Local officials shrug off film magazine's rankings
By Suzy Valentine
A magazine has ranked Miami-Dade County among the top 10 independent filmmaking locations in the US, but several local filming officials say it still may have underestimated the county's prominence.
Trade magazine MovieMaker placed the county eighth, which Robert Parente, director of the City of Miami Office of Film, Arts and Entertainment, said was complimentary if conservative.
"Anytime people say you do a good job, it's great," he said, "but I believe we belong in the top five. I've never been privy to the magazine's selection process, and I've attended a number of conferences where MovieMaker had no presence."
"It has always galled me," said Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade Mayor's Office of Film and Entertainment, "that Miami's never been listed as a place for independent filmmakers to come."
New York headed the magazine's list. "It always will be," said Graham Winick, film and print coordinator for the City of Miami Beach Office of Arts, Culture and Entertainment. "That city has a certain pride in existing outside the Hollywood studio system."
And it's where MovieMaker is based. "This is a New York magazine," said Mr. Peel, "so maybe it hadn't considered us before. It seems rather unscientific, but as it's a magazine read by independent filmmakers, perhaps they'll consider us now."
"We have been striving for this," said Mr. Winick of the magazine's ranking. "We try to find ways to facilitate filming within budget restraints by finding times and schedules that work. We've even closed Ocean Drive at no cost to filmmakers."
Feature filmmaking could be susceptible, he said, to the whims of individuals.
"A decision to come or not can be quite arbitrary," Mr. Winick said. "Something as simple as if a star wants to come here or has a house here can influence choice. Independent films are more auteur driven - writers and directors tend to have a vision they want to create.
"Miami is sometimes stereotyped as a location for high-end production, the bikinis and the babes," he said, "but we have room to accommodate independent filmmakers pursuing the real or character stories."
Officials in the county, Miami and Miami Beach have been working together to attract filmmakers, Mr. Parente said.
"We've never had so much unity," he said. "We are being very proactive and meet at least twice a month."
The benefits of bringing crews to town, said Mr. Parente, have to be weighed against the interests of the local population. "We tread a fine line," he said, "in serving the needs of the filmmakers together with those of our citizens.
"When a film company hits the streets, it can be like flipping the numbers on a cab," he said. "Three hours computes to tens of thousands of dollars."
The building surge in downtown hasn't deterred filmmakers, he said, though it could age the product. "People like the look of the city just now," Mr. Parente said. "It adds to the energy. Everywhere you look there is a crane.
"It can date it, though, like Christmas decorations. People may look back at the films of the early 21st century and think, 'That must have been the building boom of around 2000.'"