When attendees of a presentation made to Rochester’s Documentary Group asked Nora Brown, Executive Director of the Rochester and Finger Lakes Film Office, about upcoming projects in Rochester, she responded with a smile, “When they tell me it’s okay to talk about it, I talk about it,” referring to the fact that news of Pepsi’s Pop-Up concert was carefully guarded until the company was almost ready to roll into town for a shoot on Sunday, January 18 as part of Pepsi’s Rochester-based “Hyped for Halftime” commercial being shot for the Super Bowl.
The film office’s position on confidentiality is one of the many reasons it is a trusted resource for filmmakers considering a shoot here.
“The best way to find out what’s happening here,” stated Nora,” is to follow our facebook page.”
One of the other reasons the film office is so trusted is that Nora and her colleague Karl Goldsmith are both film industry pros who make it their business to “know film.” They work with the Governor’s Office and are active members in a variety of organizations such as the Producers Guild of America, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, and the Association of Location Scouts and Managers, among others.
Recently, Nora was helping to host the New York Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City where the New York team invited filmmakers in to learn about the many advantages of shooting films in New York State. They also attended films and events, hosted panels and made connections to bring films and other commercial work to New York State. Nora, of course, is the liaison for the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. (be sure to check out the pics and updates from Sundance on facebook!) This type of role takes her to a number of film festivals.
“Because of Spider-Man, 2013 was a good year,” Nora shared, explaining that the film contributed an estimated $2.5 million to the local economy. Although there was concern that the following year wouldn’t follow suit, 2014 was even stronger, because The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which featured a high speed car race down Main Street in Rochester, raised the profile of this region as a filmmaking destination.
Nora anticipates that 2015 will surpass 2014.
“We have great crew people here, thanks to Kodak,” she said, referring to the fact that those who worked at Kodak have expertise and a skill set that’s available in few other places, outside New York City and Los Angeles.
She explained that it can be challenging to attract documentary filmmakers to the region, in part, because they have to go to the site of the story, but also because the tax incentives that draw narrative filmmakers here are not currently available to documentary makers.
Nevertheless, when doc makers do come to the region, they find an open door and plenty of help at the film office. For example, Nora and Karl are often able to suggest funding opportunities, offer advice on finding resources for the film, and help provide connections both within and outside the region.
It’s not unusual for them to accompany a filmmaker to secure a special use permit to shoot on city property. In one case, when a filmmaker was told, immediately before the shoot, that he needed a higher level of liability insurance than originally quoted, one phone call from the film office helped bring the required insurance back to its initially quoted level.
When asked about permits needed to shoot on city property in Rochester, Nora explained that if you’re using only a camera and a boom, a permit generally isn’t needed, because it falls under the category of “Electronic News Gathering” or “ENG.” Once you add crew and more equipment, the $70 special use license plus $3 million in liability insurance is required. One thing that $70 permit covers is bagged meters so parking in the immediate area where the shoot is taking place remains vehicle-free.
Another service Nora and Karl provide is to help filmmakers identify sites for filming. They know about many sites few others are aware of, such as waterfalls on public and private property.
With regard to her career, Nora smiled, “If you think you want to be the director of a film office, you should know that it’s not a 9 to 5 job,” making light of the fact that she can get a phone call from a filmmaker in Europe at 9 AM their time, 3 AM our time, or from a producer in L.A. at 9 PM their time, midnight in Rochester.
Still and all, she loves her job and goes out of the way to help filmmakers.
“I just really want people’s films to be successful.”
If you would like to participate in Rochester’s Documentary Group (ROCDOC Group), the group meets on the the third Thursday of each month at 5 PM at the Little Theater. A sign on the door will indicate in which theater the group will be found. Following the screening there will be networking in the Little Theater Cafe.