200-plus seek city of Miami film job, 44 qualify; industry patience fading
By Zachary S. Fagenson
More than 200 applied to be the City of Miami's film industry coordinator, 44 qualified, but one is needed now.
"As you know, there are a lot of big projects getting set up," said Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade Office of Film and Entertainment. "Burn Notice is not the only one. There's a big Tom Cruise movie called Rock of Ages. Magic City is being set up. They're all going to impact the city, and from what I can tell it's scattered."
Production companies, in the absence of a city film director, have been meeting independently with City of Miami police, commissioners and the administration to try to get projects squared away, he added.
"The idea of a film commissioner is that it's a central touchstone so these companies don't have to go out and make the rounds and meet everyone under the sun," Mr. Peel continued. "It's just time-consuming."
The film commissioner's chair has been vacant since Jan. 1, when City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. ousted then-Director Harry Emilio Gottlieb.
Since then the city has advertised the post, which pays $44,000 to $82,000 a year, on its website
Among the 44 applicants was Mr. Gottlieb's predecessor, Robert Parente, who was relieved of his duties there when Mayor Tomas Regalado took office after the November 2009 election.
Mr. Crapp in January said he wanted the hiring "done as soon as possible," yet a target remains elusive.
Chief Financial Officer "Larry Spring responded that [employee relations] will be working with Luis Cabrera from the manager's office to move the hiring process," city spokesperson Christina Fernandez wrote in an e-mail last week. "Since the list of qualified applicants has just been received, the dates for the interviews have not been scheduled and a timeline should be finalized by next week."
The sooner someone is in place to serve as the city's central clearinghouse for film projects, it seems, the better.
The Downtown Development Authority has stepped up to the plate and is trying to help "Burn Notice's" production team as it makes a foray into shooting in county's urban core.
"We're trying to bridge the gap and maintain a free flow of information," said authority Executive Director Alyce Robertson in a previous interview. "We'll let people know where and when the filming will take place," in addition to solving logistics and paperwork problems with the production company.
Javier A. Betancourt, authority deputy director, will be the point person, she said.
Yet at the same time the city's parks and recreation department, which was charged with handling permitting, doesn't appear to be cutting it.
"We get calls that it's impossible to get them on the phone," Mr. Peel said. "Whether it's true or not I can't tell, but we have had at least a couple producers call us and tell us they're so frustrated that it's not worth the hassle."
Mr. Crapp transferred film permitting to parks and recreation prior to Mr. Gottlieb's departure. Mr. Gottlieb, in a letter to city officials after being let go, called it "a wise move." Mr. Gottlieb, however, was widely criticized by the industry as having little interest or experience in the film world.
Ultimately, the need for a film commissioner comes down to dollars.
After years of struggling with a barely-existent state incentive structure, the industry won big when it secured a five-year, $242 million package that has drawn several projects to the state.
Its estimated economic impact for South Florida could be $523 million in wages and 87,000 jobs, Mr. Peel said, referring to a state film office report.
Though most of the incentive is spoken for, not all projects are set in stone and states across the country are gunning for productions with even more generous incentives.
"In the absence [of a city film director] we're going to continue see this ad hoc, case-by-case approach as to what needs to get done," Mr. Peel said. "That's just not the right way to do business."
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