film Institute, with a goal to ‘have it operational by summer 1992. In the words of the BFC Commissioner, an LFC could extend its service range and ‘also attract and help aid production in the South East.’ Subsequently, the Commissioner attended a discussion at a South-East film festival in June 1992 to create a commission for the region.

Scottish film-makers had also begun to lobby to amend the upcoming Scottish Arts Charter to institute phase two of Scottish Screen Locations, a more comprehensive Scottish Screen Commission that would take on film-development work (akin to the Films Of Scotland approach). The “SSC” would become an umbrella group to existing agencies, but superseding the present body with this function, the Scottish Film Council, so there would be a single comprehensive cultural agency for cinema.

In his opening address at the UK launch, the BFC Commissioner however spoke of areas that were, unfortunately, still “black holes” - in representation at the regional or municipal level. These in fact consisted of the entire South, South East, South West, and East of England.

The 1992 Budget in March did contain a provision, long sought-after by the industry, for writing off film development as well as production costs against income tax to encourage foreign investment. But in the pre-Election rush to wind up Parliament, this announced provision, which the Film Commissioner said no-one really understood, was omitted from the current Finance Bill.

The second of the Working Parties set up in 1990 now ran into terminal difficulty. The Chairman of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, Allan Scott, had been told no writer would be allowed on either of the Film Industry Working Parties (24 members total) appointed after the 1990 “summit” with Mrs Thatcher, as the orientation was basically towards film as a business. Scott, a writer-producer, and otherwise Allan Shiach, chairman of Scottish distillers Macallan Glenlivet PLC, had commented on the “preposterous omission” of writers. Now, the producers were in effect hoist on their own petard, for the DTI insisted on including distributors and exhibitors on the committees, and that any recommendations in the committee’s report be unanimous. Too late, the producers objected to the argument they had accepted, which had been used to keep writers off both committees - the idea of film-making being considered primarily a financial rather than cultural enterprise.

However the cultural debate had already been reopened on the eve of the June 1990 industry ‘summit” with Mrs Thatcher, which coincided with publication of an insider’ s detailed history of the workings -- and grandiose failings -of Britain’s most recently successful film producing company, Goldcrest (which had won 19 Oscars in the 1980s before collapsing). In the Sunday Times the week before the “summit,” Bryan Appleyard had commented in a feature piece, “Out-of-focus Film Makers Seek Action In A Poor Take,” on Mrs Thatcher’s interest in the producers’ proposal to promote Britain as ‘as a centre for a pan-European industry:”

They are all missing the point. First and last the issue is aesthetic -- what counts is not how movies are made (i.e. financed), but how good they are. The longer the British film industry convinces itself otherwise, the more enduring will be its decline. In this light, the idea of Britain as some sort of European leader is positively offensive for, compared particularly with France and Italy, our cinematic tradition is astonishingly weak... it advertises a failure of confidence in our own culture. It also suggests a lack of understanding of cinema itself.

Regarding the candid history of Goldcrest, My Indecision Is Final by Goldcrest founder Jake Iberts, he concluded about its output, compared to that of Korda’s London Films or Ealing Studios:

Goldcrest’ s trademark was bad yuppie films -- bland, trans-national products, packaged and for all the Oscars, flavourless .... this renaissance was devoid of any aesthetic programme or vision beyond that of prudent opportunism, later replaced by corporate insanity.

The cultural debate became topical again when, following the April 9 General Election, the Government moved film (along with television) from DTI and Home Office jurisdiction to a new Ministry of National Heritage.

Though the announcement of the new Ministry “was initially received with derision,” (Screen International 17/4/92), it was argued that this was a more potentially positive development for the film-tv medium in many years. Now, not only would film and tv (or any of the arts in Britain) for the first time have a seat on the Cabinet in “the biggest department of its kind in the world” (Guardian), but film and television would be considered as part of national culture. To quote British Screen and industry spokesman Michael Relph in Screen International (24/4/92):

 


Whether or not to preserve British film production has never been a purely commercial issue. The necessity for its preservation can only be argued on cultural grounds and so long as its fate lay with the Department of Trade And Industry (DTI) such argument was ruled out. Now, at last it is not -- and that is a vital change. Distribution and exhibition have always been susceptible to purely commercial criteria and if it has been more profitable for them to deal mainly in American product then they could be assured of DTI approval ... This is why the DTI has given distributors and exhibitors a virtual veto over the producers in the working party reports. The sooner the civil servants concerned can be replaced by those of the new ministry the better... The cultural importance of maintaining a healthy production industry in Britain will take precedence and the way in which distributors and exhibitors contribute to this will be as important as their commercial well-being. That broadcasting and the cinema - expressing, as they do, our national attitude to life -- should be brought under a single cabinet minister responsible for cultural concerns is a step that ought to have been taken years ago.

In the event, the Film Industry Working Party’s producer-members, disowning the distributor-exhibitor dominated official report, were able to hand in to the new Ministry of National Heritage their own report on “the cultural arguments for rescuing UK film, but within an economic context.”

The Finance Bill provisions for economic assistance via corporate-tax write-offs for production costs, and more importantly for preproduction development costs as they occur, were re-introduced before Parliament dissolved again for the summer. This was greeted by some with disappointment and “jaded muttering”, but can be seen in a more positive light in the context of the experience of a modest earlier tax-subsidized production boom (which did include Chariots Of Fire).

To quote Screen International’s retrospective comment (20/3/921:

Great interest was stimulated by a 1979 Inland Revenue statement that certain film production expenditure for 100% first-year capital allowances. This meant that the whole of the qualifying expenditure could be set off for tax purposes immediately. The Inland Revenue did not foresee the extent to which these allowances could be exploited for tax sheltering. They were particularly irritated by arrangements whereby investors would borrow a large proportion of the funds invested, often on a non-recourse basis, generating tax allowances far in excess of the investor’s own funds injected into the project.

This was similar to the “Hollywood North” boom and the South African “Hollyveld” production boom, where over twenty producers ended up helping police with their enquiries, and the Inland Revenue withdrew their scheme in 1982-6.

The 1992 softening of official attitude was partly attributed to the public embarrassment of the Government’s cynical ITV- franchise “auction” of 1991 whereby regional television franchises supposedly went to the highest bidder, i.e. of a cash payment to the Treasury. There being no real national cinema, television companies of course are in Britain the principal finance source for British screen drama, and they are of interest here as they assist with regional development, including financing of Regional Arts Boards. However, Mrs Thatcher had long described ITV as the last bastion of “Spanish practises,” meaning union feather-bedding. A certain amount of revenge, for political-expose documentaries, had also been suspected at the time, it being predicted (correctly) that Thames TV would lose whatever it bid in reprisal for its documentary on an official coverup, “Death On The Rock”. David Puttnam commented at the time:

I don’t think I have seen a more asinine piece of legislation ever in my life. It neither serves the viewers who lose billions from programming nor the regional companies who have served their regions. To discover in retrospect that none of the key governmental proponents fully understood the process is a damning indictment of the way this country is run.

In the event, the auction rules were not followed, which provoked legal actions from the losers, while the odd result led a shocked Mrs Thatcher -- who felt the innocent, i.e. TV-AM, had been punished along with the guilty — to apologise publicly for the first time. The auction was described (Screen International 17/4/92) as an act of “political vandalism that has left British broadcasting in deep crisis.” It was now said that the Government, with Mrs Thatcher gone and a reduced overall majority, favoured a less confrontational approach to media legislation.

Industry organising continued through 1992. Film commissions being useful to US producers finding their way into Europe, the AFCI 1992 Convention was held at the Munich Film Festival in July, to encourage greater regional representation before the Single Market deadline. A trade-show venue for “long-arm” publicity (attended by about 60 commissions), plus a day-long seminar for government officials, presented by agencies experienced in film liaison (including the very first, the New York City Film Office) was organised jointly by AFCI, EFCOM, and Munich’ s MFIO. (All members of EFCOM (the European Film Commissions Network) are also members of the AFCI parent organisation.)

EFCOM’s first chairman, Carlos Martins, reporting that since June 1991, Norway, Madrid and Poland were planning screen commissions, but funding was still being negotiated with the EC. The official European Guide to CineExpo 92 listed the new British initiatives of Gwynedd County Council’s Screen Wales and The Isle Of Man Film Commission. The Welsh Development Agency and Wales Tourist Board in Cardiff co-published a filofax-size brochure on “Wales--Locations That Gives An Edge” on behalf of “The Welsh Media Initiative” in Cardiff. The City of Bath also announced interest in a municipal-liaison service. The Northern Ireland Film Council also appeared with a location-promotion brochure. By this point, AFCI membership stood at around 230 commissions worldwide, with about a dozen initiatives in the United Kingdom appearing within about a year. One UK producer there, reported Screen International, “suggested that producers should campaign for more commissions.”

 


Conclusions

Before considering the role of the screen commission itself, it might be most practical, as the screen commissions network is not yet in place, to consider first the roles of the existing development infrastructures. This is always advisable when infrastructures set up to expedite organisational problems instead perpetuate them.

The existence of what the British Film Commissioner has called “black holes” in our national representation, as we move into the Single Market unprepared, is adequate testimonial to an arts policy which, in this regard, has effectively disenfranchised the entire South and East of England.

The whole “partnership funding” notion that co-productions can be undertaken between RABs (Regional Arts Boards) and local councils is an unworkable arts-council vanity when the local council is expected to take the initiative in such a new field, rather than the RAB mandated to provide arts development. It seems almost an arrangement designed to fail. The RABs’ conservative “partnership funding” approach offers the classic “double jeopardy” of grantsmanship: two funding sources or none, and stymies development of the arts in any areas where the local Council is not forthcoming.

The local and regional screen commission is not however a local (or private) matter but a necessary part of the industry’s new infrastructure in preparation for what is optimistically referred to as the challenge of the Single Market, and should not be subject to the RAB’s usual funding constraints. Yet the development of screen commissions being left to local councils indicates that RABs do not consider them their primary responsibility. This might seem arguable regarding a municipal film office, but there is also the matter of the regional screen commission, which can only be at present an RAB responsibility unless they wish the only other Regional agency, the Regional Tourism Boards, to take over. Ordinarily a regional commission would be made up of such municipal representatives in any case. And presumably the RABs expect to be represented, i.e. also have a seat on, any regional screen commission.

With the present approach, the “autonomous” RABs simply echo both central and local government policy. Most regional or municipal initiatives so far have been backed by Labour councils as economic-recovery initiatives to help the Midlands and north, particularly after the 1987 election. That the black holes represent the area where the Government party holds sway may seem to the politically-minded only just, but this is no real help. Without getting into voting patterns, the “black holes” all across the south and east demonstrate, that to launch a municipal film-office, economic-development funding has been needed of the sort usually only available to areas recognised (at least by their local councils) as ‘disadvantaged’ due to their greater distance from the capital.

The London-based British film industry is, at long last reluctantly beginning to accept the need for decentralisation to survive. Just as the US film industry would never have dominated had it not relocated out of the New Jersey suburbs and away from New York’s urban sprawl, it is now realised that in this country, decentralised representation away from the longtime bottleneck of the capital is necessary to exploit fully the national resource of “backlot Britain.”

From its days under the DTI, the film industry is still orientated to economic development, treating films first as “deals” to be exploited, and then as “shoots” to be facilitated. Such agencies do not yet really speak the some language as local councils, and can do little on the cultural side.

However, the creation of the new Ministry of National Heritage offers, finally, a potential remedy to such problems, making a broader, inter-disciplinary approach more “correct.”

 
As I have argued previously, a multi-level and multi-departmental approach is necessary in any case to co-ordinate strategic development, training, a broad base of financial support, and vital local knowledge and co-operation. I would recommend, as an agenda for further action here, 3 basic steps:

Training: As an organising tool, a basic orientational and motivational or “sales” seminar can be undertaken on a cost- shared basis with a single seminar for each RAB jurisdiction to make a start in plugging the gaps in our EC ‘front-line’ area across the south and east of England.

Publicity should be done by film-tv writers, and not by the usual PR or Tourism agencies who know nothing about film and television culture. As an organising tool, publicity kits can also be undertaken on a cost-shared basis within each RAB jurisdiction.

Production liaison on behalf of visiting filmmakers should be carried out not by local Council staff if possible, as they have no practical experience, and there is no time (or funds) to train them to do it properly by themselves. Such representation should instead be contracted out. (An approach finding political favour in Conservative areas.) Liaison can be done on behalf of local Councils by “Location Agents” who are local residents in good standing and among those recently forced into early retirement by the crisis in the television industry, e.g. a just-retired BBC or ITV producer. S/he need not be salaried at the outset, but can operate on an ‘on call’ basis, perhaps with an initial retainer to cover expenses, plus a per diem when showing visiting filmmakers around or when shoots are in progress.

... When finally set up, the regional screen commission should be a proper commission, and should at least commission “proactive” promotional materials, not only on behalf of its real-estate rental possibilities for filmmakers, but of the region’s artistic and cultural resources.
—D.S.

Top | Return To 'Dorset On Screen' Report