“Location, location, location.” This has become the new mantra of the film and entertainment industry as the battle of local tax incentives for moviemakers becomes increasingly cutthroat. Sarasota County, Florida is one location that, through a combination of the Florida Film, Television and Digital Media Incentive and Sarasota’s unique community, hopes to lure new moviemakers to the area and impart the message that Sarasota County is a location with financial benefits and unparalleled support.
Jeanne Corcoran, director of the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office, spoke with MovieMaker about the Sarasota Film Festival, the A-list directors who have worked in the area and why every moviemaker should seriously consider Sarasota as a location for his or her next film.
Natalie Sullivan (MM): The Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office advocates economic and creative development through promoting the resources and talent available to moviemakers in the Sarasota area. Which directors and actors/actresses have worked and filmed in Sarasota?
Jeanne Corcoran (JC): We’ve been privileged to have these distinguished directors shoot here in Sarasota: Alfonso Cuarón, John Schlesinger, Victor Nunez, Volker Schlöndorff and, of course, let us not forget Cecil B. DeMille! Also, two directors of note who have been honored here are Robert Altman and Norman Jewison. These fine actors have shot in Sarasota County: Denzel Washington, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke, Anne Bancroft, Ed Harris, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Blair Brown, Richard Jordan, Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon, Chloë Sevigny, screen legends Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Beverly D’Angelo, William Devane, Beau Bridges, Teri Garr, Howard Hesseman, Susan Anton, Jessica Walter, Lloyd Bridges and Britt Ekland.
MM: Do you have a favorite moment in a film that was shot in Sarasota? Something that you think truly represents what the area is capable of production-wise?
JC: Logistically, a favorite would be the closing down of I-75 and “blowing up” a section for the movie Honky Tonk Freeway; from a picturesque (or perhaps “anti-picturesque”) point of view, the scenes in Great Expectations that made the pre-restoration condition of the vintage 1920s Ringling Venetian Gothic mansion “Cà d’Zan” even worse than it really was—which makes the stunning, completely period-perfect condition of it today that much more impressive!
MM: What are visiting moviemakers and industry professionals most surprised/delighted to find while working in Sarasota?
JC: There is always an element of surprise (and delight) when they discover the contradictions here: From the five-star nature of accommodations, dining and “above-the-line” assets juxtaposed to the wilderness (such as the jungle, river and alligators of Myakka) and the super-soft, white “sugar sand” on the pristine Gulf of Mexico water; or the Circus heritage and those abundant elements contrasted to the high-style arts culture of museums, galleries and theaters. It’s a town of surprising diversity!
MM: I would imagine that Orlando and Miami receive most of the attention when it comes to film production and opportunities. Not to pit one Florida city against another, but how do you encourage and attract moviemakers to work and film in Sarasota?
JC: We have great respect and admiration for both of those communities, but we strive to point out what makes us different and special. First of all, we aggressively reach out to bring key industry professionals here to see what we have to offer, up close and personal, whether they have any particular project geared towards our region or not. It’s all about relationship-building. Second, we’re very interested in every level of budget from tiny to tremendous, so every project is treated with great interest and respect. Third (or perhaps this should have been first), we have a fresh-faced quality here and are quite “underexposed,” so audiences will not be seeing the same old locations and drive shots, buildings, street scenes, etc. Fourth, we educate and emphasize that our overall complexion here is quite distinctive, from Florida’s west coast “light” being acclaimed by photographers as it sets into the pristine clarity of the Gulf of Mexico, to the distinctive contrasting elements I mentioned above (especially the arts, culture, circus and wilderness all nearby a five-Star Ritz Carlton!). And fifth, we are told by filmmakers (and promote) that the general quality of environment is very attractive to productions in terms of low crime, no pollution, less traffic, many low-cost options for below the line as well as the finest options for above the line.
MM: Can you talk a little bit about the Florida Independent Film Incentive and how it benefits independent moviemakers in particular?
JC: Florida’s Independent Filmmaker Queue (known as Queue “C”) enables small feature films with qualified Florida expenditures between $100,000 and $625,000 to apply for up to a 17 percent cash rebate incentive. This queue’s cash rebate is also available to documentaries that are 70 minutes or longer. That $625,000 ceiling works very well for indie filmmakers who are doing non-union projects, as well as those operating under the SAG “Ultra Low Budget Agreement”—so it has a broad reach.
MM: Sarasota is home to the fourth largest independent film festival in North America, the Sarasota Film Festival. The 12th annual Sarasota Film Festival is taking place April 9-18 of next year, what can our readers look forward to around festival time in Sarasota? In what ways does your office work with the festival?
JC: Readers should anticipate another great slate of diverse and abundant films, as the program the Sarasota Film Festival puts together is always impressive—not only in the sheer volume of films, but also in the uniquely broad spectrum of genres. Great programming! There will be “stars” for gazing upon, at the various special events like the “Luncheon under the Banyans” and the always fascinating and intimate Q&A sessions with celebrities in the Historic Asolo Theater. Student filmmakers are also given their “props” and worthy awards, and the caliber of their productions always exceeds expectations. Although not a part of the organizational structure or administration, our film commission is an enthusiastic supporter of the Sarasota Film Festival, as not only a “Gold Reel Sponsor” but as a volunteer participant, moderating panels, introducing filmmakers and locally shot productions. We’re very grateful for the Sarasota Film Festival’s contribution to our quality of life and commitment to the arts and culture of this community, and we eagerly look forward to their accomplishments and continued success for decades to come!
MM: If you could only give a moviemaker one reason why he or she should film in Sarasota County, what would it be?
JC: Well, generally speaking, we’ve got what “they’ve” got, plus plenty that’s unique to us. But most importantly: Nobody will love you more or treat you better, so come let us prove it!
For more information on filming in Sarasota, visit www.filmsarasota.com.