Ax falls on Miami film office, county expects to feel effect
By Scott E. Pacheco
Despite a late outpouring of support, the City of Miami balanced its budget without including any of the Mayor's Office of Film and Cultural Affairs' about $245,000 budget.
"The smoke cleared from the financial battlefield, and I had to let my two fulltime people go," said Director Robert Parente.
The budget reduction means he's now under the city manager's budget with a main focus on film permitting, Mr. Parente said. He has kept a part-time receptionist who is not trained to help out in permitting.
"I might look into training" the part-timer," he said.
Before the budget passed last week, several notables in the arts and film industries, including David Frankel, director of Marley & Me; Stephen H. Siegel, chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Creative Industries Committee; and Ed Stamm, general manager of ARRI CSC Florida, a full-service camera, grip and lighting rental firm, wrote letters in support of Mr. Parente and the Miami film office.
It was to no avail.
Most of the office's other activities, such as partnering with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote events and programs, "will go by the boards," Mr. Parente said previously.
What Mr. Parente said he will now focus on are film permits for productions such as the Emmy-nominated "Burn Notice," which films in Coconut Grove.
"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "While efforts are always underway to bring more filming here, if those are successful then I am really going to have my hands full with the permits. If the economy continues to depress filming and permits don't hit previous levels then I'll have an easier go of it. The real test will be when Burn Notice returns."
Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade Office of Film and Entertainment, said the cuts are a blow to the film industry efforts in the county.
He cited the 5-year-old collaborative effort Film Miami, a one-stop permitting Web site that connects the film offices of Miami, Miami Beach and Miami-Dade.
"Any diminishment of any of our offices — that whole concept takes a hit," Mr. Peel said.
He said that the county will do what it can to help the city, but that it doesn't have jurisdiction to issue permits for city property.
"We will certainly attempt to assist our clients to the extent that we can," he said. "At the end of the day the city has to do some things — we can't issue permits on behalf of a city property.
"The fact that there are less than half of the people [in the city] to do that work is not helpful."
Mr. Parente, Mr. Peel and Graham Winick, Miami Beach's film and event production manager, met late last week to "figure out what are we going to do now."
Mr. Winick was out of the office with personal time off and could not be reached.
Miami-Dade's Mr. Peel said there is a legal process for the county to pick up the city's permitting. The county already has such agreements in place, including one with Hialeah.
"If the city's interested in having us step up, we are certainly willing to talk about those kinds of things," Mr. Peel said. "There's no substitute for having someone inside that particular government helping a film producer get their shot."
But Miami's Mr. Parente said that path won't be followed — yet.
"While at the present time there's no plan to take the county up on the offer, we do appreciate their support. We will still continue to be an integral part of the filmmiami.org system," he said. "Of course, should we be lucky enough to get a couple of features in, and that coincides with the return of Burn Notice, we might have to reassess our plans."
Meanwhile, the county film office lost its director of marketing, Annie Perez, to budget cuts. Ms. Perez was for all intents and purposes the "number two" person in the county office, Mr. Peel said.
"It was a function of the reductions associated with the $444 million hole in the budget," he said.
Ms. Perez's job was to make sure that film companies kept Miami-Dade in their consciousness when considering where to shoot their next project.
"The fact is, one of the biggest parts of our job is to make sure the name stays out there so when people are thinking of (filming), Miami is a place that they heard of and think about."
The county's film office has been trimmed to three employees from six a few years ago.
"Everybody's doing more with less is the mantra these days," Mr. Peel said. "At a certain point you can't do more with less."