Today, the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission announced that they have hired Dale Gordon to become their new Executive Director, a position that has been vacant for the past couple of years. Gordon served as Director of Film and Digital Media Development for the Metro Orlando region from 2001-2009.
"Going forward I really want to get in touch with the local production community," Gordon said at a news conference held at the headquarters of the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation on Monday afternoon. "They have not had leadership in three years and so right now we really are sensing that the local production community is needing a leader and needing a champion."
Film, television and digital productions are job creators, but Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said that in the past few years, Tampa and Hillsborough have been completely out of the game.
"We've been at a competitive disadvantage with our competing communities because Tampa simply has not been on the industry's map," Hagan said.
Tampa has only taken in 9 percent of productions in recent years, a miniscule total in comparison to Miami and Orlando, who have brought in 51 and 37 percent of the state's share of production work, respectively.
The lack of a film commissioner in recent years has hurt the region in terms of recruiting productions, but there are other factors involved in why Tampa lags in this industry. Three years ago the executive producer for the USA Network program The Glades, Gary Randall, told CL that he encountered all types of problems when trying to work in the Tampa Bay area.
Randall said that Miami/Dade, Broward and even Palm Beach counties have a much stronger infrastructure “that’s more savvy for filmmakers in the permit process.” He said he encountered problems in Tampa Bay getting warehouse space, access to public buildings and police and city permit support.
“We were totally ready to stay in Tampa and make it there,” he said, adding that the area “just doesn’t have the experience.”
"We want to get the message out that we're open for business," Gordon said. "We want to get the message out that we are going to respond timely, that we are going to answer the phones, we are going to return calls. That we are basically going to be there twenty-four/seven, and that is my commitment to this position."
If there's been any leader in local government who decided that changing around the image and reality of Tampa and Hillsborough's film commission, it' s been Commissioner Hagan, who last year convinced his board of colleagues to fund $500,000 to kick-start the efforts. Much of that funding went into a report released earlier this year by the Board of County Commissioners.
Hagan said the commission will be modeled on the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, a nonprofit organization that has been successful in bringing major amateur sporting events to the area.
Although feature films get the most attention by the press and the public, Gordon said she hopes to recruit as many productions for television ads, corporate and industrial films, and music videos to the region. She also said she wants to bulk up local productions, and target commercial properties for possible sound stage development. "A common problem is that a production may come in ... they'll come, they'll film, and they'll leave. We want to keep 'em here. We want to keep them through the whole process, the post-production."
But there's a disadvantage that Gordon shares with all of her colleagues up and down the Sunshine State: a lack of financial incentives to lure productions, a crucial bargaining tool that was lost when the state Legislature declined to reinvest in renewing tax credits for new productions earlier this year.
In 2010 the Legislature designated $242 million over five years for tax credits for film studios and other production companies. However those credits have already been used.
"The appropriations are tied up through 2016 right now, so for a large production to come in they essentially have to wait for a project to drop out, because it is based on first come, first serve," Gordon said.
Recently, Oscar-winning director Ben Affleck was reported to be in Ybor City scouting potential locations for the upcoming adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Live By Night. When asked if it would be embarrassing if Tampa could not secure that production, Gordon said not really. "In my experience, I've seen projects that were written specifically for a location go elsewhere because of incentives."
Among the first projects that Gordon wants to invest time and money into is a local production guide, something that every major market in the film industry has. There will also be a new website, and she says she looks forward to going to trade shows and other networking events to spread the word that the Tampa Hillsborough Film Commission is back open for business.