Coming off its most lucrative production year yet, the state of Florida has even bigger plans for 1996.

“We’ve always been known as a great location, but Florida’s greatest natural production resource is our crews,” says John Reitzammer, executive director of the Florida Entertainment Commission (FEC), a state board created to market Florida’s film industry. “We also have more technical support, facilities and machinery than any other state that competes with New York and Los Angeles.”

In this vein, an aggressive marketing effort is scheduled for 1996 in order to support existing enterprise, attract more business and enrich the state’s infrastructure.

As part of this push, the FEC has organized the Florida Film Forum, an international summit to benefit independent filmmakers in Florida, to be held in March 1996. The FEC is awaiting word from Dade County on a $30,000 proposal to fund the event, and plans to seek additional funding from private investors for specific events.

Also in the works is an electronic directory designed to provide crew people with World Wide Web pages on the Internet at $100 a pop, giving them a chance to market themselves cooperatively with the FEC.

The commission also publishes a quarterly industry magazine, FL24/SEVEN (as in Florida Prod. 24 hours, seven days a’ week), that is distributed to 10,000 people nationwide, and an annual state directory book that provides locals with free listings, due out in March. Florida also is the only state to have a full-time representative in LA.

At last report, the Sunshine State stands at No. 3 nationally in terms of feature film production, with an estimated $451 million generated from 28 Florida counties in 1994, according to the FEC. The commission projects revenue at about $500 million for 1995. The state presently is slightly ahead of last year’s revenue figures for this time, Reitzammer says.

A large chunk of the state’s feature film production takes place in the South Florida counties of Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe. The latest films shot all or in part in the region include “Fair Game,” “Up Close & Personal,” “Two Much,” “Birds of a Feather,” “The Substitute,” “The Maddening” and “Curdled.” In addition, “Strip Tease” currently is filming in South Florida, while “Blood and Wine” is setting up shop in Miami.

Commercial success

But the real lifeline for South Florida’s production and postproduction companies is commercial work and, to some extent, infomercials and videos.

At Post Edge, one of South Florida’s largest production and post-production houses, clients include MTV Latino and Sony Music Intl. But at least half of all its revenue comes from commercials.

Other big players include Broadcast Video Inc., a production and post-production house, and Miami-based EDEFX, the only post-production house to have immediate access to five soundstages, from a cooperative effort with Miami Five Studios, a production house in the same building.

“You always hear about movies that are coming in for three or four months at a time, but it’s commercial producers like myself that keep the crews working,” Steve Marcus, president of Fort Lauderdale-based Marcus Prods., says.

For Walker/Fitzgibbon, a Miami-based film and television company, 80% of its work comprises movie trailers, musicvideos and infomercials. The company recently finished filming Gloria Estefan’s performance for the Pope for an upcoming special.

And while Orlando’s growth, particularly in television production is no secret, North and West Florida quietly have been building steam.

Collier and Lee counties merged their efforts recently to get the most bang for their marketing buck. Their cooperative venture is called the Southwest Florida Film Commission and has an annual budget of $137,000. Naples is about to host Caravan Pictures’ “Gone Fishin’,” marking the first film to shoot in the area from start to finish.

Tallahassee is home to Florida State University’s film school, one of the nation’s largest. The school, which opened in August, includes new digital recording and editing facilities, two soundstages with catwalks, an entire floor of postproduction facilities and a 155-seat screening theater.

Duval County’s Jacksonville has been quietly carving a niche, particularly as a location for telefilms. During the film office’s past fiscal year, which ended in September, permitted production pumped $44 million into the local economy, compared with $26.7 million during the previous fiscal year.

When it comes to dealmaking, however, Florida isn’t quite as far along as it is on the production side of t he equation.

“Florida in many ways remains a dealmaking backwoods in the entertainment industry, because most of the heavy hitters are still in Los Angeles, with the investors in New York,” according to Stan Soocher, a South Florida native, entertainment attorney and editor-in-chief of the national newsletter, Entertainment Law & Finance. “To be a real player, Florida needs more banks working with the industry, with more deals centered in Florida.”

Recently, however, banks such as SunTrust/Miami and the SunTrust in Orlando have been aggressively targeting the industry with new entertainment banking groups. The Miami branch has been set up to provide special services for modeling agencies and for TV and film producers. It also considers film scripts and provides financing for music, fashion and art projects.

But what Florida needs most is the ability to grow and keep talent local, FEC officials say.

“What I’m afraid of is that historically, Florida has had ambitious people go off to Los Angeles and New York to establish their careers,” Seth Gordon, chairman of the FEC, says. “They need to know that they can begin careers and establish businesses here. That’s starting to happen now.”

In the city of North Miami, a string of players has surfaced. Producer Michael Preger, of Vernon-Preger Prods., worked with Universal to produce the film “Village of the Damned.” He is now negotiating with Miramax on the film “Meeting Evil,” which has director John McNaughton’s name attached.

North Miami is an entertainment microcosm that has been aggressively promoting itself to the point of constructing a sign on 1-95 that reads, “Welcome to the City of North Miami, South Florida’s Film, Video and Recording Capital.” South Florida players include Greenwich Studios, host to films and TV shows including “Miami Vice, ” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and, currently, “Strip Tease.” A sampling of others include Comtel, a studio and production facility that also offers post-I production services and transmission capabilities; WPBT-TV (housed within the Comtel complex); the Great Southern Studios Miami; Criteria Recording Studios, where R.E. M., Collective Soul and others have recorded; and Continental Film Labs, which processes a majority of the state’s work and recently opened a lab in Orlando.

Fort Lauderdale producers Laurie Hannan-Anton and Diane V. Jacques of Oasis Entertainment signed a deal with Oliver Stone’s company, Ixtlan, to co-produce “Mr. Perkins.” Palm Beach County filmmaker Jonathan Krane (“Look Who’s Talking”) filmed “Shattered Trust” (since renamed “Point of Betrayal”) in South Florida, and has plans for at least four more feature films.

Paul Cohen, formerly of New York-based Aries Films, relocated to Miami to launch Next Millennium, a distribution and production-oriented film company. “The more the industry sets up here on a permanent basis, (the more) it will enhance the opportunity for an ongoing production and home-grown businesses, ” Cohen says.

A host of film projects are also coming out of Orlando, which already leads the state in total production dollars. New pics slated to film in the region in ‘ 96 include Miramax’s “Marvin’s Room”; Disney’s animated project “Legend of Mulan,” will be released in 1997. Ilya Slakind, Sam Riddle and Boris Maiden have all produced major projects in the area during the last several years. (For a detailed look at production in Orlando, see story, page 32.)

Another obstacle has been the lack of soundstages, particularly in South Florida. Miami lost a portion of the production for the Caravan Pictures pic “Gone Fishin'” because North Miami’s Greenwich Studios, the region’s largest soundstage, was booked through year’s end by “Strip Tease.”

According to a source close to the film office, the town also lost Fox’s “Romeo & Juliet,” which would have shot entirely in Florida. Instead, because of a lack of space, the production went to Mexico City and Canada.

Several local groups have been working to fix the problem, with efforts ranging from studio expansions to attempts at fullblown motion picture complexes.

Miami Intl. Studios prexy Deeny Kaplan, former director of the Miami-Dade Office of Film, Television & Print, plans to head up the construction of a proposed, motion picture and TV production studio complex. Financing is being done by the Oakmont Group, a Miami-based merchant and investment banking firm.

Jim Duffy and Pan Courtelis’ North Miami-based Venture Prods. – which just announced a multimillion-dollar expansion – have an option on an adjacent 13.2-acre parcel on which they are considering building a film studio complex. John Boisseau’s Fort Lauderdale Prod. Central also has been seeking land on which to build a studio.

Besides the Palm Beach Ocean Studios facility currently under construction (see story, page 36), the other large movie complex in Palm Beach is Burt Reynolds’ 160-acre B.R. Ranch Studios, with a 10,000-square-foot studio, a 6,000-square-foot studio and a screening room.

Scheduled to break ground in Broward County within the next few months is Florida’s firs t independent postproduction film center. Davie-based Digital Film Link plans to build a $14 million postproduction complex for film and TV projects.

Overall, the state’s outlook is bright, and those working in Florida’s entertainment biz say Florida is in it for good. “Hollywood did not become Hollywood immediately,” the FEC’s Gordon points out. “We are probably about one-third into the process.”

Karen Kuzsel, executive editor of Florida Blue Sheet, a statewide industry trade paper, says, “I don’t think a year from now we will be a major threat in stealing New York and Los Angeles’ thunder. But do they perceive us as a growing entity and someone to watch? Definitelty.”

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