Saturday, January 20, 2018
  • Sunday, Apr. 9, 2017
ROI At AFCI; Incentives A Hot Topic At Locations and Global Production & Finance Confab
Luana Wheatley (l), director of the U.S. Virgin Islands Film Commission (USVI), and veteran location manager David Doumeng, recently named the USVI's Los Angeles-based liaison.
  • BURBANK, Calif.
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By both addition and subtraction, Maryland knows the value of hosting the production of a TV series. For Netflix’s House of Cards, with five seasons under its belt, the state has thus far yielded considerable return on its filming incentives investment according to Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office. For example, he shared, House of Cards has generated business for more than 14,000 Maryland vendors over the years, as well as jobs for 2,100 cast and crew members per season.

Gerbes recalled that when production house MRC (Media Rights Capital) first approached him about House of Cards, he had the task of obtaining more funding-related incentives from the Governor’s office. The initial response he received was one of doubt in that Netflix was viewed as this company that mailed DVDs to its customers. How would a series from Netflix possibly make a mark? Well, with the desired incentives package in place, House of Cards went on to break new ground, helping to spawn today’s prolific online series marketplace.

Gerbes’ observations and recollection of the House of Cards backstory came as a panelist in the first of a two-part Around the World in 90 Minutes roundtable discussion at the recently wrapped (4/6-8) AFCI Locations and Global Production & Finance Conference held at the Marriott Burbank.

During the session, Gerbes also touched upon the flip side--namely his experiencing the loss of a TV series. Maryland was home to HBO’s Veep for four seasons. But once state subsidies diminished, Veep moved to Los Angeles in 2015, lured by California’s film and TV incentives program which translated into the show receiving a reported $6.5 million tax credit.

Fellow AFCI session panelist Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Office, noted that the state’s expanded Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0 has proven quite successful. Most recently four more TV series have relocated to California: a pair from New York (Showtime’s The Affair, Netflix’s The OA) and another two from Vancouver, B.C. (FOX’s Lucifer, FX’s Legion). With their arrival, a total of 11 TV series have moved from other states to California under Program 2.0.

Also among those 11 relocated shows is HBO’s Ballers. After shooting its first two seasons in Miami, Ballers settled into Greater L.A., a prime lure being a reported $8 million-plus worth of California tax credits covering 10 episodes. Ballers departed Florida after that state’s incentive program fell by the wayside. 

However, a local initiative is looking to pick up the slack. Sandy Lighterman, film commissioner of the Miami-Dade County Film and Entertainment Commission, a panelist for part two of the AFCI Around the World in 90 Minutes roundtable, noted that Miami-Dade County is in the process of developing and hoping to implement an incentives initiative as a pilot program. Though it has to still clear hurdles, Lighterman provided an outline of the proposed package to AFCI event attendees. In broad strokes, the incentive is a cash rebate after a production is audited--simply put, for a minimum $1 million spend, the production would receive $100,000 back. Requirements would include that 70 percent of the production has to be shot in Miami-Dade County, that at least 60 percent of cast and crew be Miami-Dade residents, and that 80 percent of vendors be from Miami-Dade County. The return on investment (ROI) of the pilot program would be “Miami-Dade County centric,” affirmed Lighterman.

Beyond the situation unfolding in Miami-Dade County, local city and county measures play a role in other states that already have strong filming incentive packages. Heather Page, director of the Texas Film Commission, a panelist in part one of the AFCI discussion, noted for example that San Antonio has a 7.5 percent cash rebate while Austin and Dallas have their own programs in place as well. Page added that Houston too is looking to do more with a new mayor expressing an interest in more actively promoting the city for production. As for the overall state, Page said that the extent of funding for Texas incentives over the next two years will be decided and then become known by mid- to late May.

Meanwhile different countries are moving toward putting lensing incentives in place. Tomasz Dabrowski, Poland’s film commissioner and a panelist at Part 2 of the AFCI event discussion, projected that he will have a cash rebate in place sometime around late summer. Poland’s program calls for a 25 percent cash rebate for film production, bringing the country in line with the financial lures offered in other Eastern European territories. Dabrowski conjectured that the Polish incentive will carry a cap of some $3 million per project, as applied to theatrical features, documentaries and high-end TV fare. The country’s film industry has been talking for about a dozen years with the Polish government about instituting an incentives package--and now a program is about to come to fruition.

Fellow panelist George David from the Royal Film Commission of Jordan added that his country is actively lobbying for incentives. He assessed that it’s “looking good for us to announce something in 2018.”

Both Around the World in 90 Minutes sessions--one held Thursday morning, the next in the a.m. on Friday--were jointly moderated by Joe Chianese and John Hadity of Entertainment Partners. Chianese said that ROI for incentives also includes what he called “cinetourism” as exposure in feature films and TV can stimulate tourist traffic.

Around the World in 90 Minutes, Part 2 panelist Catherine Bates, head of incentives for the New Zealand Film Commission, pointed out for example that 18 percent of New Zealand tourists said that one of the reasons they came to the country was that they saw The Hobbit trilogy shot Down Under.

Developments on Locations exhibit floor
Meanwhile on the AFCI Locations exhibit floor, more than 20 countries were represented with a mix of film commissions and service industry providers showcasing their wares. News made by the exhibitors included:

--After a six-year absence, Arizona again has a film commission. On hand at the Arizona Office of Film and Media booth was its director, film commissioner Matthew Earl Jones. He brings to his new post some 30-plus years of experience on both sides of the camera in film and TV, as well as the music industry.

--And the U.S. Virgin Islands Film Commission (USVI), headed by director Luana Wheatley, has brought David Doumeng aboard as its Los Angeles-based liaison. A veteran location manager, Doumeng joins the USVI Film Commission to further develop business in all filmmaking sectors, including commercials. Over the past 20 years, he has served as a location manager on assorted projects, including teaming with leading production houses and ad agencies on spots and branded content. Among the A-list production companies he’s worked with are RSA Films, Smuggler and MJZ. Furthermore NY native Doumeng is well versed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, having been raised there.

Doumeng’s accomplishments include being nominated for Location Managers Guild International’s (LMGI) Awards in the Commercials category--first in 2014 at the inaugural LMGI competition for a Nike spot, and most recently for Apple MacBook Pro’s “Bulbs” ad. The latter nod turned into an LMGI Award winner on Saturday (4/8), Doumeng and fellow location manager Charlie Love shared the honor for “Bulbs” which tied in the LMGI Commercials category with Johnnie Walker’s “This Land is Your Land.”

USVI has an incentives program in place whereby qualified producers can earn up to a 17 percent transferable tax credit, and up to a 29 percent cash rebate.  Among the prerequisites is a minimum spend of $250,000. A commercial producer can reach that minimum total cumulatively during the course of a year with multiple jobs if need be.

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