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Location Shootout


by Glen Emerson Morris

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States have changed their attitudes a lot about film production over the years. It may seem hard to believe, but New York and Florida once had film studios rivaling Hollywood's at the time, but the studios were driven out of state by politicians concerned about the studio's erosive effect on local morality. These days the reception is far different. Competition is actually heating up among states to attract film and video production, and it's not surprising the Internet is playing a big role in the promotion.

For the first time, politicians are having to consider what kind of online state infra-structure should be set up to attract, promote, and support film and video production within their borders. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars, and an untold amount in goodwill, promotion, and increased tourism (a hit movie can significantly increase tourism at featured sites, as the hit "The Bridges of Madison County " demonstrated.)

States, like Colorado and California, who have waiting lines to shoot, may not see the need to increase the allocation of limited state resources to an already thriving industry. However, this may not be a viable long term strategy, given the effects of two new sources of competition; technology, and other states.

Some states may argue that as long as they have features like the Rocky Mountains or the California coastline, production will always happen within their borders. At best, this is only partly true. Software packages like Bryce 3D are making it possible to create photorealistic landscapes with desktop computers good enough for movies, and better than required for TV. Nearly any landscape can be created in 3D, and merged seamlessly with real actors. Issues like lighting and delay due to weather, are resolved with a few keystrokes. It's only a matter of time before off the shelf location software can recreate most of the popular shooting locations in the world. Every state is going to have to compete with "virtual locations" eventually, those who start competing now will be better off later.

Meanwhile, competition for location shooting in "real space" is heating up as more states realize the financial advantages of recruiting film production. Though it's still early in the game, a kind of market positioning among states is taking place, based on the mix of location variety, technical support, and government cooperation each can offer.

States like Colorado, rich in shooting locations and technical support, are loading their Websites with location photos and industry contact information. It doesn't take long on www.coloradofilm.org to realize Colorado has a very large and sophisticated film production infrastructure. The resources available aren't just adequate, they're abundant.

In contrast, Arizona, a bit short on locations and production infra-structure, has adopted a strong "make them an offer they can't refuse," approach, offering well funded support and generous tax breaks. The Website of the Arizona Film Commission (AFC) boldly states their promise to: "initiate early contact with script appropriate location liaisons and regional film offices statewide, breakdown scripts with tailor-made location facilitation as a first point of contact, deliver standard industry location photo files without delay to assist your decision-making process, escort production personnel on time-saving physical scouts in vans with eight person capacity, assist with all permit facilitation, and issue permits for State & Federal highways, and State owned lands." It goes on like this, for a lot of pages.

The AFC Website (www.commerce.state.az.us/mopic/comserv.shtml) also promises a 50% rebate on all state taxes paid during the production of film or commercials, if expenditures exceed a specified 12 month ceiling. For film, the threshold is one million dollars. Given Arizona's current 5% state sales tax, savings could run $25,000 per one million spent. Producers of commercials are given a lower threshold of $250,000 per 12 months to meet. All the information needed to qualify, apply, and receive the rebate is posted on the Website.

This kind of competition may be good for the states, but it's even better for the film and video production industry. Better deals are being offered, but more importantly, the whole process of dealing with governments is being streamlined and put online. In an ideal world, every state would have a one stop Website to provide and process all the paperwork needed to shoot anywhere in that state, with minimum time and cost.

We're some distance from having one-stop Websites now, but only for political reasons, not technological ones. Fortunately, it's not a matter of political resistance to the idea, just a lack of awareness. With a little luck, and the continued growing support of the film industry with state and local governments, one-stop Websites will evolve naturally over the next decade, just from competitive forces. On the other hand, the film industry could start asking for that kind of service now, and have it in place within two or three years. The savings over the next decade would run in the millions, and states would recoup their expenses many times over.

In any case, the Internet is rapidly becoming a major resource for the film and video production industry, and states ignore it at their own risk. In a few years, any state that doesn't have a Website promoting and facilitating in-state film and video production will be, by default, posting an Internet billboard declaring their state isn't worth shooting in.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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