Location Innovators Lure Productions With Incentives

British Columbia Takes Steps to Tackle Growth

It’s estimated that the production workforce in Vancouver, B.C., needs to expand by up to 5% annually, or 1,000 people a year, and those figures are drawn from a study conducted in 2017, before the streaming wars went into high gear. To help accommodate the growth, government-supported independent nonprofit Creative B.C. has launched Creative Pathways, a website featuring listings for 300-plus jobs across 30 different departments, along with training and education sessions and postings for networking events. To further the industry’s Jeddi (Justice, Equity, Decolonization, Diversity, Inclusion) efforts in the region, the organization has also teamed with Elevate Inclusion Strategies to create the Creative Equity Roadmap, an online resource with guidelines for best practices and cultural competence.

With increased production also comes concerns about the corresponding environmental impact on Vancouver, which is being addressed by Creative B.C.’s Reel Green initiative. Founded in 2006, it has grown from a resource website offering info, tools and training to a Canada-wide program that works with a wide cross-section of industry stakeholders through efforts such as its Clean Energy and National Reel Green Committees and its recently launched Power Tie-Ins program, which helps local and Indigenous governments upgrade their power infrastructures to support larger projects.

“We’re trying to eliminate diesel generators, and the city of Vancouver has led the way with [energy] grid tie-ins at lot of locations, so they have enough power for a circus or a full unit,” says Marnie Gee, B.C. film commissioner and director of production services for Creative B.C.

— Todd Longwell

Cherokee Nation Blazes Showbiz Trail

The first certified Native American film commission in the U.S., Cherokee Nation Film Office, has quickly become a hub for Native American storytelling, says Jennifer Loren, director of Cherokee Nation Film Office and Original Content.

In 2021, the film office opened a 27,000-sq.-ft. extended-reality virtual production studio. In 2022, they initiated a $1 million annual incentive program, with salary rebates of up to 25 percent that can be stacked onto regional rebates.

The tribe’s online directories of talent and crew have swollen with experienced members from popular Native-themed projects such as “Reservation Dogs” and “Rutherford Falls,” Loren says.

The Cherokee Nation occupies 7,000 square-miles in Northeast Oklahoma. This expansive location encompasses prairieland, lakes, streams, waterfalls, rolling hills, historic landmarks, urban developments, small-town Americana and a burgeoning film industry.

The first feature filmed in the XR studio was “Land of Gold,” 2021 winner of the $1 million Tribeca/AT&T Presents: Untold Stories prize, the story of a South Asian truck driver seeking to reunite a young Mexican American stowaway with her family.

Nardeep Khurmi, the film’s writer-director, shot moving panels that he brought into the studio, along with an 18-wheeler cab. The virtual studio allowed him to create scenes that were impossible on the road, particularly given COVID and safety concerns for the 9-year-old lead, Khurmi says.

“The Cherokee Nation saved us,” says Khurmi, who also stars in the film. “To rent a full-volume XR studio anywhere else would have destroyed us.”

The tribe is making a multimillion-dollar investment to create an environment where production companies can be proud of both production quality and content authenticity, says Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

“A generation ago, the Cherokee Nation wouldn’t have been in a position to provide this sort of support,” Hoskin says. “But now we are ready, willing and able.”

— R.L. Ford

Colombia Takes Lead in Latin America

The Colombia Film Commission was an early leader among Latin American countries, introducing a production tax incentive in 2003.

In 2020, Colombia decided to step ahead again, with a revamped incentive that turns rebates into a negotiable financial instrument.

“The 2003 Film Law boosted film production in Colombia from around three Colombian films per year [in 2003] to around 45 by 2019,” says Silvia Echeverri, promotion and film commission director.

“Colombia had the crews, had the locations and had some filming infrastructure, as well as hotels, airports, and restaurants with international standards,” she says. “Nevertheless, no international films had come to the country since the ’90s. … If the country wanted to participate in the business of bringing productions, we needed a competitive incentive.”

That spurred Colombia’s new Filming Law establishing both the Colombia Film Fund (FFC) and a transferable incentive, CINA.

The Film Fund provides for rebates of 40% on audiovisual services and 20% on logistical services, if provided by Colombian people and companies. CINA provides a 35% tax credit for similar services, available only to foreign producers who do not pay income tax in Colombia. CINA incentives are paid in the form of fully negotiable securities that can be sold on the secondary or over-the-counter market, even transferred to Colombia residents as a tax credit. It’s available for films, episodic TV, music videos, videogames and advertising shoots.

Together, the Colombia Film Fund and CINA have attracted 102 productions from 14 countries just since the new law went into effect. CINA has been particularly well received by the global production community, luring some 58 productions and some $300 million in investment.

“All foreign projects highlight the dedication, professionalism, warmth, and friendliness of the Colombian cast and crew,” Echeverri says.

With the new law, though, the film commission sees more demand for crews. “It is necessary to promote training, professionalization, and above all, the insertion of new professionals into the workforce.”

David S. Cohen

Illinois Ties Diversity Plan to Tax Credits

The Illinois Film Office has been at the forefront of inclusion efforts for years. Illinois was one of the first film offices to tie a diversity plan to their tax credit program in 2008. Productions are required to show good faith efforts to hire women and minorities, which are then evaluated by the film office, as part of the application process for incentives. This year the tax incentive was expanded to include specific non-resident above the line and below the line positions. Currently, Illinois offers producers a 30% credit of all qualified expenditures.

There is also a new workforce development fund designed to give grants to qualified training programs that create entry-level opportunities for women and minorities. The program is funded by the expansion of the tax incentives. This fund along with the diversity plan are part of an overall program to grow a local crew base that reflects the communities in the state. As participants in the diversity programs get training, the film office hopes they will also advance into department head and other high-ranking positions throughout the industry.

“It’s fair to say (the Illinois Film Office) will have a pool of about a million dollars to develop these entry level positions now that the expanded tax credits have gone into effect,” says Peter Hawley, deputy director of the Illinois Film Office. “We want to have our own locally based film community and I think the expansion of the tax credit creating this training program is really going to develop diversity over the production workforce.”

— Karen Idelson

Streamers Produce Local Language Content in India

At the Cannes Film Festival in May, India announced an incentive program that reimbursed 30% in qualifying expenses for international productions shooting in the country, with an additional 5% for productions that hire 15% or more of their crew locally. While the raw percentage is impressive, the low cap of $325,000 per project means that it’s unlikely to entice studio tentpole projects. But that doesn’t mean the country is lacking in production activity.

While Bollywood may not be as storied as the Hollywood dream factory, India has long been the most prolific producer of film and TV content in the world, typically churning out 1,600 to 1,800 films a year. In recent years, its output has been further bolstered by local language initiatives by streamers including Netflix, which is producing movies and serials in Hindi and regional languages including Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Bengali. Netflix has further promoted the popularity of Indian-shot content worldwide by picking up streaming rights to S. S. Rajamouli’s action-drama “RRR,” which grossed more than $100 million theatrically in 2022, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali fact-based Hindi-language crime drama “Gangubai Kathiawadi.”

Not to be outdone, Amazon announced earlier this year that it’s more than doubling its spend on Prime Video India over the next five years with a 40-project slate of local productions debuting over the next two years. Mini-major studio Lionsgate has also invested heavily in local production via Liongsate Studios India, which recently announced its first feature, an untitled coming-of-age comedy from director Milind Dhaimade starring Neetu Kapoor, and it has eight to 10 other projects in its pipeline.

— Todd Longwell

Film London Bows Equal Access Network to Aid Shoots

England has a robust production infrastructure with a wealth of soundstage space and experienced crew that can support the biggest of major studio tentpole movies (e.g., 2022’s “The Batman”) and a wide selection of iconic locations. But the streaming explosion, along with the lure of a government’s tax incentive offering cash rebates of up to 25% on qualifying U.K. expenditures, have pushed its capacity to its limits. To help feed the high demand, as well as promote diversity and inclusion, Film London has launched the Equal Access Network (EAN), which works closely with training providers, charities and foundations across the city to get people into (or back into) the industry and stay there.

“We see first-hand the industry’s enthusiasm and high demand for a diverse and inclusive workforce, but clearly more needs to be done,” says Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission. “EAN aims to remove all barriers to entry and is free to join and open to all, and we respond to everyone who contacts us.”

Every month, the EAN is approached with an average of 50-75 unique industry jobs, spanning film, television, games and animation, and it successfully fills between 10% to 15% of them, with 50%-75% of placements going to underrepresented minorities, those working with disabilities and socio-economically disadvantaged applicants.

Film London has also partnered with Capital City College Group on the new Creative Sector Screen Skills Academy, helping train Londoners for good industry jobs, which it hopes will serve as a blueprint for programs across the U.K.

— Todd Longwell

Kenya Partners With Netflix to Develop Local Industry

The Kenya Film Commission is investing in development, training and partnership programs to grow its local film industry. Their focus on removing cost barriers for local filmmakers and encouraging authentic Kenyan stories has set them apart from the pack.

In May, Netflix and the Kenyan Ministry of ICT, Innovation & Youth Affairs signed a two-year agreement to work together to bolster the nation’s film industry and help the next generation of storytellers. The core of the project will involve infrastructure development, marketing and media spend, digital consumer protection, local content development and developing the skills and capacity of local crew.

The Kenya Film Commission also sponsors the My Kenya My Story mobile phone film competition, which focuses on using affordable technology to tell domestic stories. Entrants are required to use the smartphones over high-end production equipment. The fifth annual competition took place in April at Kenya Cultural Center in Nairobi. There were more than 100 contestants and the theme was Disaster Prevention and Mitigation in Kenya.

Kenyan-born Dorothy Ghettuba, a producer who has been active in the local filmmaking community for more than 10 years and how holds a key creative role with Netflix, told Variety she sees a very bright future for the country’s entertainment industry.

“Our investment in Africa continues to grow and we just continue to do more and more shows,” says Ghettuba, Netflix’s director of local language series for Africa. “We believe that Africa is one of the major creative centers for great storytelling that resonates around the world, so it only makes sense for us to increase our investment with our slate, with an even more exciting slate.”

— Karen Idelson

Saudi Arabia Launches Cash Rebate to Lure Productions

In addition to sand, skyscrapers and prehistoric ruins, Saudi Arabia now boasts a 40% cash rebate for productions that “recruit Saudi crew and talent above and below the line, feature the kingdom’s culture, history and people along with … the diverse selection of landscapes.” Prior to the official announcement of the program, dubbed Film Saudi, in May, several big Western movies had already taken advantage of the deal, including Ric Roman’s action-thriller “Kandahar,” starring Gerard Butler, which lensed in Al Ula, a 11,298-square-mile region known for its deserts, rock formations and the ancient city of Ad-Deerah, and Rupert Wyatt’s historic epic “Desert Warrior,” starring Anthony Mackie, filmed in Neom, an ultra-modern city in the Tabruk province.

Since rescinding its 35-year ban on cinema in 2017, the Western Asian kingdom has been making a concerted effort to build a film-friendly ecosystem to attract and serve foreign production, investing in equipment and encouraging the development of a local crew base. In 2020, its Ministry of Culture launched the Saudi Film Commission, headed by novelist, filmmaker and engineer Abdullah Al Eyya Al-Qahtani. There are also local organizations such as Film Al Ula, offering concierge-like assistance to productions visiting the region, which has completed the 250-unit first phase of a self-contained resort-style complex to house casts and crews.

“We are hungry to make things as easy and as a productive as possible, which means that sometimes what we’ll do is create interventions or incentives specifically for that production,” says Charlene Delon-Jones, executive director of Film Al Ula.

— Todd Longwell

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