What is a Film Commission?

Film Commissions: Helping Your Film Location

by Ariel Penn

One of the first organizations a potential filming host hears about is a film commission. Hosts are encouraged to contact their local film commission but are unsure what it is and what it does.

So what is a film commission? A film commission is an organization that represents a specific geographic region and promotes it as a destination for on location filming to the film industry. It serves in a quasi-governmental capacity helping with the provision of public services to assist on location production.

It may issue film permits, an entitlement that allows a company to shoot on location, and can serve as a liaison between citizens and the film industry.

A film commission may be a division in local, state or national government or part of a convention and visitors bureau.  It is usually created by a government as part of an economic development strategy to encourage economic opportunities for businesses and residents in the area by working with visiting film productions.

How can I find out if there is a film commission in my area?

You can find your nearest commission by visiting the Association of Film Commissioner’s International (AFCI) website:  https://www.afci.org.  They have an interactive map that will help you locate the film commission nearest you. You may also do a Google search.  Not all film commissions or offices are part of the AFCI, so doing your own Google search is worth your time. Simply google “film office or commission in (name of your jurisdiction).”

How can a film commission help me promote my film location?

A number of film commissions have websites where they host photos of potential film locations in their area.  Some of these photographs are organized in an online scouting location library directly accessible to location scouts and managers. Other commissioners collect photos of local properties and send them out on an as needed basis when they receive a particular film location request.  Some more closely control access to photos because they want to establish an ongoing relationship with film companies coming to the area and ensure filming goes smoothly by presenting themselves as a primary point of contact to the company.  This can include helping them find the right locations.

No matter what, you should contact your nearest commission, take photos of your property and ask to have it  included as part of their library or collection of locations.

If the commission is active on social media, you can request that they announce the availability of your location for filming. Provide them with one of your best photos to include as part of any social media posting.

It is also recommended that you offer to sponsor any film commission events that involve familiarization tours for visiting location scouts.  Or you can offer to host an event for the commission at your location or invite them to bring scouts to your property during any tours. You can provide beverages or appetizers or other treats to enhance the tour.

What are the duties of a film commission?

Since most film productions are on a tight timeline, film commission personnel should be available at a moment’s notice to assist a production.  Posting a phone number or contact including an after hours contact is a must.  Familiarity with all the available film locations in the region is essential or at least knowing where certain types of locations can be found.

Film commissions should be aware of any special logistical issues including sensitive neighborhoods that have been negatively affected by filming in the past.  The commission staff should be aware of anything that could affect filming in certain neighborhoods from upcoming events to construction projects or other logistical challenges.

The film commission should also be able to direct, at the very least, a company to public services  that they may need.  It’s the preference of most filmmakers that a film commission serve as a “one-stop shop” who works as a liaison to local agencies on their behalf. If a commission doesn’t have the staff or funding to provide these liaison services, they should at a minimum provide a resource guide to obtaining any local permits or how to engage local services to assist a production.

This can include how to contact local police to assist with traffic control for a scene, how to contact the local utility in order to tap a fire hydrant to wet down a street, or how to hire a fire officer to review a proposed special effects explosion.

How can a film commission make filming easier in my area?

A film commission can be a tremendous help in easing filming issues.  Being proactive is the key. Film commission staff should attend  any meetings with local residents and businesses to hear of any concerns they may have when filming visits the area. And after hearing of any concerns, they should come up with a logistical plan to address these concerns.

For instance, does filming go better in  particular area if truck parking is confined to one side of the street?  Do residents find it easier to host filming on non-trash pick up days?  The film commission or office can communicate this to the company and a different film day could be scheduled that avoids trash day.

Does the film commission have a system to track these types of logistical concerns?  After they attend a local meeting, do they have a method of retaining this information and sharing it with filmmakers into the future? 

When I worked as a film office manager, I tracked local regions and film location addresses by Excel spreadsheet. I would write down any notes or concerns I received from local residents and businesses and passed this along to filmmakers who inquired about a specific spot. Most filmmakers were appreciative for the heads up.  The last thing a company wants to do is to antagonize a group of residents or businesses before they even arrive. They want to meet the neighbors and introduce their production by indicating that they have heard their concerns and have a plan to address it before their company ever arrives on location. 

What challenges do film commissions face on a daily basis?

Since many film commissions are part of some type of governmental agency or bureau, they usually struggle with limited resources and budgets.  They are always asked to do more with less.  This includes less staff, smaller marketing budgets, less resources overall.  Many commissions struggle to keep track of an ever changing array of logistics and to try and be all things to all people. 

I once had a client who referred to me as the “filming buffer,” meaning the person caught between the film company and the local stakeholders who may have competing and uncomplimentary agendas.  The role of the commission is to find a compromise between what a film company would ideally need to shoot on location and what the local stakeholders require in order to maintain their daily routine.  This requires give and take on both sides and can be a real pain when some want to take more than they give.  It’s the role of the film commission to ensure everyone walks away with the ability to function and get what they need from their day.

Another challenge film commissioners deal with are nuisance calls from locals outside the filming area claiming some sort of negative impact from a film shoot.   These types of calls are usually a daily occurrence for most film commissions or film offices.  Someone living a mile from a shoot calls and claims the film shoot several blocks from them is affecting their life negatively.  In most cases, this is usually a ploy to obtain some sort of compensation from the film company for “impact” from the filming. 

How can I support my local film commission?

The first way you can support your local commission is by making your property available as a film location and then providing photographs so they can promote your property.  Another way to support is to become a member of the commission if they have some type of membership system.  A third way you can support is by being a sponsor of any events or marketing initiatives hosted by the commission.  A fourth way to support is by letting the commission’s parent agency know what a big help they are to you and to filmmakers.  Hearing a good word about services provided especially by a government affiliated agency is all too rare these days. One good word can have quite an impact on  future support for the film commission. It can have a bigger impact than you will ever imagine.