City of Miami dumps its film link, triggering industry consternation
By Zachary S. Fagenson
With a slew of television shows slated to begin production here and commercial season revving up, the City of Miami has no point person for the entertainment industry.
Harry Gottlieb, director of City of Miami Film and Cultural Affairs Office, was informed Dec. 29 by Chief Financial Office Larry Spring that the city was "taking a new direction" and that as of Jan. 1 he would no longer be needed, according to an e-mail from Mr. Gottlieb to Mayor Tomas Regalado, City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. and Mr. Spring.
Neither Mr. Crapp nor Mr. Regalado could be reached, but a spokesperson for the mayor said "that was Tony [Crapp Jr.] that made that decision."
Mr. Gottlieb, who prior to taking the position March 1 ran Grovite Properties Inc., a real-estate investment company buying and selling property and refurbishing luxury homes. Before that he served as a media consultant.
Long before Mr. Gottlieb arrived in the position the city's film office was in dire straits. Amidst budget cuts, the city cut the office's staff from three to then lone director Robert Parente.
Mr. Parente was let go during the administration change when Mayor Regalado took office.
As the lone staffer in the film office, Mr. Gottlieb, who declined an interview but passed along his correspondence to city administrators, spent most of his day "out of the office at meetings and doing my best to service the film industry and art communities 24/7. I have little time in my day to sit in front of a computer to fill out film permits. That is the job of a clerk or an administrative assistant."
Earlier in the letter he said "it was wise" that Mr. Crapp transfer the city's film permitting functions to its parks and recreation department.
Mr. Gottlieb wrote that he'd also been working with the producers of "Charlie's Angels" to rent them the north hall of the Coconut Grove Expo Center and made a number suggestions, including additional rentals of the expo center and that the city begin charging permitting fees so as to establish a source of revenue for the office and expand its services.
Leah Sokolowsky, a location manager and a location scout for several projects, said the absence of someone in that role in the city is of concern to the industry.
"I have not heard of anybody being named to take his place," she said. "I've been trying to find out because I'm associated with two high-impact clients that may be coming into town and shooting."
The empty seat is doubly concerning after the film industry's long-sought incentive from state funds just looks to be paying off. The majority of the five-year, $242 million package is already spoken for and a number of projects including 12 episodes of "The Magic City" and a pilot for "Charlie's Angels" are expected to begin soon.
Also, "it's the height of commercial season. Not having somebody in that office as the point of communication for our industry is not an ideal situation," Ms. Sokolowsky said.
She said she was aware of some issues that arose downtown between some property owners and filming projects but declined to give details.
She said she was most concerned that some of the victories the industry has won could be lost without someone to communicate between the city and the entertainment industry.
"We have an opportunity with no less than four high-impact television series slated to come here, a possible high-impact feature film… to really redefine Miami and Miami Beach, and not having a film office sends a very negative message to the clients who are bringing millions to our area and providing jobs sends a message," Ms. Sokolowsky said. "As a location manager, my job is to be the liaison between the community and production company to ensure projects go smoothly when they're on location. If I don't know the rules or who my advocate is, I'm going to steer away from that area."
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