Lights, Camera... Florida!
FADE IN....It’s dark. At first it’s quiet, too. Then you begin to hear sounds. Waves on the beach. Birdcalls. Wind in the trees. The rattle of palm fronds. The deep rrribbit of a bullfrog. And something... unidentifiable.
It gradually gets lighter and the camera begins to pan across the landscape. In a few moments, it’s fully light and you can get a full-face look at the star of this particular production: Florida.
Why? Weather and sunshine figure prominently. Crews can shoot year-round, as long as they don’t mind a little humidity and the occasional summer thunderstorm.
And then there’s versatility. Like any good actor, Florida can play a variety of roles. We’ve got rolling hills, swamp, jungles both primeval and urban, fancy resorts, palm-tree-studded deserted beaches, sleepy Southern hamlets, big rollin’ rivers, prairie, farmland, bayous, mansions - the resume just goes on and on.
A little makeup, good lighting and the right camera angle can make Florida look like ...anywhere. Think that’s Chicago or New York up there on the screen? Nope. It’s probably Tampa, or maybe Jacksonville. Tampa has portrayed lots of cities, even Havana, Cuba. Jacksonville has a wider range -- Chicago, the Big Apple, New England and the Amazon.
The state has subbed for Africa in many a Tarzan film, while the keys regularly stand in for Caribbean or South Sea isles. That black lagoon the creature crawled out of? A rare appearance by the north-central part of the state. The fantasy world of Edward Scissorhands? Polk County and some Tampa suburbs.
When it comes to starring roles, Miami and South Florida most often play the lead. Remember the bridge scene with all those exploding helicopters in True Lies? That was in the Keys. South Beach turned in a stunning performance in The Birdcage. And, of course, who could forget Bogart and Bacall in Key Largo? The list goes on: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, There’s Something About Mary, Striptease, Random Hearts and the upcoming `, to name a few.
Behind the camera, though, Orlando is calling the shots. Central Florida is tops in the state -- and third in the nation behind California and New York -- in video and film production. The city boasts more than 100 production companies and at least 20 film, TV and photography studios. If you watch the Golf Channel -- or if the kids watch Nickelodeon -- you’ve seen a show produced there. And, of course, the area is always ready to do a turn in front of the camera, racking up credits for Waterboy, Rosewood, Parenthood and the TV miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
But there’s plenty of work to go around. On any given day, half a dozen or more projects -- big-screen, small-screen, music video, whatever may be in production in different parts of the state, and in several different languages.
The state Film Commission keeps tabs on what’s going on. Late-August projects included post-production work for a feature, several TV series and a pair of Spanish-language telenovelas. For a full list, check the Film Commission website (filminflorida.com) and click on“what’s shooting.”
All that activity generates some big bucks. The film and entertainment industry pumped $3.9 billion into the Sunshine State’s economy in 2000, according to the first annual economic assessment of the industry by the Governor’s Office and Film and Entertainment, released last February.
“Hollywood East” has been the buzz since the’90s, but Florida has been the movie biz since -- well, since there’s been a movie biz. The earliest efforts are thought to be newsreels from 1898 showing soldiers in Tampa during the Spanish-American War. With more than 30 studios and 1,000 actors and extras, Jacksonville once rivaled Hollywood as a movie-making mecca. But that was back before World War I -- and before the industry moved west.
While the action moved elsewhere, the state was never completely overlooked. After all, it was cheaper to come here than fly to Africa or the South Pacific. In all, hundreds of films -- thousands, if you count the small stuff -- have been filmed in the Sunshine State.
In recent years, the business has begun began moving back and by the’90s, the state had staked out a solid place in the film hierarchy.
In addition to the serious business of making movies, there’s a fun side too. At Universal Studios and Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, visitors can get a glimpse of what goes on in the world of film. You can even“star” in your favorite show -- and of course you get a video to take home and impress your friends.
So smile for the camera -- any camera. In Florida, we’re always ready for our close-up