By Holabird, Robin
Public Management , Vol. 75, No. 10
Bureaucracy can gain some glamour--and revenue--when it hitches up with the movie industry.
While cities, counties, and states can not expect "Jurassic Park" profits, there is no question that entities can benefit by hosting a project, and the summer's dinosaur blockbuster is a case in point.
Kauai Film Commissioner Judy Drosd was happy enough just to have a high-profile, big-name project like Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" come to her island last fall. Drosd's job description has her encouraging and facilitating location filming--a function that is becoming common in city, county, and state governments. Drosd's encouragement program did not have Hurricane Iniki on the agenda, but she now says, "If you are going to have a disaster, you should have a film crew around because they are a self-contained unit." Generators, food, and other resources proved a boon to crew and residents alike during the storm.
After the hurricane, producer Kathleen Kennedy jogged to the local airport, rode a military plane to neighboring Oahu, and arranged with Universal Studios to provide a planeload of relief and medical supplies. The company also took the island to heart and arranged for several follow-up fundraisers.
While this unexpected help was more than appreciated, Commissioner Drosd knew all along that "Jurassic Park" would prove a tourism boom. "In just the opening weekend of the film," she says, "a record-breaking audience saw how spectacular our island is, and they'll come just to see places--not dinosaurs--they recognize from the movie."
Films and Tourism
Attracting tourists always has been a prime reason for communities to seek motion picture projects, regardless of script content.
Classic stories circulating in film commissions include Australia's "Crocodile Dundee" paragon, in which a movie plot that made the outback seem like a dangerous, rugged place full of hungry reptiles ended up serving as a promotional program to lure visitors to the continent.
Commissioner Norm Bielowicz of the Georgia Film and Videotape Office traces a similar tradition back to 1972 and "Deliverance." Despite some unpleasantries in the story along the river, "one year later, tourism was up 30 percent," he says. The film started what has become a major raft and expedition business that brings some 20,000 tourists a year to Rayburn County.
And when the publicity is good, whole industries can be developed around a project. For instance, the real "Massachusetts Miracle" may well have been the series "Cheers," which uses a drawing of the Bull and Finch pub as credits roll. Although the long-running series was filmed in Los Angeles, tourists started seeking out the bar exterior along Boston Common and wandering in for a drink or snack. Still, the tourism benefit is a roll of the dice, dependent upon the success of a film or television project.
Whether or not a project goes on to be a hit, however, communities can count on a production company's bringing revenue to the area by hiring locals and using services. This alone is enough to encourage governments to create film offices as part of economic development programs.
Entities can expect to receive some direct benefits, including permit fees, location fees, labor salaries, taxes, in-kind work, and donations.
Permit fees. …