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Spotlight: Southeast

Southeast Heats Up as Incentives Fuel Production

By Mark R. Smith

southeast film commissions
[Clockwise from Above]
Crane shot for Deadly Closure, a DeVere Films production that shot in Sarasota County, Florida.
Scenic sunset in the Wilmington, NC area.
Celebrated director Werner Herzog (right) and Future Film LLC's Sam Logan after the announcement of
the Ringling College of Art's filmmaking lab initiative.
Photo: Rich Schineller

The name of the game in production today is state incentives. They're key to maximizing project budgets and may play a role in productions being made or, at least, being made stateside. And given the recession, they can be a critical factor in a state's bottom line.

As film commissioners in the Southeastern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida can attest, the level of incentives offered can be the difference between hosting a wide array of productions during the year or attracting the occasional independent film or TV show that quickly draws down a conservative incentive pool.

For states in the have-not (or have-little) incentives column, it's a matter of educating and motivating state legislatures as they convene their next sessions.

2BruceStudio Has Gotham Audio Accent in North Carolina
southeast film commissions

The distance between New York City and Asheville, North Carolina may seem like more than the hundreds of miles that it is, but Bruce Sales has been bringing those markets closer together since moving down south and opening 2BruceStudio (www.2brucestudio.com) in 2007. He offers a mix of original music composition, sound design and audio post for all media.

For one recent gig Asheville's Bonesteel Films asked 2BruceStudio to deliver original music and audio post for "Priceless," a :30 spot promoting the famed Biltmore Estate. Composed and recorded by Sales, the music starts with a piano solo as entertainer/singer David Holt speaks of special childhood recollections. It grows to a grand orchestral payoff amidst images of the estate's vast treasures and visitors' memories. Sales, who also works on short documentaries, is moving toward the broadcast and film markets as well.

Revving Up North Carolina
The new year dawned bright in North Carolina where, on January 1, a 25% production incentive took effect.

In this case, it's a refundable tax credit available to any production company that wants to shoot in the state. "There are no broker's fees," says state film commissioner Aaron Syrett of the North Carolina Film Office (www.ncfilm.com), "which means that it's refundable. You don't have to sell the credit to liquefy the cash, like you would in some other states; it's monetized by the state." Previously, the state had a 15% percent credit that was also refundable; and, like Georgia, there are also no annual caps.

With the new incentive, the state should be able to build on the 2008 economic impact of $92 million in direct spending (2009 numbers are not available yet, but a similar bottom line is expected). "For 2010, we expect a large increase," says Syrett.

But the bumped-up tax credit isn't the only big news in North Carolina. Spring 2009 marked the opening of a 38,000 square-foot stage at EUE Screen Gems (the 'EUE' stands for Elliot Unger Elliot, in case you've ever wondered) in coastal Wilmington.

The new stage is the tenth on the lot and "the largest in the eastern U.S.," according to Syrett. "It's enormous; there are not many of that size in the world."

The soundstage, which features a 60 x 60-foot indoor water tank (with a depth of 10.5 feet) that will be used for special effects, complements nine other stages ranging in size from 7,200 to 20,000 square feet.

Carolina Hurricanes Reteam with Trailblazer Studios
southeast film commissions

Raleigh, North Carolina's Trailblazer Studios (www.trailblazerstudios.com) was swept up in an eight-spot ad campaign for the Carolina Hurricanes' 2009-2010 NHL season. The project marked the second time the Hurricanes teamed with Craig Jackson & Partners, Trailblazer Studios and its Red Truck Films division to produce TV and arena big-screen video spots.

Each commercial featured a player's signature move — like a slap shot, a wrister or a glove save — captured in ultra-slow motion with the Phantom HD high-speed digital camera. "Shooting at 500 fps makes the footage unique, because you can break down human motion to its barest elements," says director Garye Costner pictured above, left, shooting Eric Staal while Aaron Keane, front center, recorded sound and Barry Davis, right, delivered special effects.

Last year Red Truck and its executive producer Cathy Wilson partnered with LA's Soapbox Films to host John Travolta and Robin Williams and co-produce TV promos for the actors' Old Dogs from Walt Disney Pictures.

While much of the attention within the industry is focused on Wilmington, producers who shoot in North Carolina can take advantage of a varied tapestry of locations. It ranges from miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline in the east to the mountains of Asheville in the west, the vast farmlands that span the state, the Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham and Chapel Hill Triangle plus the Triad of High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

On the production front, the biggest news of 2009 was the welcome return of Warner Bros.' One Tree Hill, which airs on The CW, for its seventh season. It shot entirely in Wilmington.

Although no major studio features shot in the state last year North Carolina weighed in on the indie scene with Provinces of Night starring Val Kilmer. The film, about a drifter who returns to his family in a small Tennessee town after four decades of drinking and womanizing, was shot at EUE Screen Gems and on various locations in and around Wilmington.

The Triangle served as the setting for another indie film, Main Street, about a controversial plan to save a decaying city, which starred Orlando Bloom and Academy Award Best Actor nominee Colin Firth. A third independent effort, The Trial, shot in Charlotte and concerned a man struggling with horrific death in his family.

"And that's about it," says Syrett — though it's a safe bet that he'll have more to reflect on a year from now. "The activity for (2010) already looks encouraging," he points out, noting that North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed the bill to jack up the tax credit in mid-August. "Veterans have not seen this much buzz around the industry for a decade."

Just how busy are production artisans getting in North Carolina? "We're working on about 50 projects right now that are coming," Syrett reports. "They are a 50/50 mix of features and TV programs from the major studios as well as independent producers."

That's big news for the local production community, especially as the nation pulls out of the recession.

"Outside of LA, we probably have one of the deepest crew bases in the country," he says with one caveat: "If you go to Michigan (which recently began offering new incentives), Georgia or Louisiana, you'll find an ample number of North Carolina residents who went to those states looking for work.

"However," he adds, with an ample hint of satisfaction, "it looks like we will be able to accommodate those professionals here again shortly."

Genesis Generates Film Production
southeast film commissions

2010 looks busy for Columbia, South Carolina-based Genesis Studios (www.gencreative.com), which recently launched a job development and educational initiative, Emergent Films, to foster growth of feature film production in the state. The company also produced a short film, Saying Goodbye, in conjunction with sibling writers/producers Brian and Jocelyn Rish; it was facilitated by a grant awarded by the South Carolina Film Office. (Pictured working on the project are, from left, DP Dave Insley from The Wire, director Cliff Springs and first AC Lamar Owen.)

Both efforts involve training college students as interns during production. "The beauty is that (they) get a real world, on-set experience they would never get in a classroom," says Springs, owner and founder of Genesis. "Growing the crew base here will pay dividends many times over." Next up: The company's first feature, See No Evil, shot in its new HQ which boasts a 60x53-foot studio.

South Carolina Sees Bottom-Line Benefits
South Carolina's story for 2009 sounds similar to that of its neighbor to the north, with its production landscape encompassing independent features and a TV series.

The state served as the setting for an indie feature "with a substantial budget," reports Jeff Monks, commissioner of the South Carolina Film Commission (www.filmsc.com). Angel Camouflage, which just wrapped in the charming city of Charleston, was produced and directed by South Carolinian Michael Givens. It concerns a rock 'n roller who has given up on her music to find inspiration and ends up returning to her music.

The state hosted two other projects from the indie scene. The Afflicted stars Kane Hodder (Jason in Friday the 13th) and Leslie Easterbrook, who plays the abusive mother in a film about the damage she causes to her children; it shot in Greenville last fall. Dear John, a romantic drama from Swedish-born Lasse Hallstrom, director of Chocolat, is about a soldier who falls for a conservative college student while he's home on leave. Dear John, which opened nationally in February, spans a seven-year period and crosses continents: South Carolina locations stood in for Africa, Afghanistan, Germany and the American south.

On the small screen, Army Wives is a dramatic series that came to the state "as a direct result of our then-updated incentive package four years ago and has been shooting here since," Monks says. The production shoots "about 18 episodes here each season and it's Lifetime's most popular series."

Army Wives shoots in Charleston, which doubles for Iraq and "illustrates our state's versatility," he points out. It has leased more than 300,000 square feet of industrial space to lens interiors; exteriors are shot at various locations throughout the metro area.

southeast film commissions
Harleyville, SC doubles for an Afghan village in Dear John.

That's not the only episodic TV production to shoot in the state, however. King of the Crown, which airs on TLC and explores pageant coaching, shot its whole first season in Columbia, wrapping last fall.

The most recent boost in South Carolina's incentive package went into effect four years ago, with the main attraction a wage rebate of up to 20% of the cost of wages spent during production in the state. It also includes a 30% supplier rebate that covers anything other than wages: location fees, hotels, production and office supplies, and any other in-state production expenditures.

A third component of the package is the production companies' exemption from any sales tax (varying from 5% to 8%) and accommodation taxes (which also fluctuate in that range).

"The key here is that it is a cash rebate that is paid within 30 days of the final audit, so it takes roughly a month from when the production company expenditures are audited by the state to cut the check," Monks explains. So the production company can "use that rebate money in postproduction or to pay off loans quicker. That's an especially big deal for independent film producers."

In addition, South Carolina provides the audit for free, which typically saves the production company between $15,000 and $25,000.

Popcorn Octane Revs Up
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Last November, South Carolina's ETV public broadcaster aired the pilot episode of Vintage Auto Television produced by Popcorn Octane of Hilton Head, South Carolina (www.popcornoctane.com) and hosted by Bob Stevens, formerly of ESPN's Sportscenter. The company developed several other TV programs in 2009, and in January it was slated to shoot a new studio-based interview show for regional distribution. Content for the still untitled show will focus on a mix of 'green' topics.

To a stable base of regional corporate and commercial productions, Popcorn Octane adds a variety of interviews, B-roll and live shoots, usually for out-of-market clients. They range from television shows and entertainment producers to cable news organizations and corporate communications departments from Hilton Head to Savannah and beyond. "Sometimes we work with a field producer, but more often than not we're handling everything," says Guy Smith, Popcorn Octane's owner.

Monks also notes that once a production company qualifies for a wage rebate, it can assign the rebate to a financial institution of its choosing. "That means the institution can advance the production company money against the rebate which acts as collateral, so they can start production sooner."

Another part of the legislation created a production fund that calls for the state to grant up to $100,000 to a filmmaker who partners with one of its three film schools to produce a short film, with the goal of submitting it to a national film festival.

"That allows us to promote the state nationwide, and students in our schools get valuable job training. We do two or three of those grants each year," Monks says. "We also hold seminars on various topics throughout the year, like an assistant director workshop, and invite speakers from around the country to advise attendees on that topic."

As for the labor market, Charleston has always had a good crew base, he says, "and we have smaller crew bases in Columbia and Greenville. They have grown since the incentives kicked in, as has our supplier base, with grip and electric companies, catering, transportation, props and cameras."

So while South Carolina's incentives are not new, its current offerings have been beneficial to its bottom line. "It's been a night-and-day difference," according to Monks. "We went for three years with very little production, and our revenues dropped for five years before the incentives kicked in. While we'd like to beef up our incentive package, we've made good with what we have."

Crawford Puts SNG/ENG Remotes, Video Production Into High Gear
southeast film commissions

Atlanta-based Crawford Communications' (www.crawford.com) production services cover numerous HD and SD broadcasts annually with 13 satellite uplink trucks and two Ku-uplink production units. Many of these events are produced by clients in the sports arena: CBS College Sports Network, Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, ESPN and International Sports Properties.

During this past college football season, Crawford went live with CBS College Sports Network's SEC Tailgate, a one-hour program capturing all the excitement, traditions and festivities surrounding the south's semi-religion known as Southeast Conference football. Rolling units to campuses throughout the region, Crawford kick-started the season's programming with a team of engineers and an SDI production/uplink truck outfitted with five-Sony DXC-D50 cameras. The schedule included marquee match-ups like Tennessee vs. Alabama from Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Georgia vs. Florida from Jacksonville; and LSU vs. Ole Miss from Oxford, Mississippi.

Georgia's On Everybody's Mind
Not only did Georgia introduce incentives in 2008, it did so with a bang as there is no cap on state spending for the program.

  southeast film commissions
  Picturesque fountain scene from Atlanta, Ga.

"Why should we try to restrict what production companies can do?" asks Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Film, Music & Entertainment Division (www.georgia.org/GeorgiaIndustries/Entertainment). "Very few states make the offer we do. Many states have funds that can be easily exhausted."

'Nuff said. Georgia offers a base incentive of 20% that can climb up to 30% if the production company will place the Georgia logo "somewhere in the opening titles or the end of the movie or show, even (as) a product placement, its gets the full 30%," he explains. Thompson acknowledges that commercial production companies typically can't introduce the Georgia logo in spots, so the additional 10% doesn't work for them. "But it does for features, TV series and, in a growth market, video games."

And Georgia goes full bore to boost the game sector, for good reason. "We have a cluster of about 70 (video game production) companies, with many in metro Atlanta and some in Savannah" forming a crucial sector of today's market.

CineFilm Benefits from Georgia's Film Riches, Welcomes Rocket Post
southeast film commissions

With the industry migrating from film to digital formats, Atlanta's CineFilm (www.cinefilmlab.com) has made a big move to cover both markets.

Given Georgia's thriving film industry and "the major studios (that) still prefer the archive value and look of 35mm film," account manager Joe Huggins says the company recently processed and transferred negative to HD dailies via its Spirit/daVinci 2K for projects starring Katherine Heigl, Brooke Shields, Demi Moore, Tyler Perry and Sandra Bullock. "Sometimes we've had three features overlapping, and 2010 promises more growth." CineFilm was the first facility in the market to create a DI Projection Suite for the growing RED camera market.

Having spent 30 years as a film lab, CineFilm recently welcomed Rocket Post, Atlanta's newest editorial and sound facility owned by director Ruckus Skye (right) and DP Spencer Adams shown reviewing a cut in their main Apple Final Cut Pro HD suite.

"It's not unusual for (the video game producers) to have larger budgets than major studio feature films," Thompson reports. "Remember, these are frequently online games that are played by hundreds of thousands of people all around the world."

Among the top Georgia-based names in the video game arena are Hi-Rez Studios, which is about to release a new MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), Global Agenda, by the end of the first quarter for subscribers worldwide, and CCP Games which is releasing version 6 of its Eve: Online franchise.

Georgia also scored 29 features films, 93 TV shows and 250 spots in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, and has hosted many, many more since.

One of the state's key feature shoots recently wrapped: the Robert Redford-directed The Conspirator, a period piece based on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Most of the film was shot in the Savannah area.

CTG Takes Big (HD) Picture Approach with Georgia Dome
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Atlanta's Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG) was recently chosen to provide the $2.5 million infrastructure and control room integration that feeds two HD video displays installed in both end-zone areas of the Georgia Dome.

The 101x24-feet displays were previously upgraded in 2002 and included permanent panels on each side for stationary advertising, which diminished the size of what images could be shown in between. The new technology makes use of all 101 feet of the displays, thus tripling the size of images for player introductions, video features and replays shown during in-game broadcasts for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. "In taking the video boards from SD to HD, we had to add more equipment but find a way to do it without taking up more (work) space," says CTG president Jim Wile (www.ctgatlanta.com). "The game day staff already had a pretty small area to work in, and we couldn't take any more of it away."

Another picture that shot at Atlanta-area locations in early 2009 is the blockbuster The Blind Side, a multi-Oscar nominee. The story of Michael Oher of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens (a Georgia Tech grad), The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock. It was No. 1 in the Motion Picture Association of America's box office ratings just after its November release and had already grossed $130 million by mid-December, with the eventual expected take projected to hit $200 million after its foreign release and DVD distribution, Thompson reports.

Also high-profile was the feature Zombieland starring Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. The comedy/horror film, about a world where almost all citizens become infected with a weird disease, shot in Atlanta and an amusement park in Valdosta in early 2009 and has grossed about $90 million to date.

southeast film commissions
The Vampire Diaries stars Nina Dobrev as Katherine, Ian Somerhalder as Damon and Kelly Hu as Pearl.
© Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/ Quantrell Colbert.

But the biggest spender in Georgia in 2009 was Killers with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl. Kutcher plays a former hit man who moves to a tony neighborhood, only to find out that all of his bad-guy buddies who are still hit men are there, too. "It's the biggest-budget film to shoot here (in 2009)," says Thompson. The production company spent some $42 million in the state.

Local powerhouse Tyler Perry is also a huge factor in Georgia production. Following the release of his feature Why Did I Get Married Too, Perry is writing, directing and producing a big-screen version of the now-classic Broadway play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Production is slated to begin in early spring.

Blue Planet Documents a Way of Life
southeast film commissions

For Bruce Lane, director/DP of Blue Planet (www.blueplanet.tv) in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, conceiving and executing a spot about shrimpers began with his interest in some workmen from South Carolina. During his research, he learned of their struggle against the onslaught of pond-raised, imported shrimp and of their alliance, Wild American Shrimp.

Lane began the commercial for Wild American Shrimp with audio interviews with shrimpers; after editing his talk with Captain Wayne Magwood into a :30 sound bed with music, he returned for a three-day S16mm shoot with his Aaton XTR Prod. For the first two mornings, the group left the docks at 4 a.m. and Lane captured images at sea; day three was dedicated to preparing for a sunset Low Country Boil dinner party. All told, Lane completed his "mission to capture the poetry of a shrimper's life."

Perry is a power player in Georgia for these reasons: "He's good for two major motion pictures and two TV series a year," says Thompson. In addition, Perry runs 34th Street Films in LA and Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

TV producers are also taking advantage of Georgia's generous incentives. Vampire Diaries, The CW's No. 1 show, just finished shooting its first season. The entire series was shot in-state, and it will return for a second season. It's a similar scenario with Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva whose pilot shot in fall 2008, returned for the first season and will be back for season two. A third TV show, Sugarloaf, which is setting up to shoot in Georgia this year, is still looking for a network.

If that project roster sounds like a great year for Georgia, it was: In fiscal 2009, $591 million was invested in the state by production companies, tallying an economic impact of more than $1 billion. Wow.

Guillotine Shoots and Cuts AFF Promos
southeast film commissions

Some of the buzz at Atlanta's Guillotine Post (www.guillotinepost.com) is about founder Michael Koepenick producing and directing comedic spots promoting the Atlanta Film Festival (AFF). The spots' concept, created by Koepenick and festival director Gabe Wardell, involves a sneaky film-loving couple who hide at the end of one film in hopes of seeing the next one for free. Staffed entirely by a Guillotine Post team that featured cameraman Matt Brodersen, the production was shot at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and the iconic Plaza Theater; Guillotine also cut the promos.

Other recent work includes coproducing and editing the short film Wheels, which was shown at the AFF, and cutting promos for the TLC series, Table for 12.

Florida Forecast is Partly Sunny
Despite its status as a climate-friendly haven with beautiful scenery and a more than ample production base, Florida is another state that does not offer a competitive funding package. With the next legislative session coming up in March, film industry professionals are constantly bending the ears of the state's lawmakers to ensure that the politicians grasp the industry's potential impact on Florida's bottom line.

Impact like the 21 days multi-Oscar nominee Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, spent in Miami; six of those days were dedicated to shooting at area locations. The motion picture injected more than $900,000 into the local economy and created 485 jobs.

The marquee production in Florida today is Burn Notice, which is beginning its fourth season on USA Network. The hit series shoots in various locales in South Florida, including Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Coconut Grove.

southeast film commissions
Capturing an explosive episode of Burn Notice in south Florida.

The Burn Notice crew has called the area home since the pilot was shot in 2006, and the relationship has proven fruitful: The show has spent $38 million on production so far, with $28 million on wages alone. "They get a little more than $5 million of the state's $10.8 million incentive pot," says Lucia Fishburne, director of the Governor's Office of Film & Entertainment and the Florida Film Commission (www.filminflorida.com).

"Another thing we like about Burn Notice is that it really provides a great marketing boost for the state," she adds. "The imagery in that part of the state is presented in a positive light, and it's seen in more than 200 countries. We could never afford to buy that kind of advertising."

Klein Shoots Underwater for Casino
southeast film commissions

Jordy Klein, director/cameraman at Jordan Klein Film & Video of Central Florida in Orlando (www.jordy.com), recently joined forces with FF&T and Falcon's Treehouse to shoot an underwater inhouse project for an Asian casino. Klein tapped two of his RED One Digital Cinema cameras for the job; his company was "the first to incorporate underwater housings for the RED camera," he reports, during the shoot at Weeki Wachee Springs, which is world-famous for its 'mermaids.'

Klein acquired a Redlake Diablo high-speed digital cinema camera just as production began on his high-speed 3D IMAX movie about lightning, to be shot in Central Florida and Venezuela. The director/cameraman is now allied with FCTN Creative of Winter Park which will work in collaboration with Klein for future projects.

There is other news on the TV front in Florida, and some of it is big stuff. It includes the TV pilot for Sugarloaf which shot in the Tampa Bay area, and a new telenovela, Perro Amor, that is shooting in Miami and will air on Telemundo.

And speaking of Florida's burgeoning Hispanic market, in early December Univision announced plans for a major expansion of its original production and co-production capabilities with the creation of Univision Studios in Miami.

The company will build on the 4,000 hours of original programming that it already produces annually across multiple genres to produce and co-produce telenovelas, reality shows, dramatic series, entertainment specials and other programming formats for platforms that include its three television networks, Univision, Telefutura and Galavision, as well as Univision.com and Univision Movil.

southeast film commissions
Driving down a shady canopy road in Tallahassee.

So whether the state improves funding or not, action in Florida these days requires the continual strengthening of its crew base with the assistance of institutions like GStar School of the Arts, a charter school in West Palm Beach that is preparing to open a new sound stage and production center that doubles as a 93,000-square foot theater.

"We like to note that it's being built during a recession," Chuck Elderd, commissioner of the Palm Beach County Film & TV Commission (www.pbfilm.com), says of the already highly-succcessful school.

Midtown Prepares Sony HD Package for Direct TV Campaign
southeast film commissions

Midtown Video (www.midtownvideo.com) CTO Jesse Miller, pictured at right, worked with Renato Lombardi of American Country Broadcast to prepare a Sony HDW-F900 HD camcorder package for a DirecTV campaign for the domestic Spanish-language market. It featured singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz, actor Andres Garcia and Univision personality Chari Tin.

A broadcast and professional video and multimedia sales, rental and systems integration house in Miami, Midtown also offers the Letus Ultimate Prime Lens adapter for film-style production, which Miller says is proving particularly popular when paired with HD cameras. Miller and company review cameras and gear with featured guests from the South Florida production community on Midtown's online the .video show. The fifth episode of the monthly live Internet broadcast was slated to debut in late January; live broadcasts and archived episodes can be seen at www.jtown.tv.

He notes that the market for independent films has improved dramatically in his county. "We were pleased to host five indie features last year, including Turkles, a children's movie about turtles; a submarine epic called U.S.S. Sea Viper; and GStar's, It's a Dog Gone Tail: Destiny's Stand," he reports. "All were set in Florida and took advantage of Palm Beach County's backdrops and shoreline to maximize their expenditures by shooting here."

On Florida's Gulf coast, Jeanne D. Corcoran, director of the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office, says, "We are inventively trying to fill the gap in major film production by courting and servicing low-budget indie films and heavy television production in our region. We're having slow but steady success and growth in those target markets; we saw several hundred projects of all kinds shooting in Sarasota County during our last fiscal year and millions of dollars in direct spending in the region generated over the last 30 months or so."

She reports that Sarasota County has "attracted key Hollywood and New York location managers and producers to the area to consider our assets." Corcoran cites "innovative and unique programs underway in the area," including the "Ringling College of Art's filmmaking laboratory mentored and guest-lectured by industry notables such as Werner Herzog and Paul Schiff." In addition, "the under-the-radar film investment community is growing and has funneled millions of dollars to indie films starring luminaries such as William H. Macy, Meg Ryan and Chazz Palminteri, among others."

With the potential of a multiyear tax credit film incentive on the horizon, "we hope to see Florida reclaiming its status as one of the top five filming locations nationwide," she says. "That will further empower Sarasota County to lay claim to its fair share of production."

Vapor Post's New Hire Cuts Visit Florida Spot
southeast film commissions

Miami's Vapor Post (www.vaporpost.com) quickly tasked editor Jorge Vallejo, its new head of creative editorial services, with cutting a spot for the Visit Florida campaign via local agency Alma DDB. The commercial, about a city-bound woman who daydreams of a Florida vacation, featured stop-motion scenes with layered stills and animated text crafted with Adobe After Effects and Autodesk's Flame. Bob Cobb and Ellie Houellemont created the graphics.

Vallejo has been busy since his arrival onlining projects for Best Buy from LaComunidad/Miami and Got Milk from SiboneyUSA/NY. Vapor Post also just wrapped a series of Hispanic-market spots for the Florida Ford Dealers via JWT's multi-cultural division. The company's market extends beyond The Sunshine State: It recently cut a regional :30 spot for Denny's restaurants from Erwin-Penland/Greenville, S.C.

Indeed, Fishburne hopes positive news will emerge from the next legislative session in March.

"We all know that the production industry is about the incentives game," she says. Incentives already doubled last year, from $5 million to $10.8 million, after Florida's offerings "had been really gutted. We've come back already, in a sense.

"But now we're optimistic that we'll be able to offer better incentive packages" in the future, she reports. "We're working with a supportive legislature to fund the program more competitively and convert it to a transferable tax credit as opposed to the cash rebate that we offer now.

"That would be beneficial, since it would allow us to operate as a multi-year program. We want the continuity and consistency that the cash rebate approach does not allow."

While Fishburne didn't want to predict what the actual amount could be until the bill is filed with the legislature, she and other industry bigwigs are gearing up for the session and hoping for the best.

CCI on a Roll in Sports
southeast film commissions

While new Mobile Production Unit No. 6 from CCI in Cape Canaveral, Florida (www.cciflorida.com) rolled out in 2009 to successfully produce a number of rocket-launch broadcasts, another market for the truck opened up last fall when it went under the flood lights for live coverage of a series of high school and college football games for Bright House Sports Network.

Bright House used the CCI truck on several high school games plus a University of South Florida game from its home base, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The truck was configured to provide eight cameras for the high school games and 10 cameras for the college clash. CCI also just debuted a 1-ton grip trailer that will enable it to better service the central and East Coast markets of Florida, which general manager Jim Lewis sees as being an underserved. It will feature "everything expected on a trailer that size, plus a new Kino-Flo kit," he says.

"We know that we have a lot of pent-up demand, so that $10.8 million is a conservative amount of money to be able to offer the production community," she says. "It's important that the legislature understands that, after that funding is spoken for, demand diminishes and producers go to different states that still have funding left in the till."

So for now, at least, the Florida Film Office is playing the waiting game, even as it works to fortify its crew base. "We have crews working in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana and New Mexico," Fishburne points out, "but we have the infrastructure in place here. We just don't have the production coming through. In Florida, it's a retention issue."

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A blue sky sprawls between ridges frosted in deep evergreen, framing Alder Gulch much as when Native American tribes traversed this landscape 800 years ago. The town of Virginia City sprang up virtually overnight in the summer of 1863; within one year, it was the largest city in the Inland Northwest, with an estimated 10,000 residents. These days, few people continue seeking gold in Alder Gulch. But for filmmakers seeking ready-made Old West locations, the towns of Virginia City and Nevada City offer one more chance to strike it rich.

Art of Image Making: Chrosziel and Schneider On Set With Sweatpants Media from Schneider Optics on Vimeo.

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