No Love for Locals

Rising stars from UM say state film commission favors out-of-towners.

The brains behind the Cocaine Cowboys documentary franchise have placed bounty on Florida Film Commissioner Lucia Fishburne. Rakontur producer Alfred Spellman claims Fishburne has not ponied up $68,000 in state incentives his company earned for filming two documentaries in-state. So irate is the 30-year-old University of Miami graduate that he had Rakontur's art department superimpose an illustrated image of Fishburne's face on a spaghetti Western-style wanted poster. Her alleged crime: "Robbery." "It's been excuse after excuse," Spellman grouses. "The film commission has used us to promote how great their incentive program is, but since October, we have been getting the runaround as to why we haven't been able to get our incentive money."

This past March 18, Fishburne's mug, along with a screed denouncing her and the incentive program as a sham, appeared on Rakontur.com. An excerpt from the post states, "Five months after we submitted our audited CPA report to Lucia Fishburne... they are trying to stiff us on our incentive." The author ends with a warning to filmmakers planning to shoot in Florida: "Don't believe the hype about the rebate. Just because you do everything you're supposed to do to qualify for this money, you might not get it."

"I thought the depiction of myself on the wanted poster was great," Fishburne tells Riptide. She declined further comment because her office is seeking advice from the Florida Office of the Inspector General as to whether the incentive program applies to documentaries such as Cocaine Cowboys 2 and The U, a doc that Rakontur is filming about the University of Miami football program for ESPN. Rakontur submitted those two films for the program.

Spellman won't take sole credit for the blog diatribe, noting it was penned by Rakontur "management." Nevertheless, he insists his locally based company has gotten a raw deal from Fishburne. Essentially, the state rewards filmmakers who make movies in Florida, reimbursing 15 to 20 percent of what producers spend on hiring industry locals as well as booking flights and hotel rooms through local travel agencies. Spellman points out that Hollywood studios have no problem collecting from the state.

For example, the producers of USA Network's Burn Notice received $1.1 million in incentives for spending $5.8 million filming the show's first season in Miami. The lighthearted big-screen comedy Marley & Me got $1.5 million for the $10.2 million that 20th Century Fox dropped on South Florida production. Yet state budget cuts have drained the program. It was reduced from $25 million in 2008 to only $5 million this year.

Spellman contends Fishburne doesn't understand how documentaries work. "The guidelines for the incentive program are not tailored to documentary films," he says. “For example, they ask you how many hotel room nights you are going to pay for. On a documentary, you don’t know that answer until you wrap up shooting.”

 
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