ORLANDO – Sheena Fowler remembers the phone call she got from a film producer in California, looking for the perfect spot to do some location shooting in Central Florida – with mountains in the background.
The caller was unfamiliar with Florida, but thought she has discovered the ideal spot. Not quite, Fowler had to explain.
“I had a woman call me from California and say ‘How about Mount Dora?’ ” Fowler recalled. And while that very tourist-friendly Lake County city does have plenty to offer, Fowler noted, “I said ‘No, it’s not what you think of with mountains.’ ”
Central Florida may not have much in the way of mountains, but it has a lot to offer film crews just the same, noted Fowler, commissioner of the Metro Orlando Film Commission. Take Lake County, for example, which still has plenty of rural locations.
“Lake County is very strong in jungle locations,” she told Freeline Media. “Some of these locations double for Africa. We can double for Louisiana.”
Likewise, Fowler said, the Orange County city of Winter Garden and the Seminole County city of Sanford have proven to be irresistible draws for camera crews.
In either city, “It’s this very generic hometown, and you can dress it up from historic to modern day,” Fowler said. “It’s very multi-dimensional.”
The Metro Orlando Film Commission is a division of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, a not-for-profit, private/public partnership working to bring new businesses to the region and to help existing companies expand.
The Film Commission, which has been operating for two decades, has been able to successfully market Greater Orlando as the ideal place to bring camera crews for movies, television shows, reality TV series, commercials and independent features, Fowler said. It helps, she added, that this region – with its theme parks, dinner theaters, and community theaters – has an abundance of acting talent readily available.
“It’s safe to say we’re in the same realm as New York and California when it comes to actors,” she said.
The job of the Film Commission is in part to serve as a resource for production companies looking for locations in Central Florida to bring their technical crew to, and to sell what the region has available. Fowler noted that she is about to hit the Film Festival circuit, traveling to states like Utah for upcoming Film Festivals like Sundance, so she can sell producers and directors on this region’s virtues.
“My travel season is about to start,” Fowler said. “I’ll travel to those festivals, watch films — and watch out for anyone I can talk to. A lot of my job, I find, is educational. I’m pitching the metro Orlando region all day long. It’s non-stop pitching all day long.”
There’s also a political aspect to Fowler’s job: namely, selling the political power players in Tallahassee on the need to maintain tax incentives for film crews that come to Florida. In an era when Florida is still struggling to overcome painful drops in tax revenues caused by the national recession and the collapse of the housing market, that may be harder than pitching Orlando locations to film crews.
State tax incentives, she said, are “the first thing I get asked about. This is a critical year for us. We are just about at the end of our funds. It’s hard to compete without that. We want to make sure it’s a long-term program. It’s critical to do a lot of lobbying in Tallahassee. Sometimes it’s hard to get them to wrap their heads around how many people get hired from this.”
The good news, she added, is that Florida has so many naturally appealing locations to offer — far more diversity than some film crews unfamiliar with the state have come to expect.
“Getting into this office, I was shocked at the variety of what we can offer,” Fowler said. “Miami has a big chunk of episodic television, but Orlando can help because we have a large selection of sound stages. It helps being able to have them on a jungle set in Seminole County, and then in a half hour you’re in New York City on the Universal Studios back lot. When you think of Florida, Miami naturally comes to mind because it’s a little sexier than Orlando. But we have a pretty similar infrastructure base, and we have a wider variety of film locations.”
That helps the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission to promote the economic diversify in Central Florida, noted Laura Kern, the agency’s associate director of marketing and communications.
“Film is definitely included in that message,” she said.
This month, Fowler noted, television commercial producers will start brining their crews here.
“This is the start of our commercial season,” she said. “While it’s cold and miserable in the Northeast, film crews will come down here and film in the sunshine.”
To learn more, log on to Metro Orlando Film Commission.
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