Interview with Kristy Liang, Entertainment, Film & Production Sales Manager at the Fairmont Hotel San Francisco
Ahead of the AFCI Locations Show, The Location Guide will be dedicating its news section from April 11th to 15th entirely to articles about filming in the West Coast of America. This time we sat down for a chat with Kristy Liang of the famously film friendly Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
How did you end up in your current role as Fairmont Hotel SF Sales Manager for entertainment, film and production?
I loved exploring new places and thought it would be a great industry to work in given my passion for travelling. With that in mind I decided to start at the front desk to gain exposure to the world of hospitality and realised that I wanted to work more closely with clients to bring VIPs to the hotels. From there I went on to become a Sales Assistant and was then promoted to Individual Travel Coordinator.
Once in the Individual travel role, I pitched the idea of being the dedicated liaison for all of the entertainment clientele. I focused on the idea of providing a seamless experience and the ease of working with only one person. We were getting a lot of requests for filming in the lobby, on the rooftop and in the suites as well as inquiries for production crew/cast to stay at the hotel. Because of this I wanted Fairmont SF to become the preferred location for productions and a place where they knew they would find great accommodation, great service and spectacular backdrops for filming all in one place.
Upon taking on the market, I wanted to be sure that I spent the time to get to know more about the film and entertainment industry as I felt it was important to really understand the hot buttons. That led me to reach out to Susannah Robbins at the San Francisco Film Commission who was kind enough to teach me about UPMs, Location Scouts, Line Producers and different titles within the world of entertainment. From there I took the initiative to also use LinkedIn to connect with the local entertainment clients and things just kicked off from there. I’ve now been in this role for a just over two years and I absolutely love it!
Is your main responsibility looking after the needs of productions filming in SF and the surrounding area?
Yes, my coordinator and I handle all of the needs in this market from start to finish and all the special requests in between. When the production is on a much larger scale, we include our designated service manager who handles all of our entertainment clients. They are experts in hotel operations and are very comfortable with productions and how they function. The three of us all work together to make the experience seamless.
With productions, there is a need for flexibility and the ability to do things ‘outside the box’ as there are often very unique requests. My role is to be the hotel liaison on behalf of productions to make their requests happen. Once we’re given the go ahead, my job is to ensure from start to finish that the productions have a seamless experience. I aspire to be a trusted advisor to these customers and find ways to work within their budgeted rates, be flexible with ever-changing schedules, ensure VIPs are provided the personalised approach that they require and help with meeting spaces when last minute requests like wardrobe rooms are needed.
During the time I have spent in this industry, I’ve become grateful of the fact that everyone I work with is so down to earth. I admire how close nit this group is. Everyone knows each other and it's definitely a referral driven business. When you do a great job they remember your efforts and although this industry can be high stress, the people I work with make it seem so easy and we always have a good laugh about how crazy projects can get and the long hours. We love it and wouldn't trade it for anything.
Tell us about the Fairmont.
Fairmont SF opened in 1907 and we are a 592 room hotel. We are well suited for filming and provide an extensive range of suites. Each are unique in their own way and range from the 6,000 square foot penthouse that provides three bedrooms, a living room, a two-story library, a kitchen, a billiards room, a dining room that housed the dinner during the United Nations Charter drafting in San Francisco, to the charm of our balcony suites that have a beautiful backdrop of the skyline and bay. We have a gorgeous roof garden, landmark façade and grand expansive lobby to name just a few of our signature locations. Given our location high atop Nob Hill we can provide amazing skyline views for filming, including time-lapse videos.
What makes the Fairmont 'film crew and talent friendly' and even more importantly 'producer friendly' and why do productions keep coming back?
I will work tirelessly with my contact to see what we can do to make the contracts flexible for them because I know that production schedules are always changing. I also try to provide budget friendly rates that work for both sides. Since I understand that we'll never be the lowest rated hotel in the city, I try to personalise the approach with each client as to what is most important to them and can sometimes provide value adds such as complimentary production offices when available, pop-up wardrobe/cast rehearsal spaces, upgrades for executives, complimentary internet and local calls, VIP escorts, private security entrances, discounts on location fees (or complimentary filming) when crew/cast are staying here.
We strive to provide a high level of security when it comes to the VIPs and we've had every President since Truman with us so we are well versed in providing that seamless experience while keeping things confidential. We are very protective of our clients and their privacy and are lucky enough to have direct access to the guestrooms from the garage so there is an ability to go straight to their desired location without having to go to a lobby or check in area.
We also have 24-hour room service and we work with our departments to make note of guests who need rooms away from elevators and service areas for instance so that we can respect that cast/crew are working late and want to be able to sleep after a long day of filming. My job is to make this experience as easy and seamless as possible. Accommodations are such a small part of the entire production and I want to do my part to make it as worry-free as possible so they can focus on the important things.
Can long duration rates be negotiated?
We absolutely understand the sensitive topic of budget. I always ask that each production be as candid as possible with me during discussions. Certain projects have lower budgets than others and I'll always do what I can to make it work. One wonderful part about the relationships that have been built is that many of the same Location Scouts that reach out to me for a non-profit/local project, then phone me for a feature film on their next project. Having that open communication will give us both a sense of what we are working towards. Things that we factor into the rate are generally based on the demand during that timeframe which usually correlates with citywide conventions over their requested dates or may be associated with self-contained business.
Do you allow productions to shoot and stay at the Fairmont?
Yes, we've had production cast/crew stay here and use our meeting spaces for production offices. We've also had others that do all of the above and also request to film at the hotel too. We really try to be flexible and say ‘yes’ as often as we can.
Do you do 'shoot and stay' packages where you give a preferential location filming rate to producers who are using the hotel to house cast and crew?
We don't necessarily have a specific package in place but we customise each experience based on what a production needs. If it’s low impact to our other guests when it comes to filming at the hotel then sometimes I’ll waive the location fee if they're staying here. Other times if they're featuring the hotel in a major film, we have more flexibility when it's in high traffic areas of the hotel based on the PR value provided. If it is someone who has brought us a lot of business and they are now working on a smaller scale project that has a smaller budget, we will try to assist as much as possible.
Do you have high and low seasons, and if so then when?
High occupancy timeframes would be any date that touches a large citywide convention or when the hotel has a large in-house group over a specific timeframe. The San Francisco market has been exceedingly robust and the city has been graced with a lot of exciting events (America's Cup, Super Bowl). Generally holidays are the best time to get budget friendly pricing and the winter months such as November, December and January tend to be slightly lighter.
We've had feature films staying here, TV Shows, Commercial Productions and Photo shoot crews. Rooms have ranged from 5 to 2,500 and stay durations from one night up to several months.
What are some of the unusual requests you have had from productions using your hotel and facilities?
Throwing a person over the balcony of the penthouse for a movie shoot comes to mind and requests for having someone jump from the rooftop for an action scene is another one.
Do you cater for wrap parties and if so, where?
Yes, we've done parties in specialty suites and more famously, the Tonga Room where you can listen to live music, indoor rain and thunder and enjoy pupu platters and signature Scorpion Bowls!
Do you offer any discounts to entertainment professionals interested in using the hotel for personal leisure breaks?
Absolutely! I always want to take care of the folks in this industry so I stress to everyone to always reach out to me whenever they're looking to stay in San Francisco and I'll offer a special rate whenever possible. Sometimes if I can, I'll upgrade them too!
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