Hollywood in the Bahamas

The Bahamas is working to promote itself as an entertainment destination - to both the movie industry insiders and tourists.

Hollywood, with its bright lights and big stars, might seem like a world away from the calm blue waters and white sandy beaches of the Bahamas. Yet, the country is working to bring Hollywood to the Islands, and PR has played a significant role in that outreach.

“We're an emerging film location,” says Craig Woods, film commissioner for the Bahamas. But the goal is to build a reputation as a solid film location, offering productions incentives, crew help, and, of course, picture-perfect filming locations.

Woods says PR plays a key role in outreach, including traditional media relations and online, with Web sites like Bahamas.com and BahamasFilm.com. But, “a lot of it is word of mouth,” he says, as filmmakers who have a great experience working there spread the word to their industry colleagues.

Incorporating PR

The PR plan includes encouraging filmmakers and producers to film in the Bahamas; working product placements into current TV shows and movies; and promoting the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF), which celebrated its fifth anniversary in December 2008. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (BMOT) works with three US-based PR agencies: AOR Weber Shandwick, Lagrant Communications for African-American outreach, and Rogers & Cowan (R&C) for specific entertainment industry PR. The BIFF is a separate account for R&C.

The firm works to find TV shows and movies to film on location and introduce the Bahamas into storylines. This can range from sending a show Bahamas posters or T-shirts to meeting directly with producers and providing ideas for why certain show characters would travel there.

“We like to get films and TV shows to go shoot in the Bahamas... to allow these entertainment properties to, in their own creative way, bring the Bahamas to audiences to encourage tourism,” says Tara Walls, EVP of entertainment marketing at R&C. TV shows like Scrubs have filmed in the Bahamas.

“We work very closely with shows,” says Anita Johnson-Patty, GM of communications for the BMOT. “When you hear the Bahamas name, that's because we work with them.”

In its communications work, the Bahamas focuses its message on the strengths of the country, including its water landscapes and marinas, Woods says. The team also works to make the Bahamas known as a location that is helpful for productions filming there.

The Bahamas currently has film incentive legislation in development, which would provide financial support for movies shooting in the country. While it is not yet a law, the incentives have been tested on several films, with great feedback, Woods says.

“The goal behind [the PR] is not only to encourage studios and production houses to come on the Islands to film, but also it's an opportunity to expose the viewers of those particular movies about the beauty of the Bahamas,” explains Kim Hunter, president and CEO of Lagrant Communications.

In 2008, Lagrant hosted journalist trips for the Islands of the World Fashion Week, held in November, and BIFF in December.

“Many journalists were not aware the Bahamas had an international film festival,” Hunter says. “This is an opportunity... to expose a different target audience to the entertainment connection to the Bahamas.”

Journalists from five outlets, including PRWeek, joined Hunter at BIFF 2008. While the BMOT supports BIFF, it is an independent event and not specifically related to the Bahamas entertainment outreach. But it is hard to ignore a festival that attracts entertainment industry people, including director Lee Daniels; film reviewer Ben Lyons; and actors Laurence Fishburne and Anna Faris, who were honored with the BIFF Career Achievement Award and the Rising Star tribute, respectively, at the 2008 event.

“Part of our job is to bring in some of the major players from Hollywood, New York, and the entertainment scene,” says Dennis Dembia, account director for R&C. “If you get all those people down here over the course of a few festivals over a few years, people start to talk, and word of mouth builds and people realize this is a great location.”

Cultural impact
The festival, while encouraging visitors to the Islands, is also a way to build up the Bahamian community and add cultural events to the country's offerings.

“There is a nice opportunity for a region to get attention and, at the same time, provide something for the residents that is a nice cultural event each year,” says Steven Gaydos, executive editor of features for Variety, who was on the “Marketing, Distribution, and Festivals” panel at BIFF. “It's a nice opportunity for the region, also, to get publicity and be seen.”

“We're sitting on a gold mine,” Johnson-Patty says, explaining that the country could work on programs like a James Bond tour. “We're going to do a whole assessment to see how we can better it for the next [several years]. After five years, we should be able to do that.”

Kimberly Maul was a guest of Lagrant Communications on the press trip to BIFF. Travel, lodging, and most meals were provided.

Bahamas on film
  • Director Spike Lee filmed parts of Miracle at St. Anna on Rose Island in the Bahamas. It was also the closing night film of the 2008 BIFF
  • The James Bond movie Casino Royale included many scenes set in the Bahamas, where it was filmed in early 2006. The country also doubled as Madagascar for the movie's opening scene
  • Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley stopped through the Bahamas while filming the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy
  • Into the Blue featured the Bahamas' water in scenes as two divers, played by Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, showed off their swimming skills
  • Jewel thieves Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek retired to the Caribbean in After the Sunset, which filmed in the Bahamas, including at the famous Atlantis Hotel and Resort on Paradise Island

*The title of this story in print appears as "Tropical side of Hollywood"

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