Florida Productions Up 44%

Feature film and television production jumped 44% throughout Florida during 1990, attributable to a spurt in location features as well as mushrooming tv and video activity at Orlando’s Universal and Disney/MGM studios. Lensing revenues rose from $158 million in 1989 to $227 million last year.

When commercials and industrial films and videos are included, The Sunshine State’s location loot was nearly $300 million in 1990, up from $220 million the year before.

New York City’s labor woes, say industry sources and state officials, had virtually no effect here in the form of production and service increases or personnel applications.

“If anything, I’d say it’s been a little slow the past year,” says state film bureau chief Ben Harris. “Traditionally, much of our imported commercial production comes from New York and the northeast, and that’s the segment of our industry that was off in 1990.”

Norm Rice, studio chief at Universal, says it would’ve been wrong to expect Florida to benefit. “We just don’t have the look for the show that’s designed to be shot in New York,” says Rice. “[Those films] would probably wind up in Chicago or Toronto.”

The 1990 production figures include all or part of 55 feature film and tv projects, up from 46 the year before, offsetting a slight downturn in the number of commercials and sponsored films, to 19,757.

Over $226 million poured in from features – a record – while commercial and sponsored films accounted for the remaining $71.7 million.

The overall feature advance marked the second set of records in a row, following a more modest increase in 1989 over the previous year. And, state officials note, the pace continues into 1991: January alone saw 10 feature project starts with combined budgets of $64.7 million.

Big-budget buzz

Big-budget items are becoming regular contributors. Slices of “Days of Thunder” in east-central Florida and “License To Kill” in the Keys were the 1990 cash cows.

For ’91, Martin Scorcese’s remake of “Cape Fear” in Miami and Fort Lauderdale just wrapped, with some estimates the budget had run to $35 million and Ilya Salkind is expected to commence “Christopher Columbus” in July from headquarters at Universal Studios/Florida in Orlando, with locations in Spain, the Virgin Islands, and at Universal.

Other ’90-91 projects include “Separate But Equal” for ABC at Disney, “Doc Hollywood” with Michael J. Fox in rural central Florida, Stephen J. Cannell’s “100 Lives of Blackjack Savage” for NBC now in Miami, following several episodes of “21 Jump Street” last spring, and a six-part Italian mini-series “Extra Large” with Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami produced by Spencer’s son, Guiseppe Pedersoli.

Rice characterized 1990 as a “great year. The important factors,” he opined “were that production was statewide, and that the vast majority of the major theatricals did not use sound stages. It reflects a growing acceptance of the domestic production community at large.”

Reports from the Orlando film office, which charts permitting for a four-county area surrounding the Disney and Universal facilities, accounted for just over $80 million of t he statewide production total of $298 million. The Miami office claims $150 million, but that figure includes some activities (such as still photography, for which the city is a hotspot) not part of the state’s surveys.

Production and service-related industry growth may be the more significant story of 1990-91, according to a smattering of state and industry officials. Some companies that set up Florida branches or moved in during the Orlando studios’ mid-decade construction phases report that the cash-in process has begun. Others are just now setting up operations in order to be a part of the thickening production fabric.

None of the overstuffed hyperbole registered in some quarters of the media over the past five years has proven true, studio chiefs note. But the saner predictions of steady, parallel production and service evolution are plainly evident.

Los Angeles based Chapman Studio Equipment, which has had representatives in Orlando for several years, recently announced plans to develop a major facility there. Breakdown Service, which provides casting information primarily for the West Coast, New York and Toronto production communities, will meet in Miami with agents and casting directors to explore details for a southeastern edition, possibly as early as May or June.

Venture capital, cited most often as the missing link in the state’s production makeup, is witnessing some interest at financial entry levels in Orlando and Miami. Several announcements over the past year have failed to post follow-through, but two or three appear poised to bankroll low-budget projects. Miami’s Peerless Productions Inc. has its first effort, a 90-minute video adaptation of the Broadway comedy “Doubles” with Steve Landesberg, Gary Burghoff and Dan Hedaya in t he can and is seeking a cable deal.

Rice believes video production, which is not as location-dependent, is a likely source of new production for Sunshine State-based studios. With Nickelodeon’s kickoff of regular video production at Universal last spring, the studio has been attracting a steadily increasing stream of inquiries along those lines, Rice said.

The same is true at Disney/MGM, which is geared primarily to tv and video, according to studio exec Jim Washburn. The Disney operation is presently discussing a half-dozen such projects.

Disney’s three sound stages recorded a 50 % occupancy throughout 1990, Washburn said, and the company is no longer dodging questions about plans to develop additional, larger sound stages geared to feature production.

U booked up

Universal was booked solid the last seven months of 1990, much of it with syndicated tv series and specials ranging from “Swamp Thing” to “Superforce,” “Psycho IV” and the Nickelodeon stable.

Unofficially, the Universal scheduling jam-ups have kicked several projects off the lot, including the Dan Ackroyd/Jamie Lee Curtis starrer “My Girl.” Some of the recent and current unfortunates have been dickering with Disney across town as a result.

Miami’s Greenwich Studio City sound stages underwent a management shakeup last summer and have regrouped with a steady stream of commercial and music video production, including one by Gloria Estefan to accompany the kickoff of her new tour. Estefan used the combined 20,000-foot space of studios A and B for the project.

Nothing to ‘Fear’

Fort Lauderdale Production Central, a sprawling studio complex under development just off downtown, has finished its first sound stage, an 11,250-foot studio with an enclosed 60′ X 90′ pool, courtesy of Universal for its “Cape Fear” shoot.

Other improvements designed for the Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange remake will be left behind as permanent assets – part of the formula established by owner John Boisseau to complement the lot’s service companies and mishmash of jungle-covered hills, lakes and fields.

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