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Spotlight: Setting the Stage(s) for Success

By Mark R. Smith

southeast filming
Georgia’s Little Tybee Island. Photo courtesy GDEcD

The powerhouse Southeast continues to build its production creds with Florida and Georgia remaining strong in feature film and episodic TV production, South Carolina holding its own and North Carolina experiencing a boost thanks to an increased incentive package that just took effect. More soundstage infrastructure, as new studios open and existing ones add space, complement the region’s many location attractions.

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[left] Director Barry Levinson (white hat) sets up a shot in Georgetown, South Carolina for his new feature Isopod. Photo by: Stan Flint [right] Manteo Light on Roanoke Island, Manteo, North Carolina.

Florida Kicks it Up a Notch (or Two)
Florida just finished a great six months, and the next six months are looking even better. It’s funny how that can happen when a state legislature unanimously passes a $242-million, five-year transferable production tax credit incentive program.

The new program is actually very similar to the former one, says Lucia Fishburne, director of the Governor’s Office of Film & Entertainment in Tallahassee. “The program offers a base rate of 20 percent on in-state expenditures; an additional five-percent bonus for off-season projects and another additional five-percent bonus for family-friendly productions. So all told, the tax credit can reach 30 percent.”

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St. Augustine, Florida’s Castillo de San Marcos glows at night.


New Looks Inside and Out at JCTV
southeast filmingAt Tampa’s JCTV (www.jctv.com), owner/DP Jeff Cook has completed a 30-minute infomercial for a new women’s skin care product, Dermal Renu. Cook and crew shot the exteriors for the project at Fort DeSoto Beach, near St. Petersburg (pictured), and the interiors at Creative Studios, which he partly owns.

He tapped a Canon 7D DSLR for the beach shoot and a Sony EX3 with a Letus lens adaptor for the studio work “to give the finished product a little more cinematic look.” The infomercial was edited at Ren Scott Productions, also in Tampa, on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD with Adobe After Effects.

Cook says his company has trended toward more in-studio work over the past six months. “We’re finding a good balance between our location and interior work. Using the Canon 7D was a different look for us, since we usually shoot indoors and outdoors with our Sony XDCAM.”

Since last July 1, when the new program took effect, “We’ve gotten a piece of Transformers 3, I Am Number 4 and A Dolphins Tale, which was shot entirely in Florida — and in 3D. That will be a big one for us, because it’s based on a true story,” Fishburne says. A Dolphin’s Tale was filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the location of the rehab and rescue of the “star” dolphin, Winter. “It’s a great family film,” she reports.

There’s plenty of TV business as well, with USA Network’s hit Burn Notice headed for its sixth season shooting in Miami and A&E’s The Glades shooting season two in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Fishburne says that three more “high-impact” TV series are in negotiations, with more pilots in the works, too.

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A Dolphin’s Tale, which shot in the Clearwater, Florida area, tells the true story of the rescue and rehabilitation of
Winter, the dolphin.

Kohl Pictures Gets Real
southeast filmingMark Kohl of Kohl Pictures (www.kohlpictures.com) in Atlantic Beach, Florida just finished directing a reality-show pilot that was “close to his heart.” In Chefs at Sea, Kohl “kidnapped” and transported Las Vegas “rock star” chef Rick Moonen to exotic Oaxaca, Mexico, to sample and prepare the native cuisine (see photo).

“He had to make a dish for the captain’s table of the ship The Seven Seas within 24 hours while dealing with a new kitchen is a strange country — under our watchful five [Canon 5D and 7D] cameras,” says Kohl, a director/cinematographer. The show will air on a cable network to-be-named. West Coast Post in Santa Monica handled editorial.

Kohl recently served as DP on another reality show for famed producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Take the Money and Run features a contestant who has to hide a briefcase containing $100,000 from authorities.

“All told, we have 94 projects that are certified for the tax credit, and all are starting within the first six months of this year. We’re crankin’,” she says. That seems like an understatement: Last fiscal year, the state’s $10.8-million tax appropriation resulted in just 16 productions “and the money was gone by the first couple of weeks.”

Fishburne is aware of just how good Florida’s fortune is these days. “As we see some incentive programs shrinking and even shutting down around the country, Florida is offering a conservative, but attractive incentive that provides the state a great return in jobs for Floridians and money spent in our communities,” she reports.

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Kiele Sanchez and Matt Passmore star in the A&E network detective series, The Glades,
which shoots in south Florida.

On Air (Online) at Midtown Video
southeast filmingOn the January edition of the.videoshow, Midtown Video’s (www.midtownvideo.com) monthly live webcast on jtown.tv, producer and host Jesse Miller featured the Panasonic AG-AF100 AVCCAM HD camera now available for rent at the company. Miller detailed the benefits of its 4/3-inch chip sensor and interchangeable lens mount “that allows shooters to economically adapt a variety of lenses, including PL Mount, to create images with extremely shallow depth of field.”

The show spotlights different cameras every month and highlights the Apple iPad’s pro video-specific applications and accessories in the “I am iPad and So Can You” segment.

Sony’s new PMW-F3, a Super 35mm digital production camera aimed at the indie film market and competing with RED One, was featured on the February edition. The Sony Authorized Reseller of the camera in the Southeast, Midtown Video is adding a PMW-F3 and a set of Carl Zeiss CP-2 Compact Prime lenses to its rental inventory.

Recent Midtown Video clients include America’s Most Wanted, Color Splash, Miami and a German documentary crew.

Some of the state’s latest news includes Sanborn Studios’ launch on the west coast (see Sarasota profile) and a number of initiatives from Digital Domain Holdings, parent company of Hollywood VFX powerhouse Digital Domain. Digital Domain Holdings has developed a relationship with Florida State University to establish a VFX curriculum, is building a facility in Tradition, Florida and planning to ramp up production of fully-animated features there, and has acquired In-Three, Inc., which has moved its stereo 3D conversion operations from LA to Port St. Lucie.

In addition, EA Sports, based in Maitland (near Orlando), continues to create a variety of video games. “We have a number of new companies operating in that sector, which now have greater opportunities to obtain tax credits,” Fishburne notes.

The effects of the updated incentives are far-reaching and extend to indie and digital media. The Independent and Emerging Media Queue is “open to lower-budget productions,” with the threshold pegged at $100K compared to $625K for the General Production Queue, she says.

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Aerial of historic Fort Jefferson in the Florida Keys.

Hat Trick in Sarasota County
southeast filmingTo call it an active year in Sarasota’s film and television industry would be an understatement; just ask Jeanne Corcoran, director of the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office, about how busy it’s getting in her part of the Sunshine State. She has plenty to talk about, notably the opening of Sanborn Studios, a large grant to the Ringling College of Art and Design and the big news of Sarasota County’s incentive package.

Sanborn, which launched late last year in Lakewood Ranch, hosted a TV pilot starring Casper Van Dien and Ernie Hudson that has gone into production and “will be shooting the major portions of 13 episodes here this spring,” even though the new series is working-titled Miami 24/7, says Corcoran (see photos). The studio encompasses 16,000- and 8,000-square-foot stages, and offers productions all of the usual accoutrements — plus a 30,000-square-foot aviation facility.

Ringling College received a $1.75-million grant to equip a post facility and already has drawn interest from directors, stars, producers and filmmakers — including director Werner Herzog, producer Paul Schiff, media mogul Martha Stewart and actor Andy Garcia — as well as television programs contemplating working in town.

Lastly, but crucial to those efforts and all others, Sarasota County has just put a localized film/television/production incentive program in place that will provide a cash rebate up to 100 percent on qualified fees and a cash rebate of up to 20 percent on local hires’ wages, among other qualified expenditures within the jurisdiction.

It all adds up to a vibrant production community. “This county,” Corcoran says, “is committed to being the regionalized incentive epicenter of Florida.”

Lights, Camera, Action — And Lots of It — in Georgia
Production is bustling in Georgia. The state’s tax incentive package, signed into law in 2008, has been a huge hit — so much so that a new position was added to the Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office to handle the overload. That spot was filled by Lee Thomas, the director of the film division; she reports to Greg Torre, himself a former one-time film office director who is now the director of marketing for the Department of Economic Development (DED) which oversees the film office. At press time Chris Cummiskey was appointed to head the DED.

Happily, no financial changes are expected in the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, which dictates an across-the-board flat tax credit of 20 percent based on a minimum investment of $500,000 on qualified productions in Georgia. An additional 10 percent Georgia Entertainment Promotion can be earned by including an embedded, animated Georgia logo on approved projects.

There is no cap on pay for contractors or the amount spent by the state for qualified in-state expenditures.

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Atlanta’s blazing night skyline. Photo courtesy GDEcD.

It’s Still About Celluloid at CineFilm
southeast filmingGeorgia’s 2010 tax incentives have provided a boost at CineFilm (www.cinefilmlab.com), which handled 600,000 feet of 35mm for HD dailies for the Farrelly Brother’s comedy, Hall Pass, starring Owen Wilson, late last summer. Since then, similar tales abound. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, starring Martin Lawrence, furnished 500,000 feet of 35mm 3-perf (which means 25 percent less film stock and processing) for more HD dailies.

Other CineFilm credits include processing digital dailies for two Disney/ABC Family films, Always and Forever and Ex-Mas Carol, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame production for CBS, Lost Valentine, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Betty White (colorist Ron Anderson pictured setting the look for the latter in the Spirit suite).

“On the digital side, we used our Assimilate Scratch DI system to create advertiser integrations, created by Atlanta agency Bark Bark and shot on the RED One, for TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” says account manager Joe Huggins. Next up? HD dailies — the new trend — for two features, including The Collection, a suspense thriller.

Georgia’s tax credit is exercised against Georgia tax liability; if a production company does not have a tax liability, it would need to sell its credits to a company in order to monetize it. The state provides a list of potential brokers and accountants to assist production companies in doing so.

The effect of the credit on Georgia’s bottom line is hard to understate and something’s always hopping. On the TV front, the CW’s Vampire Diaries does all of its production in the state as does The Mo’Nique Show, a Turner series airing on BET and MTV/Viacom’s Teen Wolf. The Game, a sitcom about pro football players’ relationships with women which shoots in Atlanta, recently switched networks moving from the CW to BET where it scored huge early ratings. In addition, Single Ladies, produced by Queen Latifah, recently started shooting in Georgia for VH1.

The Walking Dead, AMC’s original, post-apocalyptic zombie series from Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) which is set in Atlanta, shot in the city and its environs for two months last summer during record-breaking heat. It’s hoped they will return for season two this year.

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Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth starred in The Last Song, which lensed on Tybee Island, Georgia.
Photo by: Sam Emerson SMPSP © Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Newly-Rechristened Crawford Moves to Expanded Facility
southeast filmingThere’s big news from one of the Southeast’s stalwart post/production, media migration, archive and management companies. Crawford Media Services has just made the big move to a state-of-the-art location: a seven-story building at 6 West Druid Hills Drive in Atlanta.

Formerly known as Crawford Communications, the company sold its Satellite Services division one year ago. This latest move marks the company’s fifth since its founding in 1981 and its first in a decade.

The dramatically transformed, 80,000-square-foot facility offers an array of services that meet today’s market demands, including eight 3D-capable editing and graphic suites; a 40-seat Dolby-certified screening/mixing/color correction theater; mass digitization, digital archive and hosted asset management; and facility-wide, file-based workflows.

Among other features and services are a multi-purpose tracking studio and insert stage; FilmLight’s Baselight nonlinear color grading; Blu-ray DVD authoring and design; and, of course, creative editing (pictured) and audio.

“This new facility is literally twice the size of our last space,” says marketing manager Trey Lyda. “With a diverse client base that has escalated steadily over the past three decades, Crawford takes pride in offering an aesthetically pleasing workplace while providing an unrivaled gamut of media services.

“Also, the new location is close to downtown, which makes it easier for our clients to access other local services and transportation options, including mass transit and the airport,” he reports.

The massive facility was designed by Atlanta’s Alex MuÒoz & Associates and is the third corporate-headquarters project the firm has worked on with Crawford. Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG) handled all aspects of systems integration.

Tyler Perry remains a major force in Atlanta and the industry with episodes of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns for TBS as well as the feature film, For Colored Girls, released last fall.

Also coming to local multiplexes are Alcon Entertainment’s Joyful Noise starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton; the Disney feature The Off Life of Timothy Green, starring Jennifer Garner; and The Collection, a sequel to the horror film The Collector, from Odd Box 2, which shot in Atlanta.

In production is The Wettest County, a period piece about moonshiners that stars Shia LeBouf and Tom Clark. In addition, The Farrelly Bros. are prepping for their take on The Three Stooges.

“It’s busy, and we think it’ll stay that way,” says Thomas. “We have a big airport, temperate climate and diverse locations and now a deep crew base and new studios,” the newest of which is the 37,500-square-foot EUE Screen Gems stage near midtown Atlanta. Completion is set for March.

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Rural view in Newborn, Georgia. Photo courtesy GDEcD.

Panavision Joins Georgia’s Growing Film Landscape
southeast filmingAlthough several states are pulling the welcome mat for Hollywood filming by limiting the amount of tax credits offered, there is still plenty of southern hospitality in Georgia — more than enough for Panavision to open a new camera rental office in Atlanta in February (www.panavision.com).

The new location is Panavision’s fourth camera rental facility outside of the company’s Woodland Hills, California, headquarters (Dallas office is pictured); all are located in states where film and television production are growing.

“With the growth of a regional market such as Atlanta, it only makes sense for Panavision to be there with a full-service facility,” says John Schrimpf, vice president of U.S. regional operations for the company.

The 10,000-square-foot facility, located in the west midtown section of the city, is designed to accommodate a full-service camera rental office with a wide array of film and digital cameras, including 35mm, 16mm, HD 35 and 2/3-inch. It will be managed by Ann Somogye DeGuire, general manager of Panavision Atlanta.

“Atlanta has become a very attractive place to shoot because of the variety of locations, its strong infrastructure and its excellent distribution system with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The state and the city of Atlanta are totally behind building a lasting, film-friendly culture, and Panavision is pleased to be part of the team providing local customer support,” says Schrimpf.

In recent months Panavision has supplied equipment for AMC’s The Walking Dead, Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva, the indie feature Get Low, Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, the film Lottery Ticket, Universal’s Wanderlust, the new X-Men: First Class, and the BET television series The Game, all of which shot in Georgia.

South Carolina Steady at the Helm
Let’s start off the news in South Carolina on a high note: The fifth season of Lifetime’s Army Wives is in production in Charleston. The show employs more than half of the crew of 150 from the state’s base, all of them from Charleston.

In terms of film incentives, “as far as anyone knows, we’ll offer the same package again this year,” says Dan Rogers, project manager of the South Carolina Film Office where Tom Clark is acting director. That means a 20-percent cash rebate for in-state hires, 10 percent for out-of-state hires and a 30-percent cash rebate on supplies.

One indie feature was in production last year and will, one hopes, be released this spring: The Afflicted. “It’s truly is a home-grown endeavor, because it was shot on two RED 4K cameras all in South Carolina, by South Carolina crew and with regional actors from the Southeast,” aside from the male and female leads, who came from LA, Rogers reports. “The Afflicted was shot in our upstate region, the Greenville area, and was cut [in 2K] at the production company’s own facility late last year. It is working with a national theater chain to release the movie.”

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The independent feature The Afflicted was lensed in Greenville, South Carolina.

Hurricane Sweeps Through Go To Team
southeast filmingA recent project at Charleston’s Go To Team (www.gototeam.com) is a performance music video, Hurricane, for Atlantic Records’ recording artist, NeedToBreathe (pictured). It was shot on a Panasonic HVX200 camera, which operations manager and partner Shawn Moffatt says “was made for shooting music videos,” due to the warmth and overall look of the image it produces.

Shot on location in town, the music video was cut inhouse on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and is being distributed via the Internet, something Moffatt sees as an important trend. “Music has been an increasingly important revenue stream for us during the past 18 months,” he says. While the company shot performances in Atlanta for Trey Songs and in Raleigh for Yep Roc Records, “it’s interesting that Charleston has been the catalyst for musical expansion.” Moffatt also cites Go To Team’s strong presence in the network sports market for “talking head”-type shows.

Two additional features were shot in the state last year. Isopod, slated for release this year, is from legendary director Barry Levinson, who shot the sci-fi thriller in the coastal community of Georgetown which provided the backdrop for the storyline set in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Rogers called the movie “probably our biggest news,” because Levinson’s presence underscores the fact that many accomplished filmmakers obviously want to work in South Carolina.

Little Red Wagon, scheduled for a 2012 release, was directed by David Anspaugh, famous for Hoosiers and Rudy. It was written by Patrick Sheane Duncan (Mr. Holland’s Opus) and is a true story about a young Florida boy, Zach Bonner, who collected bottled water for homeless kids who had been displaced by various hurricanes several years ago. Bonner subsequently created his own nonprofit that brings awareness of homeless children in America.

Meanwhile, Rogers and company focus on pitching locations, “like our beaches. We’ve doubled as Afghanistan for Army Wives and for the movie Dear John, which was released by Screen Gems early last year. We offer jungles, forests, small-town Americana and military bases, and much more.”

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Shooting Little Red Wagon on location in a Charleston neighborhood. Photo by: Jackson Lee Davis

RIDGID Web Spot Shows Skyline’s Flexibility
southeast filmingAt Greenville, South Carolina’s multi-disciplinary The Skyline Group (www.theskylinegroup.net), a :60 web spot for RIDGID power tools, from Torque Creative/Greenville spotlighting the company’s Lifetime Service Agreement, is among recent highlights (see photo). “It was a fun project because we shot with a Redlake high-speed camera, which shoots 1,200 fps,” says CEO Randall Owens. “Using a slo-mo camera was really cool.”

For the two-day shoot on a soundstage at Charlotte’s ReelWorks Studios, Skyline entrusted the production to Philadelphia-based director Dave Huntley. The web spot was edited at Skyline on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD with Adobe After Effects; Maxon’s CINEMA 4D provided additional 3D accents.

Owens says the spot dovetails nicely with Skyline’s entrÈ into the Internet side of the video business. “We want to offer what our clients are asking for and that’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO). They want to expand their presence, so furthering our SEO and web-development services was the next natural step.”

Incentive Boost for North Carolina
Another state that is already seeing the benefits of an enhanced tax incentive is North Carolina, where the new refundable tax credit consists of a 25-percent reimbursement for production companies, with a $20- million per-project cap. That’s up from a 15-percent incentive and a $7.5-million per-project cap.

The new incentive package was approved last August at the end of the short legislative session and took effect on Jan. 1. All in all, business is good and on the upswing.

“We got what we were hoping for,” says Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office. “Not only did we get the full 25-percent incentive and with a better per-project cap, but we got rid of the corporate income tax on the incentive. In addition, the new incentive offers fringes [like health insurance and benefits], and stipends and per diems are now qualifying expenses.”

Also good news is that production companies that started shooting projects in 2010 still qualified for the improved incentive — provided they worked on their projects into 2011.

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Waterfront at Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Back on (the) Track for Cinemanix
southeast filmingFrom its base in Charlotte, post and VFX facility Cinemanix (www.cinemanix.com) completed another project with a NASCAR theme (see Hammerhead profile for their partnership with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a TaxSlayer spot). This time the job was a :30 spot for Quaker Steak & Lube restaurants that integrated live-action tabletop and dining footage with a CG race car (pictured), emblazoned with restaurant logos, that races toward the camera and screeches to a halt.

Cinemanix modeled, animated and rendered the car in Autodesk Softimage. “The use of 3D models allowed for the movement of the car and the virtual camera to be animated as needed,” says Cinemanix owner/VFX supervisor Bryan Scibelli. Cinemanix shot the live action with RED One cameras, edited the spot with Adobe Premiere, composited and created motion graphics with Adobe After Effects and color graded the spot with a da Vinci system.

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Asheville, North Carolina’s night skyline.

For example, Hallmark shot The Shunning, directed by Michael Landon, Jr. in the Piedmont Triad in late fall and recently posted the TV film in state — thus qualifying under the new rules. “We certainly would have lost that production under the old incentive,” Syrett says.

The incentive boost is already generating other new productions in the state. They include Journey 2: The Mysterious Island starring Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine, which shot in Wilmington and a Showtime pilot, Homeland, with Claire Danes, which shot in Charlotte.

Then there’s the CW’s One Tree Hill, now in its eighth year in Wilmington; Eastbound & Down, the HBO comedy, also shot its first season and the end of the second in Wilmington. Syrett notes that two other projects are in the works, a TV pilot and a cable feature.

On the indie front, to.get.her by Wilmington producer Erica Dunton, shot in the seaside town last year and was selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT category.

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Sophia Bush and Austin Nichols star in One Tree Hill, which shoots in Wilmington, North Carolina.
© Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Fred Norris

Earnhardt Turns TaxSlayer at Hammerhead
southeast filmingAt Hammerhead (www.hammerheadent.com), a division of JR Motorsports in Mooresville, North Carolina, a spot campaign for TaxSlayer, the sponsor of one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s. Nationwide Series cars, raced into production. Owned by Earnhardt and his sister Kelley, Hammerhead is a full-service production company that creates most of Earnhardt’s media content, from web-based to national broadcast campaigns, along with that of other NASCAR teams and drivers in Charlotte.

The company shot two :15s and two :30s for the tax-accounting website at Charlotte Motor Speedway employing small rigs and an insert camera to lens interior shots of Earnhardt as he zoomed around the track at 180 MPH.

“Director/DP Jeff Smith shoots car spots, so he mounted three [Canon EOS] 5Ds on the front of a Chrysler Sebring and chased Nationwide drivers Josh Weis and Aric Almorila around the track,” reports production manager Megan Collier. Bryan Scibelli of Charlotte’s Cinemanix crafted the 3D animation for the car’s money trail.

Wilmington, of course, is famous for being home to EUE/Screen Gems and its whopping 10 stages, the most recent of which is the Mega Stage, 37,500 square feet of column-free space with a 60×60-foot, 10.5-foot deep water tank, “one of the largest indoor production tanks in North America,” according to Syrett.

Still more studios are opening in the state, such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s, Hammerhead in Mooresville which encompasses four studios and a post facility (see profile). Trailblazer Studios in Raleigh houses two stages, and Earl Owensby Studios, in Shelby, features eight soundstages and an underwater filming pool.

December 6, 2012