by Bill Bowling, with contributions from Lori Balton, Mike Fantasia, Kent Matsuoka, and Richard McMillan
Familiarization Tours (FamTours) are productive tools film commissions use to acquaint potential productions with local location and production resources.
Some FamTours are more productive than others. Since FamTour sponsors are not always knowledgeable about how best to design and organize them, the Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA) offers the following guidelines.
The purpose of a FamTour is to familiarize prospective media producers with the host’s area and encourage them to bring future productions to that area or region. FamTours are effective not only at showing location and production resources, but also as tools for establishing personal relationships with potential clients. Properly designed, these tours are a uniquely effective form of marketing that can raise a film commission’s profile while courting decision makers in the industry. The potential for positive economic impact is an effective selling point to FamTour sponsors, film commission investors, and local officials.
Commonly, the hosting agency pays for travel and expenses for FamTour guests. Travel arrangements are often provided at a high level, such as business-class air travel and premium hotels.
The guests are toured around the territory, usually in comfortable, efficient vehicles, to visit potential locations and production resources, such as stages, and to meet local production professionals.
It may be advantageous to have local production professionals and/or production service companies travel with the FamTour. For example, on an Iceland FamTour, representatives from two different production service companies went out with the group each day, participating in discussions, scouting, and meals.
Film Commissions can enlist local, state/provincial or national governments, economic development agencies, restaurants, production service companies and location owners to contribute financial or in-kind support for FamTours. Note that sponsors are often able to persuade local hotels and airlines to “comp” the costs, with the hope that they will be used if and when the guests bring production to the area. The best FamTours are those that have the broadest base of support. Occasionally, FamTours can be organized in a way where the guests may pay part of the travel expenses. However, high value attendees are usually fully hosted.
The location decision makers of most value to film commissions include:
» Studio executives
» Location Managers and Scouts
» Producers / UPM”s
» Production Designers
» In some situations, bonding insurance specialists
The best guests are the ones who actually decide where to shoot or produce a project. For example, a studio president of physical or creative production would be an extremely valuable guest. However, these busy individuals rarely take time for a speculative tour. This is one of the challenges in selecting invitees. Usually those at the highest levels are the busiest, and will not join. At the other end of the spectrum, those who are easily available may be the least productive guests, since they may not have enough work or connections to be in a position to suggest possible locations. Of course, the goal is to get the highest-level guests possible who will have time for the tour.
For best results, don’t rely on one source for all your recommendations as to whom to invite. Often a successful FamTour will involve a mix of professionals from different regions and areas of expertise. Another approach is to focus the FamTour on a specific type of guests – location managers to focus on locations, producers/accountants to focus on financial aspects, etc.
Studio executives and top location managers and scouts often determine where a production will film. Directors and Production Designers can be good candidates, although they often focus only on the film before them. Producers/UPM”s can be good guests, although they may be more concerned with cost issues than locations and physical resources. Occasionally, taking a writer to an area may result in a script, but the reality is that many of these scripts will not be produced. For areas that are considered dangerous, it may be reasonable to invite insurance bond experts, to validate security.
For sponsors interested in inviting location managers, the LMGA will provide information or resumes for some of the most experienced location professionals. While the LMGA will not recommend specific individuals, the Guild may try to assist in developing a FamTour guest list most appropriate for certain tours.
It is very important to show locations and resources that will attract the media industry. A common mistake is to show guests the popular tourist sites. These tourist sites may be beautiful, they may be fascinating to tourists, but they may not be appropriate for future filming. That being said, including a spectacular tourist site may impress your guests.
» Note that while you want to show your region in the best possible light and showcase unique and readily identifiable features, it is also important to show grittier areas that may offer dramatic and versatile locations. Those that can double for another city, region or country are especially valuable.
» Access to otherwise restricted locations such as military bases and ecological and historical preserves that may accommodate filming can be a key selling point. However, please do not include locations which are not likely available or are not able to support production.
» Government cooperation is always key to attracting films. Especially with international production, meetings with government officials who can offer assistance and answer questions on immigration, import and export, taxes, tariffs, duties and financial incentives are helpful. Find out if there are any amusing anecdotes such as the Panamanian governments recent experience with “Quantum of Solace” in which customs officials flew to London to meet the crew and processed their immigration paperwork on the flight over.
» Utilize the knowledge and experience of those in attendance. Ask them if they have had experiences with neighboring or similar locations and what did they do or did not do to make them want to come back again. What sold the region originally or why did they pass? Find out if there are any particular projects or scripts that they may know of that would be appropriate for your region. Then consider highlighting those locales.
» Travel is sometimes arduous; it is advisable to care for and accommodate your guests in the best possible manner. The happier your guests are, the more receptive they will be to your resources and sponsors. Impressions are important and lasting. You want your guests to depart with a long-lasting positive experience so that they will spread the word among professional colleagues.
» Have a clear itinerary and stay on schedule. Guests are production professionals and will be evaluating your production efficiency. That being said, stay attentive to the interests and needs of guests. They may be interested in unscheduled stops. Be flexible, it is key to successful film production.
» Stay at hotels suitable for use by film crews, actors and above-the-line personnel. Features such as quiet, comfortable rooms, in-room high speed internet access (very important), business centers, gyms, room service, a centrally located location and proximity to restaurants, markets and other amenities are critical for long term guests.
» Keep guest group together. Travel time is valuable for promoting your area and bonding with guests.
» Know what productions have used your area. Know why they shot there. It may be possible to show clips of these productions on the tour vehicle. Promote your area using these productions.
» Providing good meals is a sure way to impress your guests and cultivate lasting personal and business relationships. Meals are also opportunities to promote local culture and cuisine, showcase the availability of local provisions and offer your attendees an insight into how well their crews may adapt to and are accepted by your region.
» Show local stages and/or warehouses for set building and filming.
» Introduce guests to top local crews and appropriate production companies. Again, incorporating this into the tour allows your guests to see as much of the region as possible.
» Enlist guests in promoting your area. Ask permission to use some of their best photos taken during the tour for your future promotion. Remember to provide a photo credit on their published pictures. Your guest may know of someone in the industry who may have an interest in your area. Ask them to provide you with those leads to potential future clients.
» Networking is an important part of the film industry. Follow up for future meetings and contacts in Hollywood.
FamTours are proven tools for marketing to industry decision makers. The Location Managers Guild of America stands ready to assist you with the proper organization and design of your next FamTour.