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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
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New film leader aims to deliver projects big and small to Hillsborough

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TAMPA - Whether it's a cinema blockbuster or a television commercial, the Tampa-Hillsborough County area has the ingredients to grow a thriving film and digital industry, the county's new film commissioner said Monday.

Dale Gordon, 37, officially took over the newly revitalized Tampa Hillsborough Film and Media Commission and will try to breathe life into what has deteriorated into a moribund endeavor. Though the county has slipped far behind Miami, Orlando and Pinellas County in film and digital production, Gordon promised to reverse the decline by providing leadership to local production professionals and to go anywhere to market the area's assets.

"I want to get in touch with the local production community; they have not had leadership in the last three years," Gordon said. "At the end of the day they're the biggest asset I have to sell to the production community. Every aspect of the industry exists here, and we do have a strong infrastructure."

Gordon comes to the Tampa Bay area from Orlando, where she was director of film and digital media development for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission from 2001-2009. An Orlando native, she graduated from the University of South Florida and has been a frequent guest lecturer at Full Sail University in her home town. She will make $75,000 a year in her new job.

The county has not had a film commissioner in more than two years, a vacuum that critics say eroded the area's ability to attract major films, television series and other media productions. The most glaring example was the A&E series, "The Glades," whose producers shot preliminary scenes here but ended up in South Florida.

The film commission was previously housed in the Tampa Convention and Visitors Bureau, now called Visit Tampa Bay. But Gordon will work under the umbrella of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., a move she said makes sense because of the film industry's potential impact on the local economy.

As a film commissioner, Gordon said she will work with local police, fire and code officials so incoming production companies can start work quickly with a minimum of red tape.

She also wants to develop strong ties with local universities, community colleges and high schools, to grow a local production workforce.

"Indigenous production is really the best thing you can have in your community because you're growing your own," Gordon said. "You're not relying on the outside productions to come in."

Developing local talent is especially important in post production skills and facilities, where Florida is often found lacking, Gordon said. This includes editing, color correction and adding music and sound.

She suggested the county look for commercial properties available for sound stage production, another aspect of film production in short supply here.

"A common problem is that a production may come in ... they'll film and then they'll leave," Gordon said. "We want to keep them here. We want to keep them here throughout the entire process."

Though landing big Hollywood productions shines the brightest light on a production location, Gordon said the county can't neglect smaller video projects such as television commercials, infomercials and industry training films. These can mean a local economic impact of $300,000 to $700,000 each in a week's time.

"A lot of times I think we get caught up on the big fish," she said. "Realizing that the feature film and the independent film markets are incredibly impactful, but let's not forget about our bread and butter ... those can have a tremendous impact."

Some people in Florida's film industry say the state is at a disadvantage because of the shortage of available tax credits for film companies. The Legislature appropriated $296 million in tax credits for film projects over a five-year span. But many of those credits are already taken.

"We are in a difficult spot statewise because the appropriations are tied up until 2016 right now," Gordon said. "So for a large production to come in, they essentially have to wait for a project to drop out, because it is first come, first serve."

Reporters asked if the dearth of tax credits could lower the odds that actor-director Ben Affleck will film "Live by Night" in Ybor City, where most of author Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name takes place.

Gordon said she's seen projects written for certain locations filmed elsewhere. Incentives, or the lack thereof, often are the tie breaker.

But county commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who last year got fellow commissioners to appropriate $500,000 to reinvigorate the film commission, said Monday he could support taking money out of county reserves if such an incentive would get Affleck to shoot his movie here.

"Based on the potential economic impact, the jobs that are created, the budget that would be utilized in our community, certainly we would do a risk-reward and see if it make sense to do such a thing," Hagan said.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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