Post authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Specialist
If you’re an association or corporate event professional who’s struggling with last-minute housing need changes and pesky attrition clauses, things could be worse:
You could be doing it for the cast and crew for a major film or TV production.
That’s the world in which two talented Experient National Account Managers live. Andrew Thompson and Joe Donahue specialize in serving a wide range of location housing needs for the film and television industry. This is a segment where the need for speed runs high, as planning timelines are extremely short and change requests bubble up constantly.
On October 28, Andrew Thompson will be attending Produced By: New York, an educational forum created by producers and for producers, featuring a broad array of programming designed for the movie and television production crowd.
Recently, I caught up with Andrew to learn more about the unique housing needs for the film and television production segment. Here are highlights from our conversation:
Donna Kastner (DK): Film and television is a fascinating, yet broad category. Can you tell us more about the clients you work with and what might trigger their request for help?
Andrew Thompson (AT): Within this industry, there are three segments: Film, Television, and Digital – that last segment might include studios like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. And within each segment, size would be the next variable – running the gamut from major and mini-majors to smaller independents and start-ups. For the larger studios, they’ll often have some needs addressed in-house, so we become an extension of their teams. For the smaller independents, we’re often tackling much more.
More than 80% of the North American movie and television production activity happens at a short list of favored locations: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, and Vancouver. But there’s a growing list of other cities with significant production assets. Cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Albuquerque, to name a few.
Keep in mind, a single production will have thousands of budget line items, with housing being a single item on a massive spreadsheet. But it’s a make-or-break spend category. One bad booking decision or fuzzy contract clause could send financials into a tailspin.
The biggest things prompting this industry to reach out to us are time and money. Their schedule is tight and they have a million other things to do to get ready to shoot on location. We remove a major time suck, which at times can be a real hassle. We remove the worry so they can concentrate on their physical production. Our mission is to leverage our knowledge and industry relationships as perfectly as possible to negotiate the best housing deals, while keeping a close eye on reducing financial and legal risks.
DK: In what ways are housing needs different from those of an association or corporate event host?
AT: For starters, location productions operate on a much tighter timeline. While an association or corporate planner might begin addressing housing needs months or even years out, for a movie or television production, it’s a matter of weeks or sometimes even days. Once a production gets the green light, their needs are immediate.
There was one production where they called us on a Tuesday to book a sizeable room block, with cast and crew scheduled to check in the following Monday. Despite the whirlwind of research and negotiation activity, we managed to satisfy every item on their wish list.
For movie and television location housing, there are two distinct sub-segments: ‘Above the Line,’ which would typically be five-star accommodations for the stars, producer, director and the writers. Then there’s ‘Below the Line,’ which would entail more budget-friendly housing arrangements for the film crew. Price tends to be the key decision factor for this sub-segment.
While location housing has several attributes in common with a professional city-wide conference, with room blocks spanning from 1,500 to 6,000+, one big difference is that location housing consumption happens over an extended period of time, which could be two to three months, as opposed to the typical three-day conference.
‘Home away from home’ comforts for the cast and crew are very important, so we need to be mindful of laundry, cooking and other day-to-day amenities to keep everyone happy and humming over the long haul.
DK: For a movie or television production, who’s the person most often involved with housing?
AT: It can vary from one production to the next. We start with the Producer or Line Producer (the COO of the shoot) to get the big picture. Once we get into the details, it’s the production coordinator we’re in contact with most often. Production coordinators away from home may lack the housing connections and property knowledge to fulfill location housing needs as well as they could. That’s where we come in – quietly providing them with options they’d never think of and engaging in contract negotiations on a much deeper level with the property. We’re negotiating lower rates and larger concessions, fine-tuning contract clauses to mitigate risk, and helping to keep the production on time and on budget. And we transfer a lot of our knowledge to their team as we go through the sourcing process together.
DK: When clients reach out to you, have they already settled on a destination for the shoot?
AT: Usually, the destination has already been established – but yes, there have been instances when they’re still debating over a short list of finalists. For these clients, we can run financial projections on housing costs for cities they’re considering. This side-by-side cost comparison will often sway their decision.
There was one client where the housing spend difference from one city to the next was substantial. They ultimately went with the city where they could shave off more than $200K in forecasted housing expenses. In the movie and TV world, that’s meaningful – giving them extra dollars to invest in other needs.
DK: I suspect from time to time, you’re rescuing clients from bad decisions they’ve made. Can you share an example of a housing rescue?
AT: We had a production in Savannah where there was a bad contract in place. The city was experiencing compression, so one of the local operators wanted to increase the room rates from $90 to $140 mid-way through the production. There was no way that would fly, so we first appealed to the local hotel operator who was unwilling to negotiate. We examined their contract closely and found an opportunity to move them without incurring cancellation or attrition penalties. We ultimately moved to two new hotels that were a better fit and negotiated a room rate of $70 for the remainder of the production. Bottom line savings for this group were substantial.
There was another situation where a production was set to film in Ohio, but they discovered late in the game that Ohio’s incentive budget for productions had capped out, putting their budget at risk. We quickly researched other destinations and in a matter of weeks, moved this 6,000-room night production to Buffalo. It’s happy endings like these that we strive for and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job.
Intrigued? Looking to explore more high-performing, location housing strategies? Reach out to Andrew Thompson at (647) 718-5277 or Andrew.Thompson@experientselect.com