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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Film Fests x 5: Venice program, TIFF slate, diversity issues, Russian interference, Fall favorites

Movie Love, Italian Style: Films by the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Greengrass, Mike Leigh, and Damien Chazelle are among those slated for the 75th annual Venice Film Festival, opening Aug. 29. (New York Times); related coverage via Deadline, The Guardian, Variety, Hollywood.com, Reuters, and The Jerusalem Post.

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Diversity? What Diversity? Only 1 of 21 entries in competition at Venice Film Fest was directed by a woman (Hollywood Reporter).

TIFF Ahead: The 43rd Toronto International Film Fest program, Sept. 6-16, will include Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” Barry Jenkins‘ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Steve McQueen‘s “Widows,” Claire Denis’ “High Life,” Dan Fogelman’s “Life Itself,” Damien Chazelle‘s “First Man,” and Jason Reitman‘s “The Front Runner.” (L.A. Times); related coverage via Hollywood Reporter.

Just say Nyet: New Russian regulations may force festival shutdowns in the former Soviet Union (Moscow Times).

Fall Film Fest Circuit: Some highlights (Film School Rejects).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variety Cuts Crix; Editor Says It’s For the Better; Ebert: “RIP, Schmucks”

It’s deja vu all over again: A noted publication lays off top talent, and a know-nothing editor spins it as something good for the readers.

Memo to Variety Group Editor David Gray: Lop off those who provide quality content for your publication, and your content suffers. D’oh! When content suffers, readers drop off. When readers leave, circulation drops, and advertisers bid adieu. When advertisers exit, your publication folds. What part of this downward-spiral scenario do you fail to understand?

The news: Variety on Monday got rid of chief film critic Todd McCarthy (photo, above) and chief theater critic David Rooney, along with longtime film critic Derek Alley, indie film reporter Sharon Swart and several employees responsible for copy editing and design. That’s according to a report in The Wrap.

How does the film industry’s longtime magazine of record expect to maintain that reputation when it takes these kinds of self-destructive actions?

The reaction from Roger Ebert: “”Variety fires Todd McCarthy and I cancel my subscription. He was my reason to read the paper. RIP, schmucks.”

Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times: “It was inevitable that Variety would once again have to find ways to cut costs, though it was definitely a shock to see the paper get rid of its top critics, especially McCarthy, who after the death of Army Archerd and the departure of former editor Peter Bart is easily the most iconic presence at the paper. … Having been a recognizable force at Variety for decades, McCarthy represented a sizable voice of critical authority, often being the first critic to weigh in with a review of a major studio release or a much-anticipated film festival debut. … It’s sad to realize that even at Variety, the film industry’s most old-fashioned chronicler of events, criticism isn’t valued enough to keep one critic in a full-time position.”

And back to the BS I mentioned at the start of this post. According to Gray’s memo: “Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers. Our goal is the same: To maintain, or improve, our quality coverage.”

Really? Which readers won’t notice? How will the departure of someone like McCarthy serve to improve coverage?

According to The Wrap, eight staffers were let go. McCarthy, the writer who had worked at Variety longer (31 years) than any other living staffer, was told on Monday that that would be his last day. (Apparently), no gold watch, no retirement party, no farewell cruise.

Classy, huh? It’s nearly as classy (and ungrateful) as how The Tampa Tribune treated longtime film critic Bob Ross, and how Creative Loafing (Tampa) treated longtime film critic Lance Goldenberg.

Gray’s defending-what-can’t-be-defended memo, continued: “We are not changing our review policy,” he added. “Last year we ran more than 1,200 film reviews. No other news outlet comes even close, and we will continue to be the leader in numbers and quality. It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers, but Todd, Derek and Rooney have been asked to continue as freelancers.”

According to McCarthy, he’s not yet come to an agreement with Variety. Shame on the mag for firing hard-working, highly regarded critics, and then asking them to do the same work for far less pay and no benefits.

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And more sobering thoughts from Goldstein, on the continuing devaluation of film criticism:

“Virtually every survey has shown that younger audiences have zero interest in critics. They take their cues for what movies to see from their peers, making decisions based on the buzz they’ve heard on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social networking.

…when you turn your chief reviewer into a freelancer, it certainly tells you, loud and clear, how little value the job has in today’s increasingly critic-unfriendly market.”

Tribeca Recessionizes Its Lineup

tribecaThings are tough all over, and that includes the Tribeca Film Festival, which just announced a program that’s 28% slimmer than last year’s last year’s lineup – 86 films, down from 120 in 2008.

The eighth edition of the fest opens April 22 with Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, featuring “Seinfeld” creator Larry David, star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Evan Rachel Wood, and continues through May 3.

Tribeca offers another rangy mix of features, including:

  • Stay Cool, directed and written by the Polish brothers (Northfork) with Winona Ryder and Hilary Duff
  • Tony-nominated playwright Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse, with Aidan Quinn, Ciaran Hinds, and Iben Hjejle
  • Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly, winner of the Berlin fest’s award for best direction
  • Burning Down the House, a documentary on late, great NYC punk club CBGB’s
  • Accidents Happen, with Geena Davis
  • Caroline Bottaro’s Queen to Play, with Kevin Kline
  • The Fish Child, directed by Lucia Puenzo (XXY)

Tribeca by the numbers – 48 world premieres, five international premieres, 14 North American premieres, and three U.S. premieres; films represent 33 countries.

The downsizing is largely due to sponsorship woes, as major sponsors Cadillac and Target dropped out, according a report in Variety, written by Dade Hayes.

“When we cut back a few years ago, it was because the festival had grown a little out of control,” fest executive director Nancy Schafer told Bloomberg News. “This time it’s because of financial considerations.”

The festival was founded in 2001 by Robert DeNiro and two partners, on the heels of the Islamofascist terrorist attacks on New York.

For complete details, visit the official festival site. For more coverage of the lineup announcement, click on the below links:

Oscar Talk: Awards Bounce? Not so Much

oscars3The Oscar bounce — the uptick in attendance when any particular movie lands Academy Awards nominations — once was the cart placed before the horse of movie productions.

That is, producers and studios routinely attached stars and directors to scripts merely in hopes of assembling a movie that would land awards attention, which in turn would lead to boffo box office, in Variety-speak.

As it turns out, the Oscar bounce is practically as obsolete as the payphone.

So says Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein, in a piece published today.

“The Academy Awards’ best picture nominees were announced Jan. 22, an event quickly commemorated by a blitzkrieg of expensive full-page ads in the trades, the New York Times and my newspaper, designed to use the cachet of a best picture nomination to nudge reluctant moviegoers into the theaters,” Goldstein writes.

“But at the time when the rest of the movie business is booming, the best picture nominees–with the obvious exception of the crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire–are doing a slow fade. Only one of the five best picture nominees, The Reader, has made more of its overall box-office take after it earned a best picture nod.”

Downside for viewers, long term: Some high-quality productions, which might only have been given the green light because of their potential for grabbing Oscar attention, will now stay in development hell.

Upside for viewers, short term (as in this season): Oscar prospects have lengthened the on-screen life of an impressive group of films far more worthwhile than such February releases as the turgid The International and the execrable Friday the 13th.

So … see the good stuff while you still can.

Click here to read the rest of Goldstein’s story.