Cayman can be Anytown, USA

A new Film Commission that offers resources, contacts and manpower to production companies hopes to also convince film makers that Cayman can double as Anytown, USA.

film commission

Justin Berfield photographing Walker House in George Town
Photo: Norma Connolly

The aim of the commission is to attract the movers and shakers of the movie and television industry to Cayman to make films, TV shows and commercials, as well as help build a local film industry.

The commission will be launched at a red carpet event today.

Dax Basdeo, director of the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, who is in charge of the film commission, said: ‘There are quite a few people from the movie industry coming, perhaps 40 or 50 from overseas. We’re going to have a number of people from production companies, studios, financiers and agents coming in for the event – the people who make decisions about where films are shot and produced.’

Much of the overseas guest list was sourced from J2 Pictures, run by American actor and producer Justin Berfield and his business partner Jason Felts who invited everyone on their contact list. Both are regular visitors to Cayman and have volunteered their time and services to help get the commission off the ground.

Mr. Berfield, who starred as Reese in comedy hit show Malcolm in the Middle, has been filming and photographing locations that can double as ‘anywhere, USA’, in a bid to convince movie-makers that Cayman is not only all about sand, sea and diving.

He has been visiting spots throughout Cayman in the past two months. ‘It’s been a great way to see the Island,’ he said, as he flicked through images of the Botanic Park for jungle footage and exteriors of houses before taking shots of Walker House in George Town on Friday morning last week. ‘This could be anywhere,’ he said, pointing to one large home on his Nikon camera screen.

Asked how film makers might be able to convince audiences they’re looking at America when people drive on the other side of the road in Cayman, he said movie makers have made America look like Europe by blocking off parts of roads and letting cars drive on the other side during shooting. ‘The set designers in Hollywood are amazing, they can make places look like something entirely different just by changing the lighting or backdrop,’ he said.

Mr. Berfield and Mr. Felts are also producing a video that will be shown at the launch in Camana Bay on Friday. It will also be featured online, on CITN and also at the Association of Film Commissioners International trade show in Los Angeles in April.

Mr. Basdeo said the commission will enable production companies to source equipment, find suitable locations, and hire extras and production staff in Cayman rather than bring their own to the Island.

‘Justin and Jason have been coming here for many years, they have owned homes here, their families have visited here and they really enjoy being here.

‘In order to raise awareness, they took their extensive contacts list and designed invitation cards and they blasted it out to more than 1,000 people on their list. Not everyone has accepted, of course, some responded and said they could not come, but they know now we are here and doing business,’ he said.

Cayman has served as a location for a number of films over the years, the best known of which was The Firm, starring Tom Cruise, which featured the elements for which the island is most famous overseas – its beaches and resorts, and its offshore banking.

But Mr. Basdeo said he hopes the film commission can convince film makers to see beyond that.

‘What we’re selling is Anytown, USA. We are going beyond just the sea and sand. While that resource may be attractive for a scene or two, what we want to do is attract production for longer than a day or two.

‘We want them to do a lot more filming here, using the churches, or supermarkets, or gas stations. We want them to spend more time and that way they’ll spend more money here,’ he said.

He added that the lack of a film commission in Cayman may have put off producers coming here in the past.

‘Not having a film commission is a red flag to the industry. Most producers look to a film commission for a lot of support. They are an integral part of the process. Not having one says it is going to be too much trouble; we cannot do it.

‘Our view is that a film commission may attract more producers. It lets them know we are here. We are joining the Association of Film Commissioners International. It has over 300 film commissions worldwide. We’ll join it and through those people will let others know we are here.’

Local film maker Frank E. Flowers shot two of his movies here – his first, a short film called Swallow, and his feature-length follow-up Haven, which starred Orlando Bloom.

“When we were filming Haven, there was no organised commission,’ Mr. Flowers said, ‘but it was a real community effort – friends, family friends, corporate and government people who bonded together and stood behind a young Caymanian filmmaker.

‘I hope that when a formal commission is set up, it will facilitate both foreign productions and local film makers to achieve their vision.’

Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford, under whose portfolio the commission falls, wants it to be a one-stop shop for people who make films and commercials.

‘We believe there are tremendous opportunities there for the Cayman Islands not just in terms of actual filming of movies, but filming of commercials. What we’ve lacked in the past was a one-stop shop. If someone comes in to film or make a commercial, there is an agency or commission who can explain to them all the regulatory issues and essentially fast track those issues so they can operate in a very efficient way. We are very excited about it,’ he said.

The partners in J2 Pictures believe that Hollywood and the rest of the movie industry can be educated to view Cayman as a viable location.

‘When the Cayman Islands are mentioned, the entertainment industry thinks it knows what it’s about in terms of visuals. They have seen all the tourism videos and commercials, the travel shows. We are trying to really educate the entertainment industry through the location guide,’ said Mr. Felts.

He added that there had been a misconception that he and Mr. Berfield were trying to set up their own film commission in Cayman, but he insisted they were merely volunteering their time and expertise to help establish a commission for Cayman.

He has been coming to Cayman since his teens and introduced Berfield to here in 2002. ‘We both love the place,’ he said.

‘Two years ago, we were hanging out on a big trip and we thought what can we do to bring our two favourite loves, the entertainment industry and Cayman together. We talked to Dax about a film commission and said if he needed help, we’d be interested. And that’s what happened,’ he said.

The new film commission is contacting businesses and individual throughout the Cayman Islands, asking them to list their services and talents that could be used in film, television or music video production.

Mr. Basdeo said he hoped this would lead to the creation of a resources list that would include people who could write scripts, work as actors or extras, do carpentry work on sets, and provide catering or car rental services.

‘We want to see what kind of talent and resources are out there so we know who they are, where they are and how to get hold of them. In the next month, we are going to review the list and categorise it. The plan is to do an online resources guide and a printed one.’

The launch will include a speech by Minister Clifford, followed by the short video presentation inside Hollywood Theatres in Camana Bay. Afterwards there will be party at the nearby Gardenia Court.

Among the guests expected to attend are Queen Noor of Jordan, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Coolidge, and John O’Hurley.