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AFCI’s Location Tradeshow – Big Changes Ahead

When Larry Brownell took on the role of CEO for the Association of Film Commissioners International, all the elements were in place for the 25th annual AFCI Locations Trade Show.  Once the show concluded in April, however, Brownell began investigating ways to invigorate the long standing format.

On November 1st, 2010, the AFCI announced to its members that the Locations Trade Show would be merged with the Producers Guild of America‘s Produced By Conference.  411 Publishing recently had the chance to speak with Brownell to understand the decision making process behind the changes to one of AFCI’s longest running events.

411 Publishing:  It’s quite a substantial change to take the Location Trade Show and merge it with the PGA’s Produced By Conference.  What was the impetus for combining the two shows?

Larry Brownell:   We had our show for 25 consecutive years at the Santa Monica Civic Center.  When I started, one of the things we looked at was how can we make sure people’s interest stayed in the show; how can we keep it current and relevant.  We had done a survey of both the industry and of the exhibitors from the past year, and came away with some primary improvements they wanted to see.  One was a change in the type of layout in the show.  Another was a higher quality of foot traffic and controlling the non-legitimate foot traffic.  I came from organizations where you combined education with trade shows.  I started talking to different groups about their interests, and to me the best fit was the PGA.  When Vance Van Petten (executive director of the PGA) and I met the first time, he said that they were looking at revamping what they were going to do in the future.  One of their goals is to keep the show fresh and upbeat and keep their members interested in the entire industry.  We felt that some type of collaborative partnership was the best way to go.

411:  In the past the show was open to basically anyone that wanted to participate.  The PGA event was a ticketed event that required purchased tickets in advance.  How will it work this year with the combination of the two events?

LB:  Because of the quality of education (at the show) we really do need to charge admission.  It will be a ticket event.  We are looking at a lot of things that will be built into the price.  We also wanted to make sure that the people walking through the show were the most credible industry members.  Even if we had stayed at the Civic Center, we were going to include some different activities and put a ticket price to reduce the amount of people that might not be credible industry members.  Our commissions who have regular participants are going to reach out to those folks and are going to have special offers for them to attend.

411:  You will still have an exhibit area, but there will be a greater integration with the panels and presentations that have become part of the PGA Produced By Event?

LB: Yes.  We are going to be on the Disney lot, and we are working out the logistics now.

411:  Was there evidence that the producers weren’t really having as much of a relationship with the film commissioners and they wanted to build upon that more?

LB:  That was part of it: part of the feed back was how can we build these relationships, and what type of venue can we use?  We felt that if you were in education with them, if you were at their event standing alongside them, you were participating versus at this stand alone event where you just came in and toured the floor.  You have better interaction.  This past year we did more education at our show, but where all the education was across the street at the hotels, it was difficult to get people to cross that street and come into the expo.  So in this way we felt if we were together in one location, they would get the relationship and the bonding we were looking forward to.  A lot of the PGA members that I’ve spoken to have been very exited about it, because they’ve been wanting to talk to the various members about the incentives plans and filming in their locations.  But, between choosing between two different events that they have to go to, the first event they chose was the PGA event.

411:  I’m curious how the response has been regarding the commissioners that generally participate in the Locations Trade Shows?  Are you also getting some response from those commissioners who have fallen off in the last couple of years?

LB:   I have literally not gotten one negative response yet.  Not one!  Everyone feels that this is finally the demographic that they want to be involved with and that this is where they want to play.  In terms of non members or people who have left the fold, we actually are starting to see some of them coming back at this point because we are providing a venue for them to access the industry.  So, we have been getting a good response.   We have limited space, so our biggest fear right now is will we get to a point where we’re going to turn people away?  We have so much synergy: with just verbal commitments based on our announcement, we were just about at 50% sold of our exhibits, and that’s crazy.

411:   What are some of the other things you are focused on in moving the AFCI  into new directions that will give the organization more vitality, and new ideas for the commissioners?

LB: We started a technology overhaul, including our website.  That’s going to take a little while to get completed, but that’s step one in terms of bringing us into the current times.  The second, (with the AFCI headquarters) in Los Angeles, is actually building the relationships with the PGA and IFTA and the Directors Guild, and the MPA, and the other industry bodies, so that we can be more involved and more interactive with them and with the issues that they have.  This has been more than a change for us.  The AFCI board over the past two years has changed.  I think that is what has spurred a lot of what is going on now, because last year’s election brought five new board members on, which is,  I think, the most in 20 years in terms of new board members entering the board.  And this year we have three new members entering the board.  We have a lot of new ideas, new emphasis, and the board is rated equally between non-US and US commissioners, which will also change things dramatically.

411:  I know you recently had the AFCI Cineposium.  What were some of the key points or key issues that arose from the commissioners there regarding their concerns with moving into the future?

LB:  I think some of their biggest concerns are how they interact with this diversified, increasingly segmented market in terms of media.  Independent films have become such a big player, and the bigger studios that everyone is used to are turning out smaller numbers, sometimes purchasing films after the fact.  The media world has changed not only in terms of diversification, like gaming and productions for the web, but also the fact that there is now more than every production occurring locally around the world.   All those things need to be addressed.  If we focus just on the needs of the US market, then we are not going to facilitate all the opportunities.  Incentives have also become such a big part of the equation.  It’s going to be about teaching commissions how to appropriately place themselves with this new market.  Sometimes it’s teaching the commissioners that it’s not just about dollars, it’s also about saving dollars.  For instance, if you can go ahead and get all your downtown facilities or public office spaces to donate their locations and their time, there’s a lot of location fees that are going to go away.  If there’s ways that you can tap into public works to alleviate other production costs, if there are ways that you can negotiate on behalf of production with the local hotels to reduce the rates of multiple nights per a stay, those are all parts of a package.

411:  I can see how a nice dialogue can develop between both the producers and the film commissioners and assist them both in moving forward, and that commissioners will really have a lot to offer a producer to help their shoot.

LB:  Oh yes! The big key here is that these are two dramatically different worlds, in the sense that producers are out there trying to save every dime they can without impeding the creative process, and most of our commissioners have to walk a fine line between being an entrepreneur- trying to do what they can to develop their community, and a beaurocrat – they have to make sure they monitor and protect their community.  Those are two very drastically different perspectives, and anything we can do to bring them together in one environment and understand each other is going to help the film process around the world.

For more information about the Produced By Conference in association with Locations Trade Show, please visit: