The Jamaica Film Commission is on a mission to promote the local film industry through facilitation of activities that increase investment, export and employment in the sector.
Housed at Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), the Commission, over the years has partnered with key players locally and internationally to facilitate major film projects, which has resulted in the country reaping benefits through increased earnings.
Film Commissioner, Renée Robinson tells JIS News that the entity is responsible for facilitating all international film productions that come into the island.
“When a production of that nature comes to shoot on the island, we are their first point of contact, their one-stop shop, and we help to disseminate the opportunities to the local production service companies, so that they can identify casts, crews and locations to aid in these international productions,” she explains.
The Commission also assists these international entities with permits and other requirements necessary for their entry and exit, as a means of ensuring that there is ease in doing business and that their overall experience in Jamaica is smooth and seamless.
Miss Robinson says the local film industry performed remarkably for the 2017/18 financial year, contributing a record $1.2 billion in film-production expenditure to the local economy.
The figure represents a 65 per cent increase over the $745 million for the previous year.
Miss Robinson points out that this was the first time the figure had exceeded $1 billion, noting that the expenditure is the value of the budget that international productions spend in Jamaica.
Some 124 international film productions took place over the period and generated 2,781 jobs.
The Film Commissioner says that a major thrust that the entity is currently undertaking is the development of a local-content ecosystem.
She notes that while Jamaica has been able to attract some “very high-profile productions,” which have created jobs and showcased the country overseas, “we need to be able to generate our own creative voice, our own aesthetic delivery and also be able to create projects that can be monetised internationally”.
She says the Commission is, therefore, streamlining operations to be better able to guide the distribution process and develop the skillset and business mindset for the ecosystem.
She notes that the Propella Initiative, a thrust by JAMPRO and Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA), is geared directly towards this goal, by supporting the talent of Jamaican film-makers and garnering international exposure for the culture through film.
Propella is a script-to-screen programme that nurtures Jamaican content creators and enables them to tell their stories cinematically by providing funding and technical support.
Miss Robinson explains that the programme has produced excellent content, and opens the door for film-makers in international markets, which is a crucial element of JAMPRO’s film-development strategy.
“The programme itself has seen many significant wins. We now have a catalogue of short films ready to represent the potential of talent in the sector. Over the years, several of the shorts have secured financial interest in further development into features or television episodics; and key on-screen talent has been discovered internationally through this platform,” she highlights.
The Film Commission, through partnership with the British Council and JAFTA, facilitates a Film Lab, a talent discovery and project preparation programme, which takes feature films from the initial stages and develops the writer, editor and producer.
Another important initiative that the Commission is spearheading is the creation of a national publication to be used as a guide for filming in Jamaica.
“The publication will outline the policies around the process that is required for filming,” she points out.
“So if you need a film permit, this is how you do it… if you need a drone, this is where you go or who you talk to… if you are going to be filming underwater, you go to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and this is what the agency is going to require of you, and the fees to be paid. So, all this information will be in the guide and available to anybody interested in filming in Jamaica,” she explains.
Miss Robinson tells JIS News that establishment of the guide is another means of creating a smooth, seamless process for production entities and personnel.
“We play a key role in production facilitation, regulation and policy advocacy, and work with the Ministries of Tourism; Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; Finance and the Public Service; agencies such as Tax Administration Jamaica, Jamaica Customs Agency and NEPA to smooth the business-facilitation process for practitioners, who are working in our core sectors,” she points out.
The Commission is also assiduously working on improving the film licensing regime.
“The reason we are able to be so accurate about the data we have for the international productions is that there is a registration regime in place for international productions that are coming in… so in order for them to receive their film registration, they need to provide us with certain types of data around the projects that they are coming here to shoot,” she explains.
The plan, she adds is to amend the licensing regime in order to facilitate a similar process for local projects.
“So we would issue licences, which would then make it easier for all of the different entities that need to interface, whether it is the police, parish councils, the municipal, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC).
“So the process we are undergoing right now in terms of policy will streamline that and the by-product will be better data and a better way to represent the true value of the economic impact of this industry,” she tells JIS News.
The Jamaica Film Commission will continue to promote and market investment opportunities within the sector; lobby for incentives to support sector development, increased investments, the creation of venture capital funds, and other low-interest financing options; and administer existing incentives for production companies both local and overseas to increase investment, job creation and foreign exchange.
Photo: Michael Sloley