Florida Film Loops: State’s struggling film industry, ArtsCenter/South Florida grant

Is Florida’s film industry running on fumes?

Several major, notable films, of course, have recently been made in the Sunshine State.

“The Florida Project,” shot on 35mm film in and around Kissimmee at a cost of about $2 million, yielded more than $10 million at the U.S. box office. The 2017 movie, directed, written, shot, edited, and co-produced by Sean Baker, landed a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Willem Dafoe.

Barry Jenkins‘ “Moonlight” was shot digitally on location in Miami for $4 million and generated more than $65 million in box-office receipts worldwide, including nearly $28 million in the U.S. & Canada. The 2016 film won three Oscars, including best picture, and additionally notched five Oscar nominations.

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Both films were critically lauded, racking up glowing reviews and landing on many year-end Top 10 lists assembled by critics and critics’ groups. The Florida Film Critics Circle honored director-writer Jenkins with its Breakout Award, and gave its annual Golden Orange Award to the cast and crew of “Moonlight.” The FFCC last year gave the Golden Orange to “The Florida Project.”

Bright Lights, Medium Cities

Walt Disney Studios spent more than $134,000 in Polk County while shooting director Thea Sharrock‘s “The One and Only Ivan” over a three-day period beginning June 20 in four locations around Lakeland — Southgate Shopping Center, Dobbins Park (both in my old ‘hood, BTW), the Silver Moon Drive-In, and on West Palm Drive.

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That’s according to Visit Central Florida, as reported by Paul Guzzo in the Tampa Bay Times. The producers of the film, a vehicle for “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston, above (pic posted by ABC Action News), spent their production on 363 hotel room nights, local cast, catering, miscellaneous expenditures, and locations and associated fees, Guzzo wrote. “Ivan,” a live-action/CGI hybrid movie based on the 2012 children’s book of the same name, is scheduled for release in summer 2019.

And Florida is home to at least three television series: MTV “reality” show “Siesta Key” (Sarasota County), PBS’s sketch-format show “Kid Stew,” created by superstar mystery novelist and Palm Beach resident James Patterson (South Florida), and TNT’s comic drama “Claws” (Manatee County).

Big Deal to Big Chill

In the early 1900s, when it was home to more than 30 movie studios, Jacksonville was dubbed “The Winter Film Capital of the World.” The north Florida city made a sunny, affordable alternative to New York and New Jersey, then the location — pre-Hollywood — for most film productions.

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Flash forward more than a century: Big-dollar movie production in Florida largely has hit the skids in the wake of the 2015 expiration of the state’s tax incentives for filmmakers.

More than 60 major film and television productions opted out of shooting in Florida in recent years, at a cost of about $1 billion in lost revenue, according to Film Florida, a not-for-profit entertainment production trade association. That doesn’t include the collateral damage: Nearly 90,000 lost cast and crew jobs.

“Due to the lack of competitive incentives, productions are going elsewhere,” Variety noted last year, pointing to producers’ decisions to shoot Florida-set scenes in Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night,” and “Gifted,” starring Octavia Spencer, in Georgia.

HBO’s “Ballers” series, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, below, and once based in Miami, left to take advantage of California’s more appealing tax incentives. The third and final season of Netflix original “Bloodlines” nearly left the Florida Keys for the same reason.

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During the five years they were in effect, Florida’s incentives — a 20% base tax credit in 2010, with additional 5% increases for shooting in the off-season (June 1-Nov. 30) and for family-friendly productions — meant that the state essentially paid out nearly $300 million. But Florida gained from filmmakers’ production expenditures in the state of more than $1.25 billion, according to Variety. The production activity also drove the creation of nearly 120,000 jobs.

Several sequences in “Iron Man 3” were shot in the state during that period, along with the features “Rock of Ages,” “Step Up Revolution,” “Pain & Gain,” and the Starz series “Magic City.”

“The Infiltrator,” also starring Cranston, was partially filmed in 28 locations around the Tampa Bay area in April 2015. Hillsborough County spent about $250,000 to bring the film to the area, and the county benefited from $490,000 in direct expenditures and $145,942 in indirect spending, according to a report by Tampa marketing research firm HCP. (Producers of the $25 million film said that they would have filmed the bulk of the movie in Florida had the incentives been more attractive).

Got Tax Incentives?

Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico offered substantial filmmaking tax incentives — some, like Oklahoma, as high as 35% — as of April 1, according to data assembled by Cast and Crew Entertainment Services.

Florida is out of the running. But other Southern states are getting busy: Kentucky is offering at least 30% in incentives, followed by Alabama (25%+), Louisiana (25%+), Tennessee (25%), North Carolina (25%), Georgia (20%+),  South Carolina (20%+), and Arkansas (20%+).

The state of Florida does, however, offer a “Film in Florida Sales Tax Exemption,” a narrowly defined sales- and use-tax exemption to those engaged in film and television production. The exemption is restricted to “the purchase or lease of certain items used exclusively as an integral part of the production activities in Florida,” according to information on the state’s Department of Revenue web site.

Building a Wall to Keep Out Hollywood

So why did Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature back away from providing economic incentives to moviemakers?

Blame it on “ideological” opposition to Hollywood productions, says Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for Florida governor.

“It’s a philosophical problem. That’s what it is,” she recently told a roomful of Sunshine State film and television production professionals, including John Lux, executive of Film Florida, according to a report by Scott Powers of FloridaPolitics.com.

Lux, Michael Jordan of MJJ Entertainment and Filmotechnic USA, Winter Park-based actor Tom Nowicki (“The Blind Side,” “Remember the Titans”), UCF film professor Lisa Mills, and other industry stakeholders met last week at Edgewood-based Adrenaline Films.

“(They) argued that the costs to Florida include the losses of high-paying jobs associated with each production, the potential to develop permanent film production businesses in Florida, the tourism boost a movie or TV show can provide, and a source for careers for actors and college graduates coming out of Florida’s film schools,” Powers wrote.

Graham and her Democratic primary rivals — the ones without recognizable surnames — have all vowed to bolster the state’s film industry.

The state’s efforts to attract film productions largely have failed because “leadership in the Florida legislature is not in the mindset of having public/private partnerships,” as Rep. David Silvers (D-Lake Clarke Shores), below, told Philip’s Flicks.

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A Sliver of Lights, Camera, Action

Silvers, who represents a district located in central Palm Beach County, last year again filed a bill, HB 341, calling for the creation of the Florida Motion Picture Capital Corp., as part of his ongoing quest “to bring the film industry back to Florida.”

“Regardless of this mindset, I filed the bill the last two years because I want to ensure that the Florida film and digital media industry knows that some of the legislators support the industry and understand the positive impact on our economy,” he said.

According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the proposed corporation, instead of offering tax credits or rebates, was designed to operate “under a more traditional investment model where the group would directly invest in a film with the hopes of making money on the back end. Revenue derived from those investments would be reinvested into the corporation for future films. The bill does not specify how the corporation would be initially funded, but lays out a framework to collect local and state funding.”

In March, the bill died in the Florida House’s Careers and Competition Subcommittee.

“I plan on filing this legislation upon my reelection,” said Silvers, a freshman legislator facing attorney Edgardo Hernandez in the November primary. Silvers said he’s unaware of any other ongoing efforts by legislators or state officials to bring more Hollywood dollars to the Sunshine State.

The film industry may be undergoing a sea change in movie-production locations, according to a recent report by FilmL.A. Only 10 of the top 100 movie moneymakers were shot in California in 2017. The Golden State finished fourth, behind Canada (20 of the biggest box-office hits), the U.K. and Georgia (15 each).

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On the heels of Miami-Dade County’s rebate of $100k for film or TV productions spending at least $1 million in the county, ArtCenter/South Florida is putting its focus on indie filmmakers by making $50k available to each of two movies shot in Miami.

The New Cinematic Arts Residency will be led by Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, below, a local filmmaker and the director and co-founder of the Third Horizon Film Festival,” Hans Morgenstern wrote in Miami New Times. “He says the program fills a void for those, like him, who have found themselves with a successful short film but nowhere else to go from there.”

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Applications for the funding are available through Sept. 18 at artcentersf.org/cinematicarts.

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Meanwhile, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau gave $313,000 to NZK Productions Inc. to shoot a single episode of “reality” romance show “The Bachelor,” according to the Miami New Times. Your resort tax dollars at work.

Have Florida film news? Contact Philip Booth at jphilipbooth@hotmail.com

 

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Oscars 2010: “The Hurt Locker” Wins Big; “Up in the Air” Shut Out

Sometimes Oscar even gets it (mostly) right: The Hurt Locker cleaned up with six awards last night, including best picture, best director (Kathryn Bigelow), and best original screenplay (Mark Boal).

Bigelow had been widely expected to win for her direction of the riveting Iraq War drama, and in so doing she became the first woman to take home that award. But most Oscar guessers were about evenly split on whether best picture would go to her film or James Cameron‘s extraordinarily expensive and extraordinarily profitable 3-D sci-fi spectacular Avatar. The better film won in both top categories, IMO.

Boal’s win was a bit of a surprise, as some had expected that Quentin Tarantino might take a home win in this category, for his violent, funny, wildly imaginative Inglourious Basterds. QT’s film, though, only won in the category of supporting actor (Christoph Waltz).

An even bigger upset was in the category of best adapted screenplay, with Geoffrey Fletcher winning for his adaptation of Saffire’s tough-but-uplifting urban drama Precious.

The majority of the categories played out about as expected, although it was interesting to see another left-field choice win in the foreign-film category: Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes trumped two wildly acclaimed films — The White Ribbon and A Prophet.

Tallies: The Hurt Locker won 6 out of 9; Avatar won 3 out of 9. Precious (6 noms), Up (5 noms) and Crazy Heart (3 noms) each won 2. Inglourious Basterds won 1 out of 8. Shut out: Up in the Air (6 noms), District 9 (4 noms), Nine (4 noms), An Education (3 noms), The Princess and the Frog (3 noms).

Why did Avatar lose out in the big categories? Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, offers this insight: “My suspicion is that academy members still find it difficult to believe that films largely created and sculpted in the computer–whether it’s “Avatar” or the long string of brilliant Pixar films — can be just as worthy and artistic as the old-fashioned live-action ones.”

How’d I do? I made predictions in 15 categories. I guessed wrong in four. Score: 11/15.

Best Picture – The Hurt Locker. My guess: Avatar.

Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (my guess).

Best Actor – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (my guess).

Best Actress – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (my guess).

Best supporting actor – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (my guess).

Best supporting actress – Mo’Nique, Precious (my guess).

Best animated feature – Up (my guess).

Best documentary – The Cove (my guess).

Best foreign language film – The Secret in Their Eyes, from Argentina. My guess: The White Ribbon. As I said – plenty of wild cards in this category, and one of them won.

Best adapted screenplay – Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious. My guess: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air.

Best original screenplay – Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker. My guess: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds.

Best music (original song) – “The Weary Kind,” by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, Crazy Heart (my guess).

Best art direction – Avatar (my guess).

Cinematography – Avatar (my guess).

Visual effects – Avatar (my guess).

For the complete list of Oscar winners and nominees, click here.

That Evening Sun – Southern Exposure, No Sentimentality Required (review)

I recently reviewed That Evening Sun, a Southern drama featuring one of Hal Halbrook‘s finest performances, for Las Vegas City Life. Read the review, below, or click here to link to it.

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That Evening Sun

Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins. Directed by Scott Teems.

Dying is easy enough, particularly for veteran screen and stage actor Hal Holbrook. But Southern culture is hard to get right. For every perfectly turned piece like Goodbye Solo and Junebug, there’s a patronizing moral-lesson crowd pleaser like The Blind Side or a lame redneck comedy like Joe Dirt or a case of Southern-gothic overkill.

Scott Teems, for his feature directing and writing debut, deftly avoids those traps with a drama built on a slow-burning fuse, an increasingly bitter feud between an octogenarian and his old homestead’s current ne’er-do-well occupant. Teems, not coincidentally born in Georgia, adapted his screenplay from a William Gay short story, and mostly gets it right, aside from several sentimental flashbacks that add little to the narrative.

Holbrook, now 85, following his touching turn in 2007’s Into the Wild, is a late-career revelation as Abner Meecham, a retired farmer who has escaped a depressing nursing home and resettled on his old property in rural Tennessee. Trouble is, Meecham’s workaholic lawyer son, Paul (Walton Goggins), has already leased the rambling clapboard home and farmland to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), a 30ish local man with some demons of his own, including a chip on his shoulder and a propensity to turn violent when he drinks.

Meecham and Choat probably have more in common than they’d like to admit, including dysfunctional relationships with their respective spouses and offspring; to his credit, Teems avoids a heavy-handed approach in observing those commonalities.

Upon returning home, Meecham moves into a cramped sharecropper’s cabin on the property, within view of the main house, and settles into a siege against someone he refuses to view as anything except “white trash.”

Choat, tattooed and long-haired, clearly could overpower the old man. But Meecham has weapons at his disposal, including steely determination, a friendship with Choat’s kindly teenage daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska), and, yes, a gun. In one of the film’s several dry comic elements, there’s a scruffy dog that just won’t stop barking. For moral support, Meecham has his old friend Thurl Chessor (Barry Corbin, memorable in a small role), with whom he trades barbs on the latter’s front porch.

Day by day, Choat’s anger at the interloper builds, as does Meecham’s resentment at being cut off from his home, and his furniture, all linked up with memories of his late wife, Ellen (Dixie Carter, Holbrook’s real-life wife). One of several well-observed moments has Meecham wandering around his old place, looking with disgust at the dirty walls and unkempt rooms, haunted by thoughts of the house’s former appearance. He burns with bitterness and regret over all he’s lost.

Choat, having spent a lifetime being rejected by Meecham and others like him in their small community, is furiously working at a last-chance opportunity to make a good living for his wife, Ludie (Carrie Preston) and their daughter. Meecham represents an obstacle to that plan, an annoyance who refuses to budge.

Thankfully, Holbrook’s performance is absent of any conventional crustiness or curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold sappiness. Meecham is a tough guy, proud and taciturn, determined not to lose the battle of wills. As his life’s last war goes on, a sense of dread begins to build, and it’s pretty clear that a violent confrontation is unavoidable. But like everything else in That Evening Sun, there’s little about that clash that’s predictable.