As a filmmaker or producer, you’ve probably heard of local film commissions, but you may not know exactly what they do or how they can help you. In this article, we'll dive into what film commissions are, what services they offer, and how producers can best interface with them.
Wrapbook is dedicated to bringing you the best information from all corners of the world of production, so we went straight to the source: Executive Director of the Baton Rouge Film Commission, Katie Pryor.
Katie recently took the time to sit down with Wrapbook’s co-founder, Cameron Woodward, to talk all about her position and what film commissions can do for you.
The first key takeaway from our conversation with Katie is an understanding of what, exactly, film commissions do. While some might think of them as a glorified permit office, Katie encourages producers to think of film commissions as more than just the “industry version of the DMV.”
Film commissions are responsible for helping with permits, yes, but their jobs involve much more than that. They get their hands dirty with everything from promoting their area as a prime location for production to connecting producers with local vendors and talent.
Katie suggests thinking of film commissions almost like producers who help get things done on the ground in their locality. Sort of like international film fixers for the state. They also act as a liaison between producers and the local community, providing services and resources to make filming in the area as smooth and efficient as possible.
Katie tells us that communication and information sharing is a big part of the job. The first questions she’s asked about shooting in Baton Rouge are usually “What's the crew, what are the incentives, and what's the infrastructure?”
The answers to those questions won’t be the right fit for every project, and her goal is to make sure that people are coming to her region for the right reasons.
“I had a conversation with someone yesterday,” shares Katie. “I said, ‘I think this [project] is a better fit in Jersey.’ And they said, ‘great, we'll compare you guys to Jersey and call you back.’ But to me that's great because they know what I offer and if they have a project that's gonna be perfect for my area, I'd rather than wait two years and come back with that project.”
Information doesn’t just flow from the commission to producers, it also flows from the commission to the local community.
Film shoots can bring opportunity and jobs to an area, but they can also be disruptive and the film commission is there to educate the public on what production is.
“We get a lot of questions about ‘What is it for my home to be a location?’ ‘What is it to be an extra?’"
Sharing that information - acting as a conduit between the community and the film - is one of the most important roles the commission fills.
Whether it’s an explanation of why Baton Rougians might hear gunfire from a battleship in the middle of the day (as they did when Greyhound was filming in town), or road closures that will affect travel tours, the film commission is in charge of making sure the community knows what’s going on. Katie notes that in many cases, they empower the production to interface with the community themselves.
“Usually if production is going to be infiltrating an area, we'll give them a list of the people they're gonna impact and they can talk to 'em directly.”
One of the concerns a producer might have about shooting somewhere new is their lack of personal relationships in the area. How can they be sure they’re working with the best crews? Renting from the best equipment houses?
That’s where a film commission can really help out. A big part of Katie’s job is maintaining relationships with the local community and linking productions with the best of what Baton Rouge has to offer. It’s her job to:
“know where the best base camp is, what locations are most friendly, and what hotels are most friendly to film production and understand the hours.”
These pre-existing relationships are also the reason that her office should also be the first call when there are local problems that need to be addressed.
“I think a lot of people are maybe a little nervous to say, ‘Hey, we have a crew problem,’ or ‘Hey, this is a hard location,’ or whatnot.”
In these stressful situations, contacting the film commission should always be top of mind. They are often best equipped to help settle disputes or find replacements for labor or locations that don’t work out.
Finally, tracking the economic impact of films on her region is one of the biggest parts of Katie’s job. Both state and local offices share numbers and compile reports that are used to ascertain what kind of financial benefits are being shared with the community.
“We see numbers like overall spend, estimated local spend, payroll spend. The impact of these numbers are incredible. For example, [...] you'll have National Treasure come in - they spent 17 million on payroll in eight months.”
That means that eighteen million dollars went into the pockets of people hired directly by production, not to mention the likely millions more spent in the area to house, feed, and entertain the cast and crew for the duration of the shoot.
These numbers can then be used in any number of ways. They can be deployed to convince legislators to increase tax incentives that can bring even more money to town or they can be shared with the community to keep them excited about what production can bring to their city.
But before your production can have a positive impact, you need to understand how to make the most out of your relationship with a film commission.
While film commissions are a powerful hub for information and local assistance, they’re not mind readers and they’re not miracle workers. Their ability to help you is only as great as your ability to keep them abreast of what you need - preferably early and often.
For Katie, there’s nothing worse than surprises.
“A friend of mine quotes me all the time: ‘Your lack of preparedness does not constitute my emergency.’ So if you need a road closed and you know it a month in advance, I should know it a month in advance, not the day before.”
It’s okay if you’re still comparing options for where to shoot. Making contact ahead of time will only help your production get the best out of a local film commission.
“If you call us ahead of time and call us early on, we can help you with everything from identifying the right locations to accessing the crew, to finding the right hotel,” Katie says.
And for her, that’s not even the fun part. What Katie really loves is making sure your production gets the best that her area has to offer.
“I mean food is my love language. I will make sure people are eating at the right places [...] and we just make sure the experience is better for you and your crew.”
And if you’re not eating at the right places in Louisiana, why are you even out here?
Making good use of a film commission is as much an information game as it is about timing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a film commission is only interested in broad questions about tax incentives or location scouting.
“We've had everything from ‘Hey, we need to figure out how to get the Army Corps of Engineers to agree to have us on this levy’ [...] to ‘Hey we need to burn down a building.’ I mean it just varies. So we are the ones that'll come in logistically and say ‘These are all the people that need to be in this conversation, let's make it work.’”
Film commissions also need as much information as you can provide to help cut through local red tape.
“We are the ones that help with access to city entities,” says Katie. “Like if you need an ambulance or whatnot, we get you through the fire permit to make sure that you're all good and legal there. We permit your locations, your parking, all the city entity logistics, all that goes through our office and we have a pre-production meeting with all players when it gets further along in the process.”
In addition to helping with access to city entities, film commissions can also help you find the crew you need. There is so much production happening these days that many localities are finding themselves short-staffed.
This can be particularly concerning as a producer headed to a city or state you’re unfamiliar with.
Luckily, many film commissions have connections to the labor power your production needs. Some of them - such as a group called Novak in Baton Rouge - even offer training to locals to create even stronger local work forces.
As Katie explains, those training programs are paid for by spreading the tax incentives around.
“Louisiana, for example, part of our incentive program, everybody who qualifies for an incentive has to give back 2% of the incentive that goes into a fund that the state manages. And that fund then pays for developing the cultural economy here, developing the filmmakers here.”
Film commissions are one of the most powerful tools producers can use to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their production buck. People like Katie are key hubs of information and serve as priceless conduits to make the production process as seamless as possible. Both for the film and the city the commission represents.
To get a sense of where you might want to shoot your next project, take a look at our list of state-by-state film incentives for 2023. And after you make your decision, swing by Wrapbook’s one stop shop for all the paperwork you’ll need to hire your crew.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.