Kissing the Film Commission Goodbye

So, it’s been a while. Much longer than I would have liked.  There’s nothing to do about that, though.  I’ve had some Life Stuff ™ going on.  Some good things, some bad things, but mostly stuff that’s kept me from my usual routine.  One consequence of that, though, is that I’ve finally left my volunteer role as Interim Director of my local film commission.  It’s been a long and complex ride with that organization, but a duty that I’m frankly glad to be rid of.  But, I’m finding I’m still carrying bits of it around with me, and thought it might do me well to give myself a bit of a debriefing on it.  And since I share pretty much any topic here, I figure hey, what the hell?  As long as I’m getting my thoughts down, someone else might be interested in them too.

So, for the uninitiated, a film commission is a pretty common type of economic development organization that, at its core, aims at improving the local economy by getting production companies to use the areas they represent in their filmings.  Most areas are covered by one.  A lot of US states have some sort of government office promoting filming in the entire state, several states where the government doesn’t really emphasize film so much are dotted with grassroots regional film commissions, like my own, and many entire countries outside the U.S. are covered by a single film commission.  Films spend money.  Money that, by and large, goes to locally owned businesses and independent workers, helping create jobs, improve the local business environment, and just in general help more people make a solid living.  So what these film commissions do is market their regions to film producers, help them find just the right locations once they’re interested, help them get the resources they need once they come, and in general do everything we can to get more film here.

I’ve never been a film guy.  I’ve bumped up against the industry a few times, but film’s always been behind video games, books, comics, and plenty of other mediums, as far as my interest goes.  The thing I am into, though, is economic development.  Film is a sexy, sexy business.  But more importantly, they spend a lot of sexy, sexy money.  Hotel rooms, restaurants, direct jobs, film productions put a lot of cash into the local economy, and have a habit of giving a huge boost to the area’s tourism.  My office, before I even started working there, had done some preliminary work on measuring the economic impact of the film industry, so when a number of community members were thinking our region could use a bigger slice of that pie, one of the first people they came to was my boss.  She helped them start up the regional film commission under our office’s umbrella, and got me involved as a business advisor.

And so, we had a film commission.  Had a director who really loved the industry, a group of advisors who kept the organization funded and maintained goodwill in the community, a very competent board, and of course, your humble author handling things on the back end.  Every thing was running good for a while.  We built community roots, had a couple of successes in getting film productions to the area, and it seemed that everything was just working well.  Unfortunately, like many groups, especially of volunteer groups as I’ve found over the years, tensions built up below the surface.  Most of it centered around our director.  He was a very competent location scout and quite skilled at building up rapport with industry folk, as well as very dedicated to bringing film to our area.  On the other hand, though, he had difficulties working as part of the group,promoting himself over the whole commission and chafing under the board and my management of the organization, and had built some definite bad blood among many prominent figures in the community, a definite problem in the everyone-knows-everyone small town America we’re a part of.  In fact, either I or the board president were always the local face of the organization, as his reputation would lead to several important connections discounting him outright  And he really, really wanted to be a part of film.  He was passionate about the industry, so it only follows that he sought whatever role he could, but that posed a definite conflict of interest, given that one of the services we provided was hooking film productions up with viable local employees.

Eventually, we had to have someone get trained to be certified by the Association of Film Commissions International, a goal the organization had been working at for quite a while.  The director was working on the biggest film we’d managed to attract to the area at the time and didn’t want to go, so the board sent me for training instead.  Shortly after I got back, the director resigned.  Now, I’d been helping them manage the organization for a while, but my marketing skills at the time were lacking and my contacts within the industry were almost non-existent, so I was far from the ideal candidate.  Still, the board apparently wanted to get their money’s worth out of the training the sent me to, so they’d asked me to volunteer and fill in.  I agreed, on the condition that it was on an interim basis, that I’d just hold the role until they found someone else to take it.  It’s been more than two years since, and they’re only starting to look for someone else now that I’ve left.  I’m still a little bitter about that.

Anyways, point is, I never thought I’d be holding the position as long as I did.  I always focused on leaving things as solid and mutable as possible for my successor, who never came.  And that’s really no way to run an organization.  Two things I did do that I’m still proud of, I moved the film commission from under my employer’s umbrella to become a nonprofit in its own right, and I established the ongoing film festival we’ve talked about previously here.  I also did a fairly decent job of drawing films to the area.  Over the two years I served as interim director, I brought in one feature film, a music video, a couple television shows, and a whole host of online videos.  I put a lot of work into it.  A lot of volunteer work.  I mean, it was an economic development project, and my employer was happy to pay me for it when I had time to spare, but some things you just can’t fit into the 9-5.  I achieved some good things there.  Had some good fun.  There was a lot of stress involved too, though.  It can get to be a lot of pressure, having to drop everything and find the perfect location within a few days for some random film looking at your area, or having to spend all your waking hours trying to get just the right people ready because some film contacted you at the last minute and they need your help else they’re going to have to move on to some other location and boost the economy there.  And while being the main contact for your entire region to the fun and exciting film industry can be, well, fun and exciting, having that weight thrust onto you can also bite both ways, especially if you only expected to be carrying it for a short while.

So eventually the stress and imposition on my life got to be a little too much for me.  I’ve gotten the film commission to a stable place, much more so than it was a few years ago, and there’s still opportunity for it ahead.  So I resigned.  I told them I would back in August, and the time came, and now I’m gone.  I imagine I’ll still be involved a bit, so long as I’m still in the area, but carrying the weight myself?  That’s all off my back.  I’m a little worried as to how it’ll go without me, or even if it will last, but still, it’s time for us to stand apart.  The stress of the organization had gotten so severe on me that it actually left me unable to enjoy film most of the time, because it would just remind me of my ongoing work with the organization.  But now, it’s gone.  And it feels great.

So hey, you read this self-indulgent mass of venting this far.  Thanks for that.  Actually feels good to get that off my chest.  And you know what?  I’ve got a few amusing lessons learned from my time there.  I think I’ll type those up too.  We’ll see if we can’t get those into next post.

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3 responses to “Kissing the Film Commission Goodbye

  1. Sounds like an interesting and challenging experience! Also a very creative method for boosting a local economy. Thanks for sharing. Hope you’re next endeavor is more enjoyable

    • Thanks! I hope so too. It really has been an interesting and challenging experience, but I think both myself and the film commission got about as much from the other as we were going to get. So, time to move on to new things!

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