Film commission projection: one feature this year

The film commission projects Cayman could have at least one blockbuster ‘in the can’ by year-end, less than three months after its formation and six solid leads later.


Investment Bureau chief Dax Basdeo, tourism minister Charles Clifford, actress Jennifer Coolidge and Governor Stuart Jack at the launch party for thee Cayman Islands Film Commission. (Photo: Shurna Robbins)

The projection came from the islands’ investment bureau chief Dax Basdeo on the eve of a mission to a trade show in the US this week to drum up more business and amid two visits planned this month by scouts looking for feature-film locations.

Formed on January 30, the Cayman Islands Film Commission had, said Mr. Basdeo, taken inquiries from ‘half a dozen’ interested parties and is playing host in April to teams from two studios interested in the islands as a location.

One of those leads could result in filming ‘any time now,’ he said.

‘(I am) optimistic that we shall see something this year, maybe within two weeks or maybe by the end of the year,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘But I’d expect crews to be here by end of the year.’

Aside from what he described as Hollywood-type projects, there had been interest from parties interested in making TV dramas and reality shows.

In addition, the home grown documentary project, Adonza Harrison’s ‘When No one’s Looking,’ which deals with teenage pregnancy and AIDS, is close to fruition.

The starlet commission is also sending a nine-strong contingent, led by Mr. Basdeo, to an Association of Film Commissioners International event in Santa Monica, California, which runs April 16-18.

Mr. Basdeo is one of two delegates from the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau to attend the event. The other seven participants are from the commission’s advisory board, the members of which are to be named at a press conference next week.

At the show, the plan is to distribute the directory of islands-based talent which the commission has been compiling and which, so far, names 160 people and organisations with skills in the field.

Entries have a Cayman connection though overseas workers may need to be brought in for any larger projects, a factor which may necessitate the creation of a new category for immigration purposes.

‘We’re focusing more on residents and perhaps Caymanians living close by,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘I do know Caymanians who work in Miami and further overseas who can come back and assist.’

‘(There will be) special permits for talent to be brought in,’ he said. ‘We’re working on that just now. A new category or new type is imminent and we may have word on that next week.’

When asked how much the film industry would be likely to drop into the economy, Mr. Basdeo said the trade event would give the commission an opportunity to explore this.

‘(I’m) not sure,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘That’s one of the things I’m going to work out (at the show). The projects are of different sizes but per-week spend will depend upon what we learn at the show and what the producers see themselves doing here.’

He said partnership opportunities with service providers were being worked out including finding a hotel of choice for crew who stay here.

‘We’re open to working with any provider,’ said Mr. Basdeo, explaining that the The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman was among those in the mix. ‘A number has come forward and offered special rates.’

Besides the direct impact to such suppliers, there would be the trickledown and indirect effects, he said, which included how Cayman is showcased.

‘The multiplier effect comes in when more suppliers are needed to supply the suppliers,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘That knock-on effect for the economy puts dollars in other people’s pockets.’

‘Then, if we get a box-office sensation, everyone sees the Cayman Islands in a new light,’ he said, ‘and then everyone says, ‘let’s go to the Cayman Islands.’ It has a long-term benefit effect to the economy.’

That said, he acknowledged that previously productions – including ‘The Firm’ and ‘Haven’ which had offshore elements in their storylines – had capitalised on stereotypes about the islands. It’s something that promoters want to move away from.

‘One of the strong benefits of having a film commission is you have an officer upfront who’ll look after the islands’ interests,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘We’ll see how the projects depict Cayman. In one case, we’ve already had a discussion about doing a particular scene differently so as not to cause offence.’

Going forward, the commission sees Cayman’s island competitors for film work as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago and the US Virgin Islands.

‘What we want to try to portray is our ability to do other things,’ he said. ‘We have offices here so we don’t have to just show an island perspective. We want to be able to utilise other scenes – caves, bluff, parks, locations that can double for somewhere else.’

Production permits are going to cost in the region of CI$200 and there will be tax incentives for filmmakers coming here, that are to be rolled out at a press conference on April 20, once delegates return from the trade mission.

Over the next three to five years during which the commission aims to build up Cayman’s reputation within the film industry, it hopes to encourage islands-based businesses to fill the equipment-hiring niche.

‘The government incentives will get things going to the point where we start attracting productions,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘I do expect local entrepreneurs to think they can benefit from this, so infrastructure can develop over the next two years.’

Whether Cayman will play a bit part or starring role in any upcoming projects remains to be seen and depends upon what scouts see when they’re here and how scripts develop as a result.

In the meantime, the commission has been pushing Cayman’s low-crime environment and the cooperation of services.

‘One of the more attractive features we have is our safety here,’ said Mr. Basdeo, of how stars could expect to be treated. ‘There is a number of private companies and off-duty police officers that have given protection to celebrities here before and dignitaries. One of the things we want to do next week is to talk to the local media about how we’d like to work them.’

There was, he conceded, also the question of how residents could be impacted by any projects that come here.

‘We just discussed the road closure issue with the police,’ said Mr. Basdeo. ‘We’re going to have to make sure residents are informed. I’d imagine we would have across-the-board support.’