IN 2019, TT is seeing more local films in the theatre and on television than ever before. And for the TT Film Company Ltd (FilmTT), the state agency set up to facilitate the growth and development of the film and the audio-visual sector, the goal is to help plug the infrastructural and capacity gaps to fulfill this industry’s multi-billion-dollar potential.
Business Day spoke with FilmTT general manager Nneka Luke about moving the industry forward.
She said the model of any developing film sector features a combination of ways that funding is accessed, some through financing, grant programmes, whether private or public, or crowd sourcing.
“Our responsibility as FilmTT is to explore fully how we expand, and cause to expand, the multiple ways people access funding.”
TT Film Company, FilmTT’s predecessor, offered a production assistance and script development programme (PASD) — which benefited films such as Play the Devil, The Cutlass and Moving Parts — from 2007 to 2015. Luke explained that because budget cuts, FilmTT has not able to offer the programme. The question now is how are people equipping themselves to have conversations with people to invest in film.
“What are you offering to an investor or to a potential investor who signs a cheque over to you?”
There has been sponsorship of films from the corporate sector but the “trickier sell” was for investment in films.
“It is not simply having the private sector invest in films but they have to be incentivised to invest.”
When producers have conversations with investors they have to show what they have to offer. In a developing market it is not only about the creative value, which is critical, but what can be delivered — whether financially or in terms of educational value.
“You have to justify the investment. The reality is that a lot of it measured by the commercial value content is able to generate. We need to be looking in that direction.”
More training in this area is a part of the solution.
“There are gaps in capacity and as the entity responsible for development we are looking at ways to build that.”
Some work, she said, is being done in this area and there will be an announcement soon about an upcoming project.
Strategy and execution
The strategic plan for FilmTT was approved by its line ministry, Trade and Industry, in 2018.
“All of the work we have been doing behind the scenes or that is publicised is aligned to these strategic goals.”
The company has had to prioritise projects to give immediate focus and look at what would be the impact compared to the resources necessary for implementation. The strategic plan features six major pillars:
• promoting the country as a location for productions;
• improving the regulatory conditions and how the rebate programme functions and other incentives can be offered or made available to local and international producers through the film commission side of FilmTT;
• workforce capacity development project, which will be announced very soon;
• opening up lines of distribution;
• developing audiences for content through sponsorship of indigenous film festivals TT Film Festival (TTFF), Green Screen – The Environmental Film Festival and Anime Caribe;
• infrastructure development.
In the area of infrastructure development, FilmTT plays a lobbying role.
“There is a need for a film studio in TT. It will be a unique selling factor for productions coming into the country and also improve capacity here.”
She said this “brick and mortar” project is not under FilmTT and the company is working with investment promotion agency InvesTT on the issue. FilmTT’s rebate programme is a cash-based incentive where local and international producers can get up to 35 per cent cash back on their qualifying spending on services, such as Caribbean Airlines flights or catering. There is also an additional 20 per cent rebate for hiring local labour. Luke described the programme as one if this country’s unique selling points and FilmTT planned to ramp up its promotion of TT as a potential filming location.
She explained productions that access the rebate add value to the country.
“We can see clearly every dollar we spent on a rebate payment $5 is spent on the country or economy that would not have been spent without the rebate as an incentive.” She said the rebate has been a positive impetus for local producers to create content and primarily local productions have accessed the rebate. The rebate programme is a three-year programme renewed by an act of Cabinet and the current programme is in place until September 2021.
FilmTT started out focusing on traditional forms of content: feature-length films and TV series. But with the rise of short-form content, which is distributed and shown outside traditional theatres or television stations, for example, on online platforms like YouTube, the company has to execute its plan cognisant of a changing industry.
Welcome to TT
Last month, at the launch of TTFF 2019 Luke said from October 2018 to June 2019, 17 local and international productions have spent approximately $12.6 million on services in TT. International productions, she said, would have come into the country because they heard about it or there was something specific they wanted to shoot. Recently, UK media company ITV’s production, Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen, shot episodes in both Trinidad and Tobago because they were interested in the cuisine of the island. The BBC also shot part of an episode for nature documentary series Blue Planet 2 in TT because of its interest in local turtle species. “There is a lot of interest in what TT naturally has to offer.”
FilmTT, she explained, has been tracking the economic activity of productions in the country, whether they access the rebate or not, and aggregating what is spent including services, hiring suppliers, and the production crew. She said the company has developed some production tools to track these numbers more effectively and efficiently.
“We are actively tracking that information and will be reporting to stakeholders and the public annually.”
She said there has not been an international film production that has accessed the rebate for a couple of years. But, she said, regardless if it is a local or international production, putting together a film is no easy feat — whether it is a five-minute short or a 90-minute feature. The process takes a long time — an average of five years for feature films.
FilmTT has been having conversations with interested producers for a couple of years.
“Why choose us versus someone else? What are the financing options? Our role is to ensure that we are making TT visible as a viable option for productions. We provide information and make them aware of our services and unique selling points.”
Back in May, FilmTT held a five-day familiarisation tour with three influential US and UK location managers with the purpose of expanding the productions coming into TT. Luke explained there is a lot of interest in shooting in this country between the US and the UK. The three location managers, members of the Locations Managers Guild International, will become ambassadors for this country.
“We have to maintain visibility consistently to be considered as a filming location.”
She said the tour is part of a multi-pronged marketing plan and FilmTT plans to have it every year.
Regarding airing local films on TTT via a partnership with the Filmmakers Collaborative of TT (Filmco), Luke recalled in the 1980s and 1990s the population primarily watched local content.
“There has always been an interest and a need for having content available where we can see ourselves. It is really an important and a critical aspect and it shows the value of audio visual productions.”
She is hopeful the arrangement will open up space for more content to be commissioned and stressed that audiences also have to demand what they want.
“We applaud and are supportive of TTT and Filmco taking that step to create a space for more local content.”
* Revenue generated for the country: 435 productions shot in TT during the period 2005 – 2019. This includes feature length content, short videos, music videos, and one-off episodes of international series for channels such as National Geographic, BBC and CNN. These productions have collectively generated an estimated US$17,283,284 or TT$117,048,498 during the period 2005 to 2019 for the TT economy, including non-creative services, flights, accommodation, hiring production crew and cast.
* Grants from FilmTT to local filmmakers for the past 10 years from 2005 to 2017: nearly 200 TT content producers, writers and projects were able to access an estimated total of TT$11.6 million through a variety of programmes, such as the production and script development programme, the feature film programme, a small marketing and development grant programme, and various sponsorships for projects, as well as festival and market missions.
* The production expenditure rebate programme, available to both TT and international producers, the primary cash-based incentive for productions to shoot in TT between 2008 to 2010: 16 local and international projects used the rebate programme, spending approximately TT$45.7 million in TT on production costs, and receiving a total estimate of TT$11.7 million in rebates. For every TT$1 spent on a rebate payment, TT$4 was spent on production costs in TT that might not have been spent without the incentive. Ten out of the 16 productions, or 62.5 per cent, were TT productions.