Hurricanes bad for Florida's film business

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Pity poor Florida. Great locations, great incentives, great ability to attract such TV pilots as CBS's CSI: Miami, FX's Nip/Tuck, and Showtime's Dexter. Retaining them, though, is another matter.

Despite being set in Miami and having their pilots shot in that town, those three shows shoot in Southern California. Adding insult to injury is Nip/Tuck's recent decision to ditch its Miami locale and plotline for sunny Los Angeles.

"On the one hand, for brand identification, it's pretty good," said Jeff Peel, head of the Miami/Dade County Office of Film and Entertainment. "The Miami brand is all over these shows. But from a direct spending perspective, it's not doing much for us."

The big problem is Florida's hurricane season, which officially runs June-November but whose height is from mid-August to mid-October. Hurricanes drove Dexter out of state.

"We had had high hopes (to shoot the series there), but in the course of the pilot, we weathered three hurricanes," executive producer Sara Colleton said. "And we couldn't get insurance from August-October, which is the reason why the first five episodes were cross-boarded," mixing footage from Miami with work done in Southern California.

To stem such bleeding, Florida is introducing a bill that has a provision to bump up its tax rebate from its current 15 percent to 20 percent during hurricane season.

"It's our attempt to smooth that over a little bit," Peel said. "We certainly don't want to discount the fact that hurricane season does exist. It can be problem."

But would the rebate be enough to blow production back?

Dexter executive producer Clyde Phillips praised the move but wasn't sure it would solve the insurance problem.

"If we had lost days after the insurance cutoff date, it's a 100 percent loss," he said. "There's no deductible, there's no nothing. You'd lose that $140,000 a day. It just goes away. And no studio that's part of a major corporation would allow that to happen."

Peel doesn't pooh-pooh the impact of hurricanes, but he believes they can be weathered. He points to production companies based in Miami year-round, producing and shooting 10 to 15 telenovelas.

"Hurricanes are one of the few natural disasters that you can plan around," Peel said. "You can see them coming for 48, 72 hours out, as opposed to earthquakes or tornadoes. ... It's something you've got to be aware of, but it should not mean the end of all production for six months in a row."

The legislature begins meeting in March, and if all goes well, the measure could be approved by May.

Until then, there is good news for the city and the state: USA Network's Burn Notice, about a spy recently fired by the CIA who uses his special ops training to help others in trouble, will shoot its entire 13-episode order in Florida, where it shot its pilot. Production is scheduled to start at the end of April and run through June.

HBO is considering shooting its pilot for Whitney, centering on four Miami women, in Miami.

"We would love to see it shot as a series here," Peel said. "If Burn Notice has a successful run, then you prove it can be done."

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