September 20, 2023

How Film Commissions Shape Our On-Screen Stories

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Welcome back to On Production, the podcast where production professionals share their stories. Today, we're excited to have Katie Pryor from the Baton Rouge Film Commission joining us. We'll dive into the world of film commissions, explore their role in supporting productions, and learn about the unique opportunities that they bring to the industry. Katie, welcome to On Production.


Thank you. Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.


Let's just jump right in. I'm really curious to learn about your background and entry into the film industry.


I think it's funny because anytime you talk to people in the film industry, there's always this part of their story where they say, Oh, I fell into it. It just happened, you know, and I'm sure you see that theme as well. And mine's kind of the same story. Ironically, my first paycheck ever was from Disney, when they came into my town as a child and took over my town to film an old movie called Tom and Huck and put me in it. So my love affair with film started early. And then I graduated with a triple degree in liberal arts from a school that left me educated and unemployable. And I wound up working in marketing which took me to PR, which took me into getting laid off when they had a mass acquisition. And then a friend called and said, Hey, you want to have some fun on a movie set? You won't get rich, but you'll have a good time? Do you want to come do sports stunt coordinating? So I went and did that, and got my time on set and really enjoyed it. And it's kind of been a whirlwind from there got pulled into political consulting after that, because the line between Hollywood and politics is pretty small. And then back into this job, which is a marriage of politics and film.


That's super interesting. For those who may not be familiar with film commissions, can you explain their primary functions and objectives within the industry?


Sure. And thanks for asking. I always find it funny how many people don't know what a film commission is, especially when you're starting out and how to use it. So film commissions are usually within the city or state, governing body of the governor, mayor, economic development, or tourism offices. And we're basically your producer paid by the city, because what we do is help you find the right locations. Some of us help with housing, some of us help with different things, but all commissions help with permitting, access, and getting in and getting acquainted with the area. So we're kind of your film concierge for the region. And depending on which Film Commission like in Louisiana, for example, the state office administers the tax program, and I administer a local program. So you'd have to go through both offices,


can you dig into that a little bit more? So you mentioned to programs or those


a lot of states, I think 30 I think we're up to 43 at the time of right now I think have state incentives for filming. And Louisiana has a really healthy strong state and incentive for a minimum spend of 300, less your local and then is reduced to 50,000, which is really cool. And so to go through that program and get up to 40% of your qualified spend back, you would go through the state office. And then we have a sales tax rebate on a local level to incentivize people spending specifically in Baton Rouge. And that process goes through my office.


So when you decided to kind of get into this work, you know, I'm really curious what kind of key challenges and then early successes you had in getting a really healthy commission up and running in your town. And then also, how you've seen commissions be successful in other states and in other places. I know. And we'll dig into it a little bit later that you're involved with commissioners across the US. And I think in some cases even around the world, is that right?


Yes, very much. We're a small community, a big small community around the world. And we love to get together. So it's a nice little fraternity. And I'd be happy to talk about that. To answer your first question on the challenges and successes of the beginning. I came at an interesting time to film commission in Baton Rouge had been around for several years when I came in. But I came in 2017. And for the listeners that are very hip to the tax incentives and what's going on, we'll know that in 2015, Louisiana tax incentives took a big dive. And then they came back in July of 2017 in July, and I started April Fool's Day. So April 1, and 2017. And so my very first challenge was coming into the job and realizing that we had a brand new tax incentive program, just starting fiscal, which was July. And I had to get out to everybody the message of hey, no, this is really what's going on and what's happening, which I naively thought it was a clean slate advertising, which I had done in the past, but it really was correcting misinformation, which is much harder. So that was the biggest challenge. And luckily, it was not as hard as I thought once I got going into it and people were very receptive. The other the success, I would say is and the joy I found in the job really quickly was the fact that it is a big small world and a lot of it is just easy communication, you know, coffee meeting up at, you know, starts with meetings and then you're having lunch with these people and you're explaining and people take your calls and it's it's quite easy. People want the information so you're not it doesn't feel like a hard sell. You know, it's just informing both what there is there and Louisiana so Chuck, cool place to be that everybody wants to listen to you. So those are my biggest successes. Yeah,


that's great. You know, kind of bringing it from your individual role in Louisiana and in Baton Rouge. I'm curious, how do film commissions generally support and attract productions to their regions? What has worked for you? How should filmmakers or producers think about utilizing film commissions? I'm curious for you to dig in on that a little bit.


Sure. So the biggest things are information in relationships. So the information people want usually is threefold. What's the crew? What are the incentives, and let's see infrastructure. There are zillion other questions, but those are really the bones of it. So getting that message out, concisely, clearly and with appreciation and people's time and limited bandwidth, I found very helpful. And I recommend that to all my phone, Commissioner friends, and then the relationships, it's just making sure that you're top of mind and you're friendly with everybody. And they know they can call you, which really comes down to being truthful. 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. And all that can be worked on if you know what you're getting to at the beginning. So it's all about the pros. And there are cons of filming here. You really work hand in hand with people as a producer and evaluate if this is the right market. And I've had conversations with people where I'm like, Look, it might not be me, but I think you should. I had a conversation with someone yesterday, I said, I think this is a better fit and jersey and take a look. And they said great, we'll compare you guys' jersey and call you back. But to me, that's great. Because if they have a product, they know what I offer, and if they have a project that's going to be perfect for my area, I'd rather than wait two years and come back with that project.


That's great. Something that you had mentioned a little bit earlier was that, you know, the role that you're in really is not only a relationship with the production industry itself, but it's also with, you know, your own town, your own state, other commissioners and other states, local governments. Can you talk about the relationship between film commissions, local governments, federal governments and the production industry itself? Many of us are familiar with film commissions, but maybe are not as like, privy to the inside of how it works. And I think that that's really interesting information that people really appreciate. Good. I'm


glad like, it's always nice to hear people are like, oh, what you do is interesting. My partner calls me the DMV of film, because we do a lot of permitting and logistics. And I'm like, don't call me the DMV, you know, everybody hates the DMV, don't know, I mean, it's fun. I like my job. It is more logistical than I think a lot of people care to do on the creative side. But I like it. The relationship so multifaceted the relationship with the government. So there is no Federal Film Office in the US, which is insane, because we're one of the largest production countries in the world. But there are state offices in pretty much every state and Louisiana is no exception. We have our state office. For us. It's located under economic development under the governor, it's different places for every state. And then there are regional offices within that. So there are different responsibilities between the two offices, we all work very closely together. I work hand in hand with the New Orleans film Commissioner, I talk to the State Film Office every week, God bless him. He's a sweetheart, probably more than he wants to hear from me. But we talk all the time. It shares lead information, making sure people land in the right spot. And then it's your relationship with the community in the town, knowing where the best base camp is, and what locations are most friendly, and what hotels are most friendly to film production and understand the hours and the concept or whatnot. And then educating the public on what it is we have a lot of questions about what is it from my home to be a location? What is it to be an extra and sharing that information being a conduit between the community and the film both sides for the information? So that's a role and then the other part of your question was about the relationships we have among ourselves. So there's an association called AFCI. It's the association of film commissioners International. It's an incredible group of people. It is an organization that represents filling commissions from across the world. And actually just got back from a conference they had in LA. They have two conferences every year, one in LA and the one that rotates. It will be in Ireland this year, which is an incredible study of the economic and social impact of film. I highly recommend you guys dig into that. But we get together and share best practices, share of resources and horror stories and glory stories and all of that, you know, bunch of old people around a campfire basically. And then there are associations that are region specific, such as the Latin American film Association, the Asian Film Commission Association, the EU Film Commission Association, and all these and there is also film USA, which is the American film or the US Film Commission Association.


That's great. I mean, something that I'm really curious to know about. I mean, you've been to that conference before, right with the film commissioners. I mean, it happens every year. You were mentioning.


Yes. Twice a year. I go twice a year.


Oh, twice here. Great. I'm really curious. This conference. What were some of the big things? Seems like the big kind of topics that were on everyone's mind and tip of their tongues this year.


That is a wonderful question. We went to the one I just got back from was the one in LA. So they're able to pull a lot of the executives and the people we filmed ventures really work with most are in studio positions, our heads of physical production, and government relations, which are, every studio has a whole team that does that. And so most of our speakers are from those realms. And then we do have some other cool stuff like case studies of The Last of Us that I totally geeked out on and things like that. But the biggest thing we were talking about was the writer strike and the change in the economic model due to streaming. And the difference. One of the impacts of streaming is the difference of content made for us domestically or internationally. So it's, I mean, Disney was on a panel saying they're 5050 as part of what they're making here. And I know that number was way sooner than I expected.


Wow, film has gone global, truly, at this point. I mean, outside of your work from the Baton Rouge Film Commission, I mean, Katie, you also have to correct me if I'm wrong, like a nonprofit. And you dig into that, what is it that you've been working on with the film commissioners outside of just your role as the Baton Rouge film Commissioner.


So that's the film USA self plug, we started it. So a friend of mine, who's a film commissioner in St. Pete, Florida at the time, and he's now the film commissioner in Dallas. He and I went to the Cannes Film Festival in marchais in 2021. And notice that there, you know, it's a global market, we noticed there weren't a lot of us phone commissions representing. And considering what we were kind of talking about earlier, the market difference in market share difference between international and domestic projects and things like that, I think it's very important that we present on a global scale. And so we decided to start an association because we are the only production heavy area that doesn't have one. And so we didn't have to reinvent the wheel, we looked at what other associations are doing all the ones I mentioned earlier, but together ours got 501, C six status and 2022. And we'll be back at Cannes this year with a huge presence at a pavilion. And we'll have six or seven of us on commissions traveling with us. And we represent our entire area. And we have a huge map of the US that shows all the incentives. And we're there to answer questions and drive business to the US. And we are a community just like the ASC is just on a smaller scale. And so we can share really relevant information on what it is for our markets and, and economic reporting to workforce development, all the efforts we're doing because we all more or less operate in a silo in our areas, because there's only one, maybe two or three people to an office. So now we can all get together and share the information. And it's I'm going to preempt a question because everyone always asks me a hole. Is it competitive? Are you guys mean to each other? Because you all want to? And it's really not? I don't know why? I don't know why the magic works. It just does. We're all super supportive. I think it's because there's enough business to go around. So we're very supportive about everybody getting business and everybody doing everything. Right. And we're very, it's very helpful.


I'm curious, do you think that that will change as things go global? I mean, in a way it makes sense to maybe domestically that film commissioners are extremely friendly. But when we see very large studios, offshoring large amounts of their production dollars 50% In this case, is it changing the tone or the tenor of how commissioners are thinking about how they can continue to attract and retain production dollars in their markets? Maybe not even on a regional level, but just on the national level?


I think it's affecting our marketing approaches. Absolutely. As of now, it's not affecting our interpersonal relationships. They were worthwhile, very friendly. And it would be hard for me to like I, you know, I know the film commissioner of Estonia, and if I lost Braddock to Estonia, I think I call her and be like, congrats, you know, I wouldn't, I don't know, I just I hope that we all stay friends. But we'll see maybe the next time I visit b two years while there is a major war with one another. But I've noticed now, as of now, we're all friendly. But yeah, to your point, marketing, marketing is different. And one of the reasons we started selling USA was to give us offices the opportunity to affordably market internationally, so we can hang one film USA banner, and represent the country. And then any member that wants to come can come and that can be Berlin, sands, Bastion, Toronto, Tiv, South by Sundance, whatever it is focused on in London, all the places where we feel our market needs to be represented. And we can go as one and so it's a lot easier. It's a lot more affordable, and it presents well to people like when people present as a team.


That's really awesome. That's really fun. You You all have created an organization. It's like the UN representative for USA in the film Commissioner world. Exactly. That's really great. I mean, I always love this idea of think global act local. Right. And I think what's really cool about film USA is you are really bringing these ideas these these products This is of how to run a great film commission how to be a great resource for producers, to the global audience to bring them into the US and to bring their projects here. But then also on a local level you do day in and day out work at the Baton Rouge Film Commission, which is, you know, a relatively small city with a very friendly film state. I'm really curious, can you tell us about some notable productions that have filmed in Baton Rouge?


Sure. And I'd like to plug my website my social media right now you guys can go see all the stuff that's filmed here at film, br our website so in Baton, and we've had this past year alone, we had the iron claw, which is an 824 project with saffron, we had national treasure, which is a Disney show that was amazing for us, because if you watch it, it happens in Baton Rouge. So we didn't double as anything, which is like the golden goose for a film Commissioner, you always want to be that represented as your city. And we had half baked SQL from NBC Universal. For those of you who were born, not in the ‘80s or before, you will not know that reference, but I highly recommend Google. We had a lot of projects last year and then just in general, some projects that people might jump to remember off the top we had some True Blood here. We had Oblivion, Jack Reacher. Greyhound was one of them. When I started, Greyhound was my first big project that came in, which was incredible. They were wonderful. I have so many great stories about that production and the cool things they did. And we've had Battleship LA and battle or battle for LA and battleship. I get them all mixed up. But we've got a lot of major ones. And we had Master Gardener last year or the year before last year. And that'll be out in theaters in May. And we had Crater, which was a Disney project. And that will be out also in May. And yeah, so I'd say we've been staying pretty busy.


That's amazing. What kind of impact do film commissions typically have on local economies? Like those are big dollar projects you just mentioned? Are those dollars being retained in your city? Or are they kind of going throughout the state? And yeah, I mean, I'm really curious from what you've seen over the years now and by the way, congratulations on your work anniversary just a couple of days ago. I'm really curious, what kind of impact you've seen on Baton Rouge and in your state since you've kind of joined and have been seeing these projects happen.


Thank you for asking because I love talking about this. We do try one of the biggest functions of tone commissions is tracking economic impact estimated economic impact, because every industry becomes under a lot of scrutiny, especially considering we do have incentives. And right now on Monday, we started a session in Louisiana, and they'll be looking at our incentive program. And so it's great to have those numbers. So all local film commissions pretty much track and then state tracks as well. And anything that doesn't qualify for the state incentive I track exclusively anything that does qualify for the state incentive we both track, but the state tracks more heavily. And we see numbers like overall spend estimated local spend payroll spend. So the impact of these numbers are incredible. For example, you have and I track hotel room nights too but you'll have national treasurer come in, they spent 17 million on payroll in the wet eight months. I mean, that's incredible. And that's local payroll, that's not bringing people in. And that's what they paid Louisiana people. And so you look at the impact of these numbers and the short amount of time that they can spend it. It's just incredible. And a lot of my job is talking to decision makers, lawmakers, legislators and explaining the impact of the industry, and also ironically to parents because I teach at the local university. And a lot of people see it as show art instead of show business. And so a lot of my job is explaining the fact that this is a business with major numbers, major economic impact, and as well as social impact. So I think people get caught up on one side or the other and don't see the duality of it.


Totally for us in the On Production audience like we are producers, we are the builders, the operators and like I think all of us have a pension for the creative. I don't know if we would get into this business without it. But I mean, for me, at least I fell in love with the real operational sophistication behind making interesting cultural events happen. And so getting your perspective on this is really, really interesting. I'm curious what are some of the current projects or initiatives your commission or film USA are working on to attract and support productions?


So right now I'm all hot and heavy on the idea of film tourism. I can point you to a number of studies. The Louisiana Office of Tourism does a study every two years on how many people come because they saw us on screen. i We had a great success because national treasury representatives as ourselves and then Allsburg SBI, a big consulting company that works in our industry just put out a really cool study about the cultural export value of film in Ireland, I reckon and that they're doing another one, I think in Australia. So that's a big passion point for me right now, especially considering I'm waiting like everybody else to see what happens with the writer strike, which has impacted the scale of production this year. So we are working on a film trail, similar to I highly recommend, if you haven't done it doing the Oregon film trail, they've done an incredible job. They're great people, they did a wonderful job. And we use an app called Set jetters. And you can go to all these different locations, see the plaque scan the QR code, and hold your phone up and find the scene that was filmed there. And it'll drive tourism to that area, when you scan it, I can see the demographics of or I can see the metrics of who's going where. So I can track the impact. So right now, my big project this year, on top of the regular marketing, and everything else is going to be film tourism, really trying to capitalize on that and get our name and brand out there based on what people have seen on screen.


That's fantastic. So between state or regional sponsored film incentives, and really nice interesting locations and infrastructure to make the production happen. You have like these just kind of interesting, you know, marketing tactics, kind of holding it all together and letting people know that, hey, you can shoot here and you can also enjoy cinema here in this state or in this region. That's really cool. You know, I'm curious, Katie, what advice would you give to a production professional who's interested in working with a film commission or considering filming in a specific region, what's the best point of entry, what's kind of the best operating procedure for them getting a good outcome and working with a film commission or like us somewhere out there in the world, so that they get the best support that they need to get their productions up and running,


that first and foremost, reach out to this, don't surprise me coming into town, let us know sooner rather than later, I have a phrase that I use a lot that people have another phone kosher friend of mine quotes me all the time, your lack of preparedness does not constitute my emergency. So I can close the road, you cannot. 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, and things like that. So my biggest recommendation is get with us as soon as possible anywhere you go. If you're considering if you're definitely coming, whatever it is, we can help guide you, we can help answer questions, we can help get you to some questions you maybe haven't thought of yet, and troubleshoot before it comes. And I think that having a producer that's lived on the ground, and I use the term producer, I don't mean to offend anybody. I'm not saying that we are producing your project. But we are there to assist in that way. And 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. And then for me personally, it gets to most of us it gets down to the city recommendations. I mean, food is my love language, I will make sure people are eating at the right places and not eating certain places and, and we just make sure the experience is better for you and your crew. So reach out sooner. That is my number one piece of advice.


That's really cool. You know, something you just mentioned was like, Hey, if you need to shut down a road, your office is the one to do it. I'm curious in what other ways do film commissions help to address logistical challenges and streamline the production process for filmmakers? I mean, you mentioned one that's really important to me and to you, which is food and closing that road. But are there any other logistical challenges or ways that your office really makes the production process much smoother for filmmakers? Absolutely. When


people send us their location breakdown of where they're going to be, we will troubleshoot that with him and say, hey, you know, this is you have to look out for trains at this time. And you need to look out for this as a bus route and whatnot. So we'll close roads where we're the ones that help with access to city entities, 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, your 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. And those requests are dealt with as they come up. But they're very unique. I mean, 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 levee and to put this dock and to put this barge and then to, hey, we need to burn down a building. I mean, it just varies. So we're the ones that will come in logistically and say these are all the people that need to be in this conversation. Let's make it work. Definitely don't be surprised by gunfire or by


it leads into my next question beautifully, which is, you know, how do film commissioners balance the needs of the film and television industry with the concerns of a local community or residents alike? I'm really curious how that relationship plays out.


We made sure that sound ordinance rules are either followed or if they're going to be in violation that the entire community is notified. For example, when Greyhound was filming on the USS Kid we have a battleship dot downtown Baton Rouge, and they're doing gunfire. So during working hours downtown Baton Rouge, so we're notifying everyone Hey, if you hear a cannon, please don't panic. This is what's going on. And everyone was you know, what do you generally hear the community so excited about filaments really not an issue, road closures, we post them online through the traffic, camera department and transportation department, excuse me, and we put a map up so people can see what's closed, and we redirect, if there's an existing like travel tour that usually goes that route, we contact a redirect or we have them have their production contact. Usually, if production is going to be infiltrating an area, we'll give them a list of the people they're going to impact and they can talk to him directly. We're also very fortunate here because we have a very close knit group of high quality location managers that I work with very closely that know the area that know the communities, and they've built a reputation with the community. And so though, get the calls as well, so we kind of feel those together. So it's making sure the community is comfortable and aware. And a lot of that too, is also explaining the impact. I know you don't have your parking spot that you like today, but let me explain why this is important for the city and things like that.


That's really cool. Katie, you know, you just touched on something which is that like there are great local resources, you can plug producers in with crew. I'm really curious, what role do film commissions play in fostering a skilled workforce and local talent pool for the film and television industry in the various regions? And I'm curious, maybe you know what others are doing. But I'm really curious what you're doing as well?


Well, it is workforce development, especially post COVID. In the streaming world, rights are huge. There's not enough crew, and there wasn't enough crew, since we got out of the pandemic and started making stuff. And the training needs to be hands-on and ready to go on site immediately after we're fortunate because we have a group called Novak here, they're in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The nonprofit does training so well that Warner Brothers has been doing training all over the world. So I'm lucky to have them. Because the truth is my office is a two person office. And on top of everything else I do, I cannot run workforce training plus, my limited experience on set, no one wants to learn how to be on set for me. So I gotta find people who are better than me who can teach and then find the funding for it. Every film office faces this and some film offices have the advantage of being able to invest a little bit more time and money in it. So it really depends on where they are. There's usually somebody in a production heavy community doing it for us, the nonprofit Novak for other markets, something else. But there are phone commissions that are investing heavily in workforce training. Locally, it's usually a little more difficult statewide, they do it 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. And that includes training.


Awesome, Katie, this has been so enlightening. I mean, it's really interesting, both from the perspective of a producer in thinking about how to engage with the film commission, and how a producer should consider engaging with you as a film commissioner in Baton Rouge and in Louisiana. You know, thank you so much. I'm really curious if the listeners are curious about getting more involved in their own local film commissions, what resources should people be kind of looking out for if you're a filmmaker or producer, wondering about how film commissions can help them with their own productions, I'm curious if you just list us off a bunch of the best resources that you know, for production people to get their hands on. And with that, I think we'll be able to conclude it. And of course, please let us know how we can follow and find you.


Oh, thank you very much. So reach out to your local film commission, you can usually find them with a quick Google or can go to the AFCI database, and look up who's registered there for their locals. Film USA will have their database up and running by the end of the year. But we're not there yet. And schedule a meeting. I mean, 90% of my time, it's just meeting with people and explaining what I do and how I can help them and whatnot. So get to know your film commissioners locally, and they probably know somebody else where you're going to film like I said, small community. So if you film with me, and then you film with another area, I could probably introduce you to that person. So make friends, add them to your black book and start that right there. A real scout is a database locations database that most of us use, I recommend doing that. And when you're going to search for locations, and for specific training in areas and festivals and things like that, I would contact the commission and visit their website or whatnot. Anytime you go to a film festival usually film commissioners are there. If it's a festival that has a Sunanda Account link to it, get Ensenada, find your people and set up your meetings in advance. If anybody's going to the Cannes Film Festival, I'll be down at the Film USA Pavilion, which is on the pente arrow village side number 200. Please come by and see me and any other members we have. They're happy to introduce and I would just say Meet us get involved as soon as you can see how we can help. And then for me, you can reach me at Katie at film baton Katie at Salem Follow both film Baton Rouge on social media and film USA. And then you can meet a whole bunch of film USA film commissioners when you find the film USA banner at any event.


Awesome, Katie from all of us at On Production and Wrapbook, thanks so much.


Thanks for having me.

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