Film Tourism: A Route to Funding?
Economic development specialist Martin Cuff explains why filmmakers, as well as locations, can benefit from the boom in film tourism.
From Taiwan to Forks, Washington, and from New Zealand to Northern Ireland, audiences are increasingly motivated to travel to the places they have seen in their favourite films or shows. Last year’s global benchmarking survey, the TRAVELSAT Competitive Index, noted that around 40m international tourists chose their destination mainly because they saw a film shot in a particular location, and up to 10 visitors in every 100 choose a destination thanks mostly to movies. The survey also noted that this channel is particularly useful for attracting first-time visitors, young travellers and short-stay and city-breakers, and that the lucrative BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) markets tend to be especially sensitive to this medium.
Although there are examples of film tourism impacts going back decades (think Deliverance; 40-years-old this year and still driving tourism of more than $40m per annum) more recent examples prove that it’s an ever-increasing sector. Chinese road movie Lost in Thailand, for example, is explicitly cited as the main reason for an increase in Chinese visitors to Thailand. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film has generated a 44.4 per cent increase in tourism turnover, and investment of as much as 29.6bn Thai baht (a jaw-dropping $1bn) into the Thai economy in 2013.
Similarly, figures released by Tourism New Zealand show that international holidays to the country rose by 10 per cent during the first four months of 2013, compared to the same period last year. A survey indicated that 8.5 per cent of visitors cited The Hobbit as a reason for coming, and that 13 per cent took part in some kind of Hobbit-themed tourism, such as visiting one of the film’s sets. Closer to home, Film London report that films and TV programmes that depict the UK are directly responsible for attracting about one in 10 overseas tourists—around 28m visitors—who spend around £1.8bn per year. Visit Britain suggest that films could be influencing the expectations of up to 40 per cent of international visitors coming to the UK.
The influence of the big and small screen is also being felt by locales that may not otherwise be typical tourist destinations. Consider the small city of Southport, North Carolina. For the entire month of January, 2013, the city’s website received around 322 page views. In the four months after Lasse Hallström’s romantic drama Safe Haven debuted on Valentine’s Day, that same website received over 250,000 total page views. And in Sweden, the municipality of Ystad—home of the Wallander series—calculates the value of the city’s media coverage in Swedish and English-speaking web-based press at a total PR value of over 96m SEK (around €11m).
But what does all this mean for filmmakers?
The good news is that it could result in access to more funding and other marketing resources for films that showcase a particular location. We’re already starting to see examples of this: Israel’s tourism ministry, for example, reportedly invested $8m in the romcom The Old Cinderella, starring Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu, which shot in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. And Botswana Tourism invested $5m in the HBO/BBC series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which shot in and around Gaborone in 2009.
The bad news, however, is that— unlike film incentives or tax credit programmes that are based on clear and easily discernible formulas and rules—tourism offices and destination management organisations aren’t set up to hand over cash to filmmakers. There’s no simple calculation that says, ‘if you pay me X, my movie will create Y tourists and Z economic value’. In a nutshell, that means if you want tourism cash, then you’re likely going to have to work hard for it.
Although there is no real precedent or framework for this, in my experience there are a couple of things worth considering when you draft your proposal. Firstly, you need to be specific about the audience you hope to attract to your film. ‘It’s for everyone who’s young at heart’ may sound good in a presentation, but it will have real marketers sharpening their pencils to stab you in the eye. Break it down. Give details. Ascribe niches. Furthermore, you need to do some research into whether your proposed audience is actually a genuine target market being wooed by your proposed tourism partner. Google a location’s tourism strategy for an idea about the kind of market they want to attract. For example, if the destination is looking to develop the upmarket, luxury, sophisticated but eco-friendly end of the market, then pitching a movie about cannibal-mutant biker gangs running amok in a topless Spring Break rave party is unlikely to be of interest. There ARE destinations going after the youth market, you’re just going to need to research which.
You also need to be specific about how the destination is going to be featured in your film. Will it be a simple visual placement, where the location is observable only for a few moments—in establishing shots, for example? That’s not going to get them fired up. Will it be spoken placement? (‘Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa,’ is the famous line from Field of Dreams.) Or will there be specific plot placement, when an on-screen personality interacts with vivid aspects of the location? Consider everything that appears in the frame and the way it is shown and arranged. Will the characters speak with local accents? Will they eat local food or drink local beer? Will they spend time in local hangouts, listen to local music or kiss in front of iconic local backdrops? Will the location become a character of its own? If you’ve got a Woody Allen kind of sensibility for place, you’ll know what I mean.
When you’ve nailed down this information, you should begin including it as a line item—‘tourism impacts’, perhaps—in your investor pitch packet. You should do this not only to explicitly identify the potential audience of your film and the key messages, but also to set out some of the exciting ways in which you imagine that audience can connect with the location after the film. It’s also useful to define the ways you are prepared to make that happen. This is undoubtedly a big issue, because most filmmakers just want to make the damn movie and don’t want to be bothered with a whole bunch of extraneous stuff. There are, however, a number of things you could provide to the tourism office that wouldn’t take long to organise; in fact, you’ll probably be coordinating them on a day-to-day basis during the production anyway.
These could include providing information on where your stars slept (seriously), GPS positions of the camera for key iconic shots from the film, B-roll footage for use on their tourism websites or movie stills for inclusion in their marketing brochures. Access to your stars and crew is a big plus; one of the easiest things is to ensure that your electronic press kits specifically include clips of your lead actor waxing lyrical about the wonderful time he’s had filming on location. Even offering to host a premiere locally can have benefits for the local economy. The premiere for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, for example, earned nearly $12m for the economy.
Then there are all the spin-off events, such as competitions and walking tours, that could all contribute to local economic benefits for the host: following the release of Fast and Furious 6, for instance, a car event held in Nyack, New York, attracted more than 150 people who each paid to drive luxury race cars around a parking lot. Be creative, and think of the added value.
Practically speaking, ensure that what you’re offering your targeted tourism organisation is clearly outlined in your chain of title documentation. Since every film is essentially a collection of copyrights, ensure that you clarify that the relevant tourism office is given the right to use the film’s name and any images/clips granted for the specific purpose of tourism promotion.
Finally, it’s important to look at how your own marketing activities for the finished film may coincide with the marketing drives of your chosen destination. For example, if the tourism office’s main target market is Germany and you want to get your movie into the Berlinale, then figure out how you can work together for mutual benefit. Will they host your screening and after party in return for being able to promote travel packages at the event, for example? Will they pay for radio spots, translation of materials or an increased print run of press materials? They might well do, if you make your case properly and the relationship is mutually beneficial.
All of this may seem like an extra headache. But tourism offices have a number of points of entry for the creation of film tourism product and, to be brutally honest, not all of them involve the filmmakers themselves. In fact, the default position of most tourism offices is most likely wait and see. They lose nothing by simply waiting until a film is released, assessing its box office and resulting activity before they even lift a finger. So, as a filmmaker the choice is yours; go out and create a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership with your location of choice, or miss out on the potential funding altogether. Happy travels! •
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 35 (July/August 2013)