Trinidad and Tobago Sharpens Focus on Film

Source: Oxford Business Group

Published on May 15th 2017

Plans to reinforce human resource and hard infrastructure capacity, along with the development of a medium-term strategy and the strengthening of a competitive incentive regime, could help position Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant film sector at the centre of the region’s audio-visual industry.

Over the past decade, T&T has hosted more than 320 separate international productions – including feature films, one-off programmes and episodes of television series – with interest in the country as a location on the rise.

In January and February alone, more than 14 overseas film crews came to shoot in the dual-island Caribbean nation, with teams travelling from the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Barbados and the US.

T&T’s culture is also gaining traction as a film-worthy subject, with nine international crews filming during this year’s Carnival in late February, according to data issued in March by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company (FilmTT),  the state agency responsible for developing the local film and audio-visual sector, and for promoting the country as a location through the film commission.

Capacity building

Proposals to strengthen production infrastructure and further raise the industry’s international profile are currently in the pipeline.

In consultation with FilmTT, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and state investment promotion agency InvestTT are studying the feasibility of developing a production facility with between three and eight sound stages ranging in size from 2000 to 20,000 sq feet.

Along with workshops, backlot areas, equipment repositories, storage units and offices, the proposal comprises post-production and animation facilities capable of supporting the development of up to four feature films at the same time.

The centre would be also able to provide production support for medium-scale projects, classified as having budgets of between $3m and $15m, representing a significant boost to T&T’s filmmaking infrastructure and capacity.

FilmTT estimates that T&T currently has the facilities and professional skills pool to support the production of movies with budgets of up to $5m, as well as the ability to sustain three major features and five smaller documentary productions a year.

Soft infrastructure and incentives

At present, the domestic film and audio-visual industry boasts only a limited number of skilled professionals able to complete the pre-, post- and production phases necessary to develop a film or television programme – a shortfall that officials are keen to address.

On-the-job experience has been the main route to acquiring industry knowledge, according to Nneka Luke, the general manager of FilmTT and the country’s film commissioner. Facilitating this route has been behind the offer of a 20% rebate on certain labour costs incentivising international productions to hire locals.

“In the longer term, the vision is to develop standard certification for people working in the film industry,” Luke told OBG. “This would help those who have excellent practical experience and ability but lack formal training, while giving assurances to incoming producers that our crews are up to international standards. It is part of the strengthening of the sector that we also move to strategically increase the professional development of our people.”

As well as refunding 20% of qualifying local labour costs, T&T offers international producers a cash rebate of up to 35% on qualifying local expenditures, making it the most competitive incentive scheme in the region after Colombia. Productions with a total spend of between $100,000 and $8m are eligible for refunds. Filmmakers are also permitted duty-free concessions on machinery and equipment required for production.

Forward planning

While these incentives have helped attract foreign film and audio-visual producers, earlier this year FilmTT invited proposals for the provision of consultancy services to develop a strategic plan for the development of the industry over the next five to 10 years.

With a submission deadline of April 4, 2017, bidders were asked to provide a plan to shape the local industry into a viable, profitable and sustainable sector by 2022.

The official document accompanying the request for proposals also set out specific targets, including developing a skilled and certified labour force to meet the requirements of the industry; building capacity to maintain consistent annual production for both domestic and international markets; and making the sector a significant contributor to GDP.

Regarding the latter aim, FilmTT expects a stronger film and audio-visual industry to have the knock-on effect of encouraging growth in ancillary services, such as hospitality, catering, transport and logistics, and financial services.