Florida was perfect climate for HBO's 'Recount' to play politics
EmptyFor as contentious a topic as Florida's recount circus after the 2000 presidential election, it might be hard to believe that cities in the Sunshine State would want to host the film shoot for HBO Films' "Recount," which meticulously documents that tumultuous period.
However, Florida and its cities bent over backward, recognizing not only that the shoot would bring in millions of dollars but also the historical impact of the event it was depicting. As a result, party politics were set aside. Heck, one city even rerouted a parade just to avoid affecting the shoot.
"It was not an 'Oh my gosh, this is so high-profile, let's back off' attitude," says Todd Roobin, director of the Jacksonville Film & Television Commission. "Quite the opposite. It was very open arms because it is a very historical moment in Florida's history."
To shoot "Recount," one would think that the filmmakers would go nowhere but Florida, but the production did consider — for a moment — a Louisiana production; the tax incentives in that state are that powerful. But executive producer Sydney Pollack, who initially was on board to direct, and later Jay Roach, who took up the mantle when Pollack stepped aside, pushed hard for the Sunshine State.
"It obviously had to be done in Florida, and the question was how much can you do in one place," producer Michael Hausman says, "because economically it makes sense to shoot as centrally as possible."
The story ranged from Miami to Tallahassee and Palm Beach, but the production couldn't afford to migrate from location to location, so Jacksonville was chosen as the base. It had the architecture, the beaches and the warehouse space to pass off as the entire state.
The production dug up real polling machines and set up in actual polling stations used in the election as well as real campaign offices and government buildings.
"It was amazing the amount of real things we shot in, if not necessarily in the real city," Hausman says. "We were able to duplicate it thanks to our research people and production designer Patti Podesta."
Another plus of shooting in Jacksonville was its proximity to the state capital; Tallahassee was the site of key legal battles in 2000. With the help of Craig Waters, then-spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court, the production was able to shoot in the building and even received permission to shoot in a couple of the justices' chambers. The filmmakers populated the inside and outside with hundreds of extras in a shoot that ran Wednesdays-Sundays, taking advantage of easier access during the weekend.
"It was unprecedented," Hausman says.
The Tallahassee production occurred at the same time as an annual football game involving Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; as part of the festivities, a marching band was to parade in front of the court. "The city was so cooperative that the parade was moved to another street," Hausman says.
The state and its cities were so helpful, in fact, that the only major set that had to be constructed was the U.S. Supreme Court, which was built in a Jacksonville warehouse.
Credit for that city's support seemed mostly to go to its Republican mayor, John Peyton.
"He is extremely supportive of this industry, and he knows of the significant high-wage jobs that it attracts and of the businesses that are impacted," Roobin says.
One of the boons the mayor oversaw was a $25,000 grant for a rebate on hotel rooms. Counting cast and crew, the production used about 5,000 nights worth.
According to the film office, the shoot brought more than $3 million into the local economy, of which "a good portion of that was labor," Roobin says. Overall, the production spent about $9 million in the state and employed about 4,000 extras.
"It was a huge injection into the economy," Roobin says.
Borys Kit can be reached at [email protected]