Miami's recent movie-making role gets mixed reviews from civic leaders
By Paola Iuspa
While representatives of Miami-Dade County's economic development agency, county film officers and business leaders pledge to attract the motion picture industry for the good of the local economy, none seems to be held accountable for negative effects that are part of the action.
A glitch in the county's system for making movie deals arose earlier this month after the producers of Bad Boys 2 closed the MacArthur Causeway, a main artery in and out of Miami Beach, for filming and prompted criticism for resulting interruptions in local business and traffic. Although the road closing had state approval and support from affected cities, the four-day project prompted some civic leaders to question whether returns offset the economic disruptions film productions can cause.
Frank Nero, president of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, said he supports attracting filmmakers to shoot in Miami but "each independent production should be weighed against the impact it will have in the business community - especially if the film demands closing major roads."
But Mr. Nero said a cost-benefit study should be done before any production is approved.
The issue of responsibility for positives and negatives surfaces five years after elected officials, the Beacon Council, the 3,000-member-business Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and other community groups pledged at a 1997 economic summit to bolster the film & entertainment industry here in an effort to diversify the local economy.
The Mayor's Office of Film & Entertainment in Miami-Dade, born out of the summit, is in charge of providing 24-hour location and logistics assistance, free multi-jurisdictional permitting, government liaison work, production information and referral sources, according to the film office. The office assists film, TV, music video and commercial productions and still photography businesses. While the office started planning the road closure in March, no cost-benefit analysis study was conducted, said Jeff Peel, office director. He said his office does not do a study for each production but cites a general estimate showing the film industry injects about $2 billion yearly into Miami-Dade's economy.
Mr. Nero said that such an umbrella study is not enough. He said each case should be analyzed separately.
While Mr. Nero said he did not participate in meetings that Columbia Pictures and Mr. Peel's office held before the road closing, he said it was the county's and the state's, which controls the causeway, duty to forecast business disruption. Mr. Nero said he was willing to cooperate with any future effort.
"We could help with a report," he said. "It isn't strictly an economic analysis. But we will be happy to work with the film office."
Mr. Nero stopped short of committing the Beacon Council to taking responsibility for such a report in the future. That could help prevent what he described as an "incalculable" cost in lost productivity and wages, including delays to many employees working later and many trucks trying to get in and out of the port a few blocks south from the causeway ramp. They were stuck in traffic jam.
His assessment of the negative effects of the Bad Boys filming, he said, was based on news reports, his experience and talks with businessmen. His agency did not conduct an after-the-fact survey to quantify the losses, he said.
But Christopher Morton, vice president of P&O Ports Florida Inc., operating out of the Port of Miami and a partner in the Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co., said there were no problems with truck deliveries.
"It did not affect us much," Mr. Morton said.
Mr. Peel acknowledged that he still has to find a way to measure the sacrifices a community may need to undertake to accommodate a movie production.
"If Mr. Nero has some idea on how to do it, then he can tell me," Mr. Peel said.
In the wake of the Bad Boys filming, estimated by Mr. Peel to generate at least $20 million for the local economy, William Cullom, president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said it would be the Beacon Council's responsibility to produce the study.
Mr. Nero said that is those analyses are the kind of work the Beacon does before offering enticements to a company to locate in Miami-Dade.
Mr. Peel, who said he met with port officials and representatives for another 30 agencies during the planning process, said he understands things could have gone better and was willing to learn from any mistakes.
He said he held community meetings in Miami Beach to inform residents and business leaders, but only a few residents participated. Signs announcing the road closure were put up three weeks earlier, he said.
"It did not work as well as we wanted," he said. "Next time we will do it better or try a different way."
Mr. Cullom also said the chamber supports the film and entertainment industry but the film office could have informed employers about possible employee delays if Mr. Peel had announced the plans at a chamber luncheon where hundreds of employers and community leaders meet monthly.
Mr. Cullom said it is going to take time for all the agencies to get on the same page and for each group to define its role in the task of increasing the market share of film, television and photo-shoot production.
"Everybody has to mature with it," he said. "But we need information, publicity and cost-and-benefit reports."
Filmmaker Robert Parente, an aide to Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, said the film office fell short of telling the community about the inconveniences and has failed to educate residents on how Miami-Dade benefits when Miami is chosen as a location for a movie.
Mr. Cullom and Mr. Peel said better communication and cooperation among the groups would help.
"Communication is a key element to do large community events," Mr. Peel said.
He said last week Columbia Pictures needs to do some more shoots on the causeways and that he was working with representatives from the state to pick a day that would be the least disruptive to area businesses.