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Florida's film industry: A regional roundup

Filming during 2C Media's production of Animal Planet's "Swamp Wars."

Lion's Share

Half of the film, TV and entertainment media business in Florida happens in Miami and south Florida. The industry's iconic moments in south Florida date back to Where the Boys Are, the 1960 film that defined Fort Lauderdale as spring break, the Jackie Gleason show from Miami Beach, and "Miami Vice" in the 1980s. Fashion photography, commercials and reality TV are important drivers of the local media scene. Increasingly, the key player is the Spanish-language sector. South Florida is home to substantial operations of the titans of Hispanic TV, including ratings leader Univision, at times the highest rated network in the United States, and rival Telemundo.

New Studio

After "Burn Notice," the most successful Florida-based TV series in years, wrapped its final season last year, its "soundstage," the old Coconut Grove Exhibition Center, was torn down to make way for a waterfront park. To address the need for new studio space and pump new business into the Omni area near downtown, the Miami Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, a body funded by taxes in Miami's Omni area, selected New York-based EUE / Screen Gems to develop and run a movie and TV studio building and support facilities just west of the Arsht Performing Arts Center.EUE / Screen Gems already owns and operates production facilities in New York, Atlanta and Wilmington, N.C. The CRA hopes the mixed-use studio will reignite the industry in south Florida. It will reimburse EUE / Screen Gems $11.5 million to develop it.

Spotlight: 2C Media

Florida generates plenty of grist for reality TV producers, but few call the state home. One major Florida independent producer is North Miami-based 2C Media, founded by Chris Sloan and Carla Kaufman Sloan, who relocated to Florida from Los Angeles in 2005.

Their bread and butter is creating promos, the commercials that channels air for their own shows. 2C does thousands per year for clients ranging from NBC's winter Olympic coverage to "Law & Order" to the Steve Harvey talk show. Revenue from producing the spots allows it to develop its own shows. Chris Sloan says selling one or two such shows out of 10 pitched to a broadcaster or cable channel is a good record for an independent producer. To ready a pitch, a producer has to come up with the idea, secure access, get the legal agreement with the subjects locked up and spend thousands of dollars to record and edit a "pitch reel."

2C's successes include Travel Channel's "Airport 24 / 7," a day-to-day look at Miami International Airport and Animal Planet's "Swamp Wars," which follows a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue unit focused on critter problems. Producers generally make 10% of the show budget. A challenge for producers in glossy south Florida is finding "authentic" people and situations to which middle America can relate.

Entertainment, Briefly

» The longest-airing variety show in the world, "Sabado Gigante," broadcasts from Univision's studios in Doral.

» Conservative online media company Newsmax Media will expand its operations in Palm Beach County this year, moving its headquarters to Boca as it grows both its administrative offices and online television channel.

» The Miami International Film Festival runs in March; the Palm Beach festival is in April; Naples and Fort Lauderdale have theirs in November.

» The biggest entertainment fop of recent years was Digital Domain, the digital arts entertainment company in Port St. Lucie that cratered in 2012 after getting a $20-million state grant and making an agreement for at least $62 million more in local incentives.

» Documentary filmmaker Billy Corben founded media studio Rakontur in Miami in 2000 and has had his work screened and well-received at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. He's done a film on Miami's Cocaine Cowboy era, a show for ESPN on pro athletes who lose their money and other gritty topics. His latest, the "Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip Hop," had its VH1 premier in February.

» Broward is home to the USA network's "Graceland" series and was home to "The Glades," which A&E canceled after four seasons.

» Locally, FX this year shot a pilot for "Hoke," a Paul Giamatti show about a homicide detective in Miami in the 1980s.

» "Marido en Alquiler," a telenovela from NBCUniversal's Telemundo and Brazil's Globo, was filmed in Hollywood.

» "Gator Boys," a show that follows two alligator trappers, returned to Broward in 2013 after a brief hiatus in Mississippi while Broward sorted out the future of the park where the show was based.

» Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has "Ballers," an HBO pilot on retired athletes in Miami.LeBron James has a movie project going.

» "Entourage," a movie that follows the HBO series, began shooting in Miami this year.

» ABC and Univision last year launched an English language network, Fusion, from Doral.

» Miami-Dade also is home to Discovery Networks Latin America / U.S. Hispanic headquarters as well as HBO Latin America.

Changing Focus

Once, central Florida's film and entertainment industry revolved around Universal and Disney, which built studio and production facilities on their respective campuses.Universal's Nickelodeon Studios was the home for popular kids shows such as "Super Sloppy Double Dare." Meanwhile, production facilities at Disney housed "The Mickey Mouse Club" show and feature-length films including "Newsies" and "Ernest Saves Christmas." But by the mid-2000s, both entertainment giants had moved all the production back to California.

These days, Orlando's film and entertainment scene is dominated by emergent digital media and gaming industries, most notably employer Electronic Arts, which makes the "Madden NFL" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" video games in Maitland. The Orlando economic Development office says there are more than 1,000 digital media companies in the region.

Education

The middle swath of Florida includes three well-recognized education programs relating to film and / or entertainment:

Founded in 1979, Full Sail University is a for-profit school on 212 acres in Winter Park that offers bachelor's and master's degrees in digital media. Its 17,000 students can choose among 45 traditional and online degrees, including mobile gaming or digital cinematography. Full Sail is pricey — more than $21,000 a year in tuition and fees. The school likens itself to film and music powerhouses such as the University of Southern California, saying its students go on to work on notable projects, from Electronic Arts video games, to popular TV shows such as "Breaking Bad" and movies like Batman Begins.

Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota is a not-for profit private school specializing in digital media and the arts. Founded in 1931 with funds from circus magnate John Ringling, the college offers its 1,400 undergraduate students a 12:1 student-faculty ratio and undergraduate degrees in 14 disciplines, such as "Digital Film making" and "Motion Design," although its most popular major is "Illustration." Notable alumni include David Bromstad, an interior designer featured on HGTV and John Marshall, the cartoonist behind the "Blondie" cartoon strip. Ringling's tuition and fees totaled $36,640 in the 2012-13 academic year.

A decade ago, the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush approved $4.2 million for the University of Central Florida to launch a graduate-level video game development school. Since then, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy in downtown Orlando has earned a national reputation — ranked No. 2 among such grad schools by the Princeton Review. The school annually brings in a cohort of approximately 50 to 60 students, mostly Floridians, who pursue a 16-month master's in interactive entertainment on three tracks — art, production and programming.

Gamers

» As a maker of video sports games, EA Tiburon knows a thing or two about scoring. Witness the state's film and entertainment tax credit incentives program. EA Tiburon, the Maitland studio of Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts, scored $15 million through the program in recent years for work on Tiger Woods PGA, Madden, NBA and NCAA football. EA is the single largest consumer of credits in the program.Tiburon has been part of EA since 1998.

» Orlando independent video game developer n-Space, founded in 1994, built a strong reputation as a work-for-hire maker serving publishers. A recent brandname job was Skylanders Swap Force for the Nintendo 3DS. But the work-for-hire market has been suffering, and n-Space, now with 50 staff, is working on its own internally funded project, says CEO Dan O'Leary. A side project is Gunstruction, which O'Leary says is a free online tool that gun enthusiasts can use to customize weapons, using more than 900 real world parts from 60 licensed manufacturers. The company last year hired an EA veteran, Dan Tudge, as its president.

Entertainment, Briefly

» Tampa hosts the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards — the "Bollywood Oscars" — this month.

» This month also brings the 16th annual Sarasota Film Festival and the Florida Film Festival from April 4 to 13 in Maitland and Winter Park.

» Meanwhile, filming wrapped up this winter on Dolphin Tale 2, the sequel to the 2011 film based on the story of an injured dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

» The TV and online shopping network HSN, headquartered in St. Petersburg, recently restructured its headquarters, cutting 59 positions — less than 2% of its workforce. The firm's sales were up 3% in the third quarter over the previous year.

SPOTLIGHT: Blue Water Media

Fueled by the commerce inside the headquarters of nearby TV and online shopping network HSN, Clear water-based Blue Water Media works with companies to develop marketing videos and campaigns to help sell products directly to consumers.

The 18-employee company was founded by Andy Latimer in 2006. Within three years he had expanded into a 33,000-sq.- ft. Production facility. "Video on demand and DVRs have collapsed the traditional advertising models," he says. Latimer says he found a niche to cater to brands that want to reach their customers without relying on pricey TV ad buys or retailers. His clients include companies like Publix, Autovantage and Craftsman, and ads run on NBC, Bravo, ABC and CBS among others. Latimer says his revenue so far this year is 300% higher than all of last year and he expects to hire seven more people.

Incentives Questions

In Tallahassee, film advocates launched a lobbying campaign to push for a renewal of the state's film and entertainment tax incentives programs, creating a $200-million annual bundle of tax credits that could be tapped until 2020. Gov. Rick Scott did not include this funding in his proposed budget.

Meanwhile, the non-partisan watchdog group Integrity Florida issued a report raising questions about the effectiveness and transparency of the incentives program, recommending more disclosure of film incentive agreements, more stringent examinations of the return on investment for taxpayers and more oversight of tax credit bonus approvals.

Color Earth

Shane Reynolds, through his Destin-based production house Color Earth, hosts, produces and directs adventure and travel shows for networks such as the Travel Channel, National Geographic, BBC, Discovery and Lonely Planet.

Reynolds is perhaps best known for his man-vs.-nature show "Shane Untamed" that first aired on the National Geographic channel over a year ago. A native Floridian who grew up in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, Reynolds settled in Destin in 2002. "I have produced in New York and L.A. I prefer to do it here because the standard of living is a lot easier," Reynolds says. "The only downfall is it's a smaller market, so it sometimes is harder to find the support I need."

Creating an Identity

The state's northern tier isn't the hotbed of film and TV production that south Florida is, but the region has hosted some memorable moments in TV and film history.Hollywood movies were filmed in the Wakulla Springs region just south of Tallahassee as early as the 1930s, including the 1950s hit "Creature from the Black Lagoon." The 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was almost entirely filmed in the tiny Florida Panhandle community of Seaside.

Jacksonville has made strides in carving out an identity as a host for film and entertainment projects. In 2013, Jacksonville had 54 permitted projects that spanned 156 days, says Todd Roobin, manager of Jacksonville's Office of Film and Television.Some productions that filmed in Jacksonville include the TV show "X Factor" and the film Draft Day, as well as numerous commercials.

The Panhandle beaches continue to attract a steady stream of television shows and movies, from the notorious MTV Spring Break show that helped fuel the popularity of Panama City Beach to repeat trips from HGTV shows like "House Hunters" that showcase home bargains in north Florida.

East Side Story

Julie Gordon, film commissioner for Bay County, had to compete against other better known Florida locations, including Miami and Sarasota, when Hollywood producers contacted her about shooting the dance-based film East Side Story (a modern twist on West Side Story) in northwest Florida. The film was directed and written by David Winters, who appeared in the original West Side Story on Broadway and in film.

Largely on the basis of offering lower costs, Panama City Beach nudged out the competition, and crews spent 10 months last year on location in Panama City Beach, the Gulf World Marine Park, Club LeVela and a resort called Shores of Panama. A street dance scene was filmed with hundreds of extras on the main street in Pier Park Mall, a popular outdoor mall that opened five years ago. "It is, by all rights, a huge commercial for this area," Gordon says. The movie should be released this year.

Tongue in Jaws

Film crews hit the Panhandle this winter to shoot Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre.According to a report in the Jackson County Floridan newspaper, the film will be about prehistoric sharks loosed from an underground sea by a natural gas fracking operation. The fish become land sharks that encounter a group of escapees from a nearby women's prison.The film's director, Jim Wynorski, also directed Piranhaconda, described on the Internet Movie Database as a sequel to Sharktopus. Much of the filming is taking place at Florida Caverns State Park in Mariana, 38 miles south of Dothan and near the borders of Alabama and Georgia.Wynorski told the Floridan he hopes the film will air on the SyFy Channel, as did Sharknado.

Entertainment, Briefly

FSU's film school pays the production costs of every student's film project and offers relatively affordable tuition and generous scholarships and assistant ships. Alumni have worked in screenwriting, producing and directing, with notable movies such as An Inconvenient Truth and Open Season.

Among the stars who got their start in north Florida are Jane Fonda; Tony Hale, who plays Buster Bluth in "Arrested Development;" and Lucy Alibar, the screenwriter of Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Jacksonville native Ryan Kennedy, 21, used crowd funding website Kick starter to fund his new movie, The Projectionist.

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