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Compiled by RACHNA LAL
Welcome to Hard Talk, where we pose questions to both top executives and budding entrepreneurs on some of the major issues involving business.
It is obvious that under the leadership of the Bainimarama Government, and active steps taken by Film Fiji (previously known as the Fiji Audio Visual Commission), our film industry has taken a leap this year.
Shooting films in Fiji will not only showcase our locations but also would be a major boost for our growing tourism industry.
One of the person who has been at the forefront of this has been the acting chief executive of Film Fiji – Florence Swamy.
Ms Swamy is demonstrating quite effectively how important marketing experience is to steer a statutory body such as Film Fiji.
With a career background in marketing, Ms Swamy had joined Film Fiji in 2006 as the marketing and public relations manager. She has been acting chief executive since 2009 following the suspension of chief executive Taniela Bolea.
No doubt the marketing background has proven to be an excellent tool. Five movies have already been shot in Fiji this year, with at least 10 more films schedules to be shot by the end of the year.
Ms Swamy says a major attraction, besides our beautiful locations, has also been the very attractive tax rebate for filmmakers – thanks to our policy-makers.
Film Fiji’s primary goal is to attract film productions to Fiji, in order to increase the benefits that will be gained from productions hiring local crews and talent, renting local equipment, using hotel rooms, rental cars, catering services, or any number of goods and services required on location.
Ten questions for Florence Swamy, acting chief executive of Film Fiji.
1. In what ways does Film Fiji contribute towards economic growth and development?
Films and other such productions bring much benefit to Fiji when they decide to shoot here. The local economy benefits from the use of local hotel rooms, food, service stations, sales made by stores/supermarkets, location fees, transport, and other facilities that the production and its foreign crew will use throughout the duration of the production of the film.
So films make a direct contribution to our gross domestic product, through direct investment and direct employment. Through the latter, direct tax revenues are generated.
Additionally the industry is skills and talent oriented so it not only utilises the inherent talent of our people but also encourages them to seek professional training to enhance in these natural skills and talents, hence making them more marketable.
The film industry has very strong linkages to other sectors of the economy like education, cultural industries and manufacturing (merchandising opportunities) to name a few. Perhaps the strongest linkage is to tourism. Destinations where films are produced attract tourism. Opportunities therefore exist to convert audience interest in a film into commitment for a future visit and to capitalise on additional visitors though the film.
The film industry attracts the international media and as such will expose Fiji not only for tourism but with the film’s release will promote Fiji as a viable production destination to other producers.
Another significant contribution of this industry is that productions, in their search for new and exotic locations, take economic activity to rural areas so they make direct regional impacts.
2. With the number of films shot in Fiji this year, how much has been injected into the economy in total? I’m sure there are a lot of numbers flying around but is there anything concrete?
All of the feature films have filmed utilising the Film Tax Rebate. One of the conditions of rebate is that productions submit audited accounts. These have not been submitted to us as yet and until we receive these audited accounts, we are unable to release any definite figures.
3. I’m pretty sure you must have had discussions with the film producers/directors who have already shot their films here. What were some challenges they said they had faced whilst shooting in Fiji?
The main concern has been the lack of filming equipment and infrastructure here. Currently, productions need to bring all of these things from overseas.
4. How can we overcome these challenges?
We must encourage locals to invest in filming equipment so that film productions can hire such equipment locally. It will make business sense for locals to undertake such investments if there is sufficient turnover of productions that will hire the equipment.
This is one of the reasons also that Film Fiji undertakes intensive marketing and promotion overseas to entice producers to come Fiji.
5. What are some initiatives to develop this industry?
• Constantly monitoring the incentives to ensure that they are competitive
• Encouraging locals to invest in film infrastructure
• Encouraging locals to obtain professional training in all aspects of filmmaking
• Encourage locals to make films
6. What more needs to be done to develop the industry?
We are already working with stakeholders such as the Fiji National University, University of the South Pacific and the local audio visual industry to identify industry needs in order to further meet the needs of a growing, highly competitive and convergent industry
7. Film Fiji underwent a name change recently. Why was this needed and how has it made a difference?
The name change reflects better the nature of Film Fiji’s business and also makes it more visible to the international film production community.
As the Attorney–General said, the renaming of the organisation to Film Fiji provides an opportunity to create a brand name that is modern and savvy, and also to move away from the word Commission as it connotes bureaucracy.
The name change is a market driven approach that is effective and competitive for promoting Fiji as a premier filmmaking destination.
8. If we were to build a film studio, where do you see the potential for this and what would be needed to make this into a reality?
For studios that focus on post-production work, the location would generally be determined by its accessibility to strong internet connectivity and other state-of-the art communications.
The location of sound stages would by and large be determined by considerations such as accommodation for above and below the line cast and crew, airports, and other back-up locations, to name a few.
9. What are your immediate priorities as the acting chief executive of Film Fiji?
With the increased number of productions coming to Fiji now and given the fact that the industry is just developing here, the immediate priority is to ensure that production companies that come here are able to successfully complete their films on schedule.
The film industry worldwide is relatively small in terms of internal networking and production executives compare filming experiences. For this reason, we must make every effort to see that their experiences of filming in Fiji are good as they will further promote Fiji as a production destination.
Also, because most productions will be using the film tax rebate, an equally important priority is to ensure that productions fully comply with the rebate requirements and with Fiji laws.
10. The number of films suddenly being shot in Fiji may have caught a lot of people by surprise. What would you attribute this to? Who/What is responsible for the sudden interest in people to shoot their films in Fiji?
The increase in the number of films has been a result of the promotions that Film Fiji has undertaken. We recently diversified our marketing strategy to include aggressive promotions in Bollywood.
Also, and very importantly, Government has seen the growth potential of this industry and has fully supported it. It has constantly reviewed the incentives and has responded to meet specific needs of a changing industry and has put in place generous incentives and other measures to make Fiji a competitive and attractive filming location.