As the fourth largest state in America, Florida offers a diverse and plentiful variety of locations to suit a range of film and television production needs. In the early 1990s Orlando experienced a great boom in film production, earning it the nickname “Hollywood East”.
Similar to California, the state offers year-round sunshine and reliable light. Most film productions take place in the south (Miami) and central (such as the Orlando and Tampa) regions, which offer both modern cities and a tropical coastline. North Florida – Pensacola and Jacksonville – has also been used but, historically, to a lesser degree.
State capital Miami was made famous for its iconic long highways and beaches shot so memorably in 1980s TV series Miami Vice - achingly stylish by day and night. In movies, Brian De Palma’s Al Pacino-starring Scarface remake (1983) made the city a character of its own and sparked a new wave of filmmakers keen to set up production there. Great locations are paired with enviably good weather.
Whereas most of Florida has a humid subtropical climate, the south is decidedly tropical. The best time to shoot is October through to May as thunderstorms and hurricanes are common in the summer months. Although Florida is one of the most tornado-prone states in the US, these do tend to be weaker than those common in the Midwest and Great Plains.
Florida is one of the few US states that actually has an office in Los Angeles, making it easier for Hollywood productions to scope out the potential in filming on the east coast and arrange to get a crew over there. However, as of 2015, Florida has been facing a dearth of production work, forcing local crew members to look for work in other states and business owners to lobby legislators for a last stab at solvency. Quite a turnaround for what was once known as the production epicentre of the east coast, buttressed by a robust tax incentive program, year-round sunshine and diverse locations.
Losing out to other states, especially Georgia and Louisiana with stronger and more stable incentive schemes, Florida still has the benefit of countless locations, and lobbyists are hoping new laws will be passed in 2016 to reboot the film industry.
Florida has played host to movies as diverse as its locations. Scarface, Ace Ventura, Edward Scissorhands, Goldfinger and hundreds of TV shows, commercials and stills shoots have been set here over the years.
A-list Hollywood director Michael Bay has been one significant advocate of filming in south Florida, most notably with his debut Bad Boys (1995) and its 2003 sequel. His 2013 release Pain and Gain was both based on a true Miami story and filmed in the city itself. Michael Mann’s movie adaptation of his own Miami Vice show was filmed on location in 2006, as was the Jennifer Aniston/Owen Wilson romcom Marley and Me in 2008.
The ongoing Fast and Furious franchise chose central Florida for its second instalment in 2003, as did the remake of The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane in the title role and made in the same year. The central Florida area has also been the location for action film Never Back Down (2008) and Steven Soderbergh’s hit Magic Mike (2012). In 2011, Warner Bros.’ family flick Dolphin Tale premiered, grossing more than $96 million and bolstering tourism in Florida by more $2 billion. Set in Clearwater, the film made full use of Florida’s coastal locations and wildlife.
TV shows CSI: Miami and Dexter both used the state they were set in for some of their filming locations, with the former setting up many outdoor shots in areas of Miami-Dade County such as Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and Miami Beach, and the latter using a Bay Harbor Club condo in Miami Beach as its title character’s apartment in the first series.
In early 2015 TV shows HBO’s Ballers, Fox’s Graceland and Netflix’s Bloodline were filming in south Florida. These shows follow in the footsteps of the 80s cult classic Miami Vice about two undercover Miami-Dade police officers. Many episodes were filmed around South Beach and locations around Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Advertisers often take advantage of the mild weather during Florida’s winter months and the diverse local communities. In August 2013 Nike chose to use Miami to film a commercial, and employed NBA team Miami Heat’s star player LeBron James to appear in it.
Permits are required throughout Florida for anyone shooting for commercial purposes on public property. Permitting for these locations is handled through the individual state agency with jurisdiction over the property. A minimum 5 day notice period is required by most jurisdictions, but more complicated shoots, including those involving road closures, intermittent traffic control and closing off public areas, require 14 days’ notice.
Large-scale or complex productions may require co-ordination of several city, county or state departments and thus, to expedite the permitting process, you should notify the relevant film commission of your plans early in the pre-production process. A meeting between your location manager and a representative of city, county or state departments may be needed before the permit is issued. Film commissions can help with permitting, acting as a liaison between production companies and city, county and state services. While the film commission processes all permit applications, it is the local city/county government offices that give final approval to complete the permit. So it is important to allow time to process.
Film Commission Orlando covers Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties and the city of Orlando. FilMiami issues permits for Miami Dade County and City of Miami Beach permits. They require a minimum 24hrs and cost $100 per each 28 production days. If you wish to film exclusively within the City of Miami, the Miami Film Office will process your application. There is no film permit fee when filming within the City of Miami, however costs may be incurred when your activities require specific services, such as fire and police. Film in Florida has a comprehensive list of local film offices and commissions.
Production activity has generally been concentrated in two regions, south and central Florida, especially Orlando and Tampa. Orlando alone has more than ten soundstages, one of the largest hubs for working productions outside the USA’s ‘big two’, Los Angeles and New York. Full studio and production services are available throughout Florida, such as backlots, production office space and soundstages. The largest of its facilities include Chapman Leonard Soundstage and Equipment and Universal Studios (both Orlando). Universal Studios has six soundstages with state of-the-art facilities.
GStar Studios in Palm Springs is one of the seven largest and most innovative sound studios in the world. Built in 2010, it is a copy of the Warner Bros. soundstage with advanced technological improvements. In Miami, $11.5m was approved for the construction of a full-service movie and TV studio complex to be built and run by EUE/Screen Gems. The studio in downtown Miami opened in early autumn 2015, offering 70,000 sq ft of studio space, including two soundstages, as well as offices, editing suites and accessory rooms intended to facilitate a wide variety of movie, TV, digital, commercial and other productions.
There are currently at least two other full service studios offering multiple sound stages. One of the most historic is the Greenwich Studios in northern Miami, which was formerly the Ivan Tors Studio where Flipper was made. Another is the M3Studios Miami, which has been active since 2003. In addition to this wide array of studios there are a number of warehouses and open lots that can be adapted by local production companies for large scale shoots.
Famous for its palm-lined white sand beaches, Florida is one of the busiest and best established production centers in the USA. Long sunny shoot days combined with stunning locations have attracted North American and European productions alike, but it’s not all beaches, tiki huts, tourists and theme parks.
Away from its overexposed resorts lie forests and rivers, deserted stretches teeming with wildlife and Spanish-speaking enclaves with strong ties to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Miami offers an all-in-one package for filming: nightlife, wildlife, beaches, palm trees. The Miami-Dade Office of Film & Entertainment provides a one-stop-shop for filming in and around the city, including a guide to locations, how to apply for a permit, insurance requirements and recommended production-friendly hotels.
Beachfront art deco buildings, modern skyscrapers, luxury resorts, marinas, gold courses and a range of neighbourhoods from downtown Miami to Little Havana are a small indication of the variety of locations on offer in Miami.
The Florida Keys is a hundred-mile string of islands known for its sports fishing, coral-reef diving, turquoise waters and Seven-Mile bridge linking the islands. The sultry town of Key West is legendary for its sunsets and liberal attitudes.
Also south lie the Florida Everglades, a unique wetlands area filled with alligators and marshy landscapes, a symbol of the state.
The centrally located city of Orlando is mainly famous for its theme parks - Disney World and Universal Studios both call Orlando home - but there are other locations of note: Cape Canavaral Kennedy Space Center and Orange County Convention Centre both stand out. The Metro Orlando region extends over 4,012 sqm, and is a hugely diverse backdrop, featuring deep jungles, miles of hills, swamps, pastureland and many large bodies of water. On a smaller scale, there are quiet suburbs, and winding roads that lead to small towns with a rustic flavour.
From Orlando it’s a short distance to the towns and beaches of the Gulf Coast. The Sarasota suburbs built out on the barrier islands, the Dali Museum in St Petersburg and the towns of Naples, Tampa and Fort Myers all offer interesting locations for filmmakers.
Head further north and you will reach the forests of the Panhandle, Florida’s link with the deep south. Incredibly diverse and highly underrated, it has white sand beaches, azure seas, the pretty town of Pensacola and the gaudy one, Panama City Beach, a hot spot for spring breakers.
Florida has great production services as well as a strong and experienced pool of talented crew and support personnel who work year round on features, television and advertising.
It offers both Panavision and Arri equipment, as well as several boutique equipment rental companies. Hollywood Rentals (in Orlando), ESS and Olesen Lighting have the most complete inventory of lighting, grip, transport, power, theatrical and specialty equipment in North America. Attitude Lighting also in Orlando provides large scale entertainment lighting solutions and have worked on feature films in the past.
VER have the largest equipment inventory in the nation with a full line of products including high definition/24P video projection, plasma screens, projectors, LED display walls,VTR''s and cameras- all formats: HDCAM, HDCAMSR, D5, XDCAM, IMX, DVCPRO HD/50/25, video and an extensive inventory of Pro audio and computer equipment.
Way Down Video Productions in the Florida Keys has a good range of equipment, including an array of cameras (Panasonic, Sony and Cannon) and underwater camera housings and equipment.