Miami's stature grows as home of independent films
By Suzy Valentine
A trade magazine has recognized Greater Miami's growing independent-film status in its spring edition as more non-feature film projects enter the frame this year.
Miami-Dade County first made it into the MovieMaker rankings a year ago in eighth position and edged up to seventh this year.
Executives attributed the improved placing, based on hours of observation by the publication, to coordination among the county's three film offices and increased visibility at trade events worldwide. They also identified an increasing pool of talent and the power of viral marketing.
"What the magazine cited was cooperation between the three offices" - the county, Miami and Miami Beach, said Robert Parente, director of the Miami Office of Film, Arts and Entertainment. "The one-stop permitting process makes the community more film-friendly. It is one thing to go to marketing shows, but that effort has to be backed up with good service."
Among recent independent projects is "Full Grown Men," whose stars include Alan Cumming and Miami native Deborah Harry.
"The film doesn't have a distribution agreement in place," said Graham Winick, film and print coordinator for the Miami Beach Office of Arts, Culture and Entertainment. "The problem with independent productions is that you don't see them coming."
Film officials are trying to accommodate two independent films in coming months.
The first, "My Sexiest Year," is to be directed by Frankie Muniz and produced by Amy Balsam, a Los Angeles producer who worked here as a party promoter. "It is a 'Flamingo Kid' type of story," said Mr. Winick. "It is a nostalgic take on the 1950s."
Then there is "Fast Girls," about a group of students who run track in high school - a film that raises questions about what constitutes an independent movie.
The film is to be the work of Fox Searchlight, the independent arm of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood's original Big Five studios. The result is a hybrid.
"These projects combine the pedigree of the industry," Mr. Winick said, "with the modest budgets of independent filmmaking."
Film officials are consolidating the county's position through representation at industry events.
They plan to attend Locations Expo in Santa Monica in April and the Independent Feature Film Market event in New York in September. Their itinerary also incorporates an Independent Film Project event and a stop in London.
"We're very supportive of the Miami International Film Festival, too," Mr. Parente said of the event scheduled for March 3-12. "Last year, we hooked up with lots of independent filmmakers there. Then there's the black book listing locations, which has worked wonders. We have consolidated our partnership with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau."
An established support network also bodes well for attracting further independent films, he said. "It doesn't hurt that we have a growing source of talent," Mr. Parente said. "It's a magnet pulling the projects down here."
Mr. Winick agreed. "We have the existing infrastructure," he said, "and the crew base."
And since many directors cut their teeth in the independent sector, Mr. Winick said, it is good to give the filmmakers a good impression of the location so they would consider returning if they were to land a larger feature film.