News Column

Film board's new focus to develop content; Rich in natural wonders and famous people, county thinks morebroadly about visual entertainment.

September 15, 2013

YellowBrix

Television is everywhere these days -- on our computers, phones andtablets and on-demand. So why shouldn't the tourism tax-funded filmcommission turn Palm Beach County's scenery and resources intowatchable programs?

Forget about luring big-budget films with Jason Statham andJennifer Lopez with big helicopter and boat chases down theIntracoastal Waterway -- that was so 2011.

"You all think that this is about movies and me going to Hollywood,and this isn't what this business is or it's going to become," saidChuck Eldred, who has headed the Palm Beach County Film andTelevision Commission since its inception in 1989.

To be competitive in a world with 500 yearly feature films projectsin production and 600 film commissions worldwide, Palm Beach Countyis thinking more broadly about visual entertainment.

How about a show on the baby giraffes and rhinos at Lion CountrySafari during the four months they stay closeted with theirmothers? Or scenes of the pooper-scoopers, or the knockout teamsthat do medical procedures right in the middle of the preserve?

National Geographic Channels already film here for productions suchas "Jobs that Bite," airing in November.

"There's always something different that comes up that sparks ourattention," Lion Country PR and Marketing Director JenniferBerthiaume said. "We really think the public would enjoy watchingit, based on what we've shot here in the parks in the past with themajor networks."

Or what about a golfing show featuring Palm Beach County- basedgreats like Jack Nicklaus, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy?

KO-MAR Productions in West Palm Beach already has connections withthe PGA because of the PGA Junior Championships and other segmentsthat run on the Golf Channel.

"Our biggest natural resource, I think, are the famous folks thatlive here," KO-MAR founder Todd Kolich said.

And what about an HGTV kind of show about fancy renovations todifferent kinds of boats?

"We are very interested in integrating the county into at least twotelevision shows we're planning to produce next year," Olympusatfounder and CEO Tom Mohler said.

His independent media company that has 50-plus brands and networks,most notably Spanish-language Cine Mexicano, has been located inWest Palm Beach about 20 years and is expanding the shows itproduces. It has a home-grown distribution system.

In the world of film commissions, this is new.

"Along comes the idea that we don't have to be just waiting forcontent to come here," Eldred said. "Let's get on the developmentside of the business."

With this new mission in mind, the film commission is beingrestructured to add a development and marketing producer who willhelp mine this local content and match it with productioncompanies. The budget will be boosted 15 percent to $675,553 nextyear.

"People come here because they have heard about the magic of theplace," Eldred said. "It's all about marketing. And it will be thebest money that we ever put into a marketing strategy."

Since 1991, the office tallies nearly $2 billion of productionrevenue brought into the county by film and television. Years ebband wane with the overall economy and the institution of suchthings as state tax incentives.

Even with that increase, the film commission is by far the smallestbed-tax agency, and receives only 4 percent of the tourism taxfunds doled out to the bed-tax agencies including the Conventionand Visitors Bureau, Sports Commission and Cultural Council.

While "Parker" helped the county hit $131 million in productionrevenue in 2011, the other 240 permits tell the bigger story abouthow the industry benefits the local economy.

"We get our share (of movies), because we have a great reputation,"Eldred said.

But the figures show that television can bring a much more stablesource of entertainment dollars. A high-budget TV show can injectas much as $300,000 in a day when on location. And a long- runningseries sets up local infrastructure and hires from the community,according to the state Office of Film and Entertainment.

"Burn Notice" has been taping in the Coconut Grove ConventionCenter and pumps in almost $1.5 million each episode, though it isin its final season, as is Broward County-based "The Glades."

Meanwhile, Palm Beach County has been building return business withcable shows like National Geographic Channel's "Fish Tank Kings,"which is based in Fort Lauderdale. The show was here last monthtaping a segment about Galaxy Elementary School's new touch tank.

Production Manager Russell Lafreniere said the Palm Beach Countyfilm commission is easy to work with and the county has greatresources, especially the waterfront and high-end homes thatlocation professionals need.

"Maybe that movie's really good for tourism, but how do you reallytrack that?" Lafreniere said. "'Fish Tank Kings,' we're down in theKeys. We're diving. Palm Beach. We're always showing Florida,Florida, Florida."

That type of tourism promotion can't be bought, Eldred said. Butproduction crews don't have to pay at all. Permits and the office'sservices are free, and the benefit comes from the money crews spendon hotels, food, local staff and more.

The film commission office issues permits, helps coordinatelocations and handle logistics like raising three bridges along theIntracoastal Waterway for the climactic chase scene of big- namefilm "Parker."

One detriment the office will have to contend with is thesunsetting of the tax incentives from the state. Lawmakers have notcontinued the tax breaks beyond 2014.

Eldred already has a test case. The Tourist Development Councilgave a special grant to Ultimate Diver Challenge last year to shootits annual competition in Palm Beach County. The arrangementincluded a sponsorship by the county, and reciprocal underwaterfootage from the production crew.

The 13 episodes have been produced and are being shopped todistribution sources. But the tourism agencies have high- definitionunderwater video available now that can be used in promotionalmaterials.

Eldred said he feels the sponsorship was a winner even if the showdoes not end up on a network sports channel. But deals are in theworks.

For Eldred, the future has started.

Eldred plans more sponsorships as the film commission increases itsdevelopment of content. He expects to hire the new position thisfall. And he's meeting with people like Mohler and Kolich todiscuss ideas.

"We want to develop a relationship between our company, Olympusat,and Palm Beach tourism commissions to help bring tourists to PalmBeach County," Mohler said. "We're going to do that in new some newand innovative ways using some social media and television showsthat will be distributed worldwide."

One of the things he wants to develop with the film commission is4K stock footage -- that's even better than HD -- from locationsthroughout the county. The footage could persuade productions tocome use the county for location, or it could be pulled and useddirectly.

Developing ideas at home could keep more of money in Palm BeachCounty, said Kolich, who is also a member of the film commissionboard. As the owner of a local production company, he hopescounty-based businesses would get the first look for localproductions.

"We've got the perfect situation here," Eldred said. "Ourlandscape, our underwater resources, our Everglades, ouralligators, these are theme park resources."

And with television no longer being locked into your TV set, thevenues for distributing local productions are multiplying.

"Eventually, I envision having a Palm Beach County tourism channel24-7 all to itself," Eldred said.

eroach@pbpost.com

what was shot in Palm Beach County last year

5 Features/ TV Movies

61 TV shows

53 Commercials

23 Still photography

6 Music videos

69 Documentary, student productions, Web

Examples:

Feature/movie: "Not for Human Consumption"

TV: 2012 Presidential debate, "Fish Tank Kings," "Four Weddings"for TLC, NBC's "The Voice"

Commercials: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Brazilian Diet, OutdoorsmanKnife Set

Stills: Golf Digest Magazine, Merck, Rolex

Music Videos: Thomas/Marx, Rand Eye Safety Style

Big budget movies

2011 "Parker"

2008 "Marley & Me"

2004 "In Her Shoes"

2002 "Bad Boys 2"

2000 "Heart breakers"

1996 "Donnie Brasco"

1995 "Striptease," "Up Close and Personal"

1994 "Once Upon a Time"

1991 "Cape Fear"

1981 "Body Heat"

1980 "Caddy Shack,"

"Smokey and the Bandit II

Benefits OF 'Parker' production

Total eligible Florida wages: $1.2 million

Total qualified non-wage expenditures: $1 million

Florida crew: 194

Florida extras: 283

Total Florida employment: 477

Hotel room nights: 1,006

Production days: 12

Qualified Florida expenses: $2.2 million

Tax credit awarded: $424,820

Source: Florida Office of Film and Entertainment

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