Florida's tropical depression


Pity poor Florida. Great locations, great incentives, great ability to attract such TV pilots as CBS' "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 plot line 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 are what 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% to 20% 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" exec producer Clyde Phillips praised the move but wasn't sure it will solve the insurance problem.

"If we had lost days after the insurance cutoff date, it's a 100% 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 10-15 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."

Long Beach often a Miami stand-in

Is Long Beach, Calif., the new South Beach?

As far as "CSI: Miami," "Dexter" and "Nip/Tuck" are concerned, it is. All three shows, set in Miami, have filmed in Long Beach as well as other locations in and around Los Angeles. "We go to Long Beach all the time," "Dexter" exec producer Clyde Phillips said.

One of the challenges posed by shooting in Los Angeles are the hills that appear in shots of the horizon. Shooting in Long Beach eliminates that problem. The productions also have found that the beaches in the area can mimic Florida's, complete with office buildings near the waterfront.

"The way the town is built, I can pretty much duplicate some of the feeling of South Beach in Long Beach," said Don Tardino, a producer on "CSI: Miami."

"CSI: Miami," which also shoots a lot in Marina del Rey, doubles Long Beach's El Dorado Park for the Everglades, while "Dexter" has found one location that can double as one of Miami's signature causeways.

Because of its larger budget, "CSI: Miami" is able to use high-end locations that it pays to shut down for filming. But some of the show's signature large-scale interiors actually are sets in Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach.

"Dexter" shoots its interiors in Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood, sometimes via translights, a technique involving the photographing of actual locations and replicating it on set.

But there is no substitute for the real thing.

"CSI: Miami" has, from its inception, shot the opening two and closing two episodes of each season in Miami, flying in its main cast and a good portion of the crew, "so you actually feel you have been in Miami," Tardino said. For authenticity, the production goes to the city four or five times a year to shoot aerials, always updating the look since the city's skyline keeps changing.

The show also will shoot an episode midseason if the situation warrants it.
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