Film and TV

"Going Forward, the City is Going to Be All About Synergy," In Case You Were Wondering

I'd forgotten, till he called me back a few minutes ago, that I'd left Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the city's Office of Economic Development, a message Monday morning concerning the Dallas Film Commission's pending move into City Hall. Nonetheless, he was kind enough to further explain the reason for commission's move out of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau offices pending the council's OK next week. So, after the jump, a brief Q&A in which he provides, as much as possible, a sneak preview of the ramifications of the city's involvement in the moving-picture business -- and a look at how the city's changing the way it does business.

The Dallas Film Commisison has been under the purview of the DCVB since its creation in 2002. What does this new philosophy of including it as an economic development component mean?

The convention business is about heads and beds. To me, there's a lot of economic development potential in the film business, and it's a lot easier to support it from within the city. So the city manager took a look at it, we looked at it, and all of us said, 'This makes sense.' The [DCVB] will continue to support it -- and the city has always provided some support -- and now we're just integrating it into the Economic Development office and looking for ways we can find some additional support.

For me it's getting to understand the business. I've talked to Janis [Burklund, head of the Dallas Film Commission] over the years, but it's about how can we combine it with other things. All these things are more than just job generators. The film busines is more about the money that gets spent, and it's not just film -- it's digital, it's commercials, it's advertisements. All these things are components that generate income for various constituancies in the city. For me, it's a new business, and something interesting for me to get involved in and informed about.

But how will this new partnership work, specifically?

I don't know. We're going to have to sit down and look at it. One thing that might come to the fore is the new City of Dallas Regional Center, where we're essentially out soliciting foreign investors. It's exciting. We're still in the early impelentation phase of it, now that we've gotten the designation. But there are a variety of opportunities for investment there, but we have to figure out how we structure it. It could be a new source of finance for film or digital initiatives.

Will you or someone else from Economic Development go with Janis when she's out pitching Dallas to studio or production companies in Los Angeles?

I don't think we'd need to double up, but we would be much more in tune with what she's doing and would look to see how you might create some synergies. Going forward, the city is going to be all about synergy, because you have less leverage from the private sector. The banks are a whole lot more conservative now, so there's a need, whether it's public or other, for more sources of capital. So it'll be things like HUD Section 108 grants, New Markets Tax Credits and the regional center that, if you use them intelligently, you can combine them to create a powerfu tool.

We may be able to do something with the film incentives the state provides, and they've increased their incentive package in this legislative session. But I don't have a real specific answer. I don't think we would even need to have Economic Development people travel with Janis, but she'll have more access to city resources. It's not that she didn't have resources before, but if you're in the same building and sitting in meetings, you're more aware of things that are going on.

On the incentive front, yes, Texas finally got in the game awfully late. But as soon as the state started offering them, places like New Mexico and Louisiana upped theirs to compete.

Cost isn't everything. It's a lot, but it isn't everything. There are other components that are important to people when they're looking to produce a film or a television show, and some of that may relate to facilities that are available or how accessible it is, the kind of support services that are available. It's not all cost. It's just like everything else: When we get into competitive situations with other cities, relative to retaining or recruiting somebody, we may not give the biggest incentives, but it may be they'll be attracted to a specific part of town because their workforce likes it. That was influential with Deloitte in their desire to consolidate in the downtown area. They have a relatively young workforce that wants to be in an urban area.

How much of this is about bringing full-time jobs to Dallas -- getting production companies or video-game developers here, not just come-and-go productions?

I think it's about that, yes. There have been thoughts about larger permanent facilities. If you create some synergy ... I'll give you one example: The city had supported and done well with Reel FX in Deep Ellum. They do a fabulous job, and we provided some incentives for them early on. So if you can create a grouping of those types of companies that find it attractive tpo be here, and if you can find ways to incentivize that kind of talent, you have something.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky