As long as I’ve been a business writer, I’ve been hearing how important it is for Florida to remain a major player in film production.
It’s a big business nationally — motion picture and video production tops $80 billion annually, according to a U.S. Census report.
Florida certainly gets its share of Hollywood blockbusters, TV shows and music videos shot in locations across South Florida.
But when the camera stops rolling, the sets get packed up, and the directors and A-listers, at least those without homes here, leave town. A true measure of staying power is growing a grass roots industry — meaning local productions that are cast and shot here with local actors and actresses in local studios.
One of those is about to appear on the silver screen next month.
That’s when a film by Arthur L. Bernstein and Armando Gutierrez, “Walt Before Mickey,” a biopic on Walt Disney, hits theaters from Palm Beach Gardens to Lake Worth to Delray Beach. The film, which opened this weekend at Downtown Disney, focuses on Disney’s business failures before his mischievous cartoon mouse launched a global entertainment empire and one of the world’s most recognizable and popular corporate brands.
“He’s a legend, but this part of the story needed to be told,” said Bernstein, who co-wrote and produced the movie. “I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done already.”
Bernstein is a local product. He grew up in West Palm Beach, graduated from the University of Miami in 2000, and now lives in Palm Beach Gardens. After moving back from Los Angeles, Bernstein bounced around in the video and film world, including shooting political ads.
His goal, though, is filming movies. In Florida.
”Walt Before Mickey,” which cost $568,000, stars some familiar faces: Thomas Ian Nicholas (“American Pie”), Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and Jodie Sweetin (“Full House”). But Bernstein said he employed 500 people from the state, including plenty of locals from Palm Beach County.
“We could’ve shot this movie anywhere,” he said. “Puerto Rico. Atlanta. We could’ve gone to South Africa and taken a credit. But we’re from here. We wanted to bring it home.”
Florida offers a variety of incentives to boost film production, there’s a list at filminflorida.com. But Bernstein said Florida could still do more to bolster a homegrown film industry, such as a tax credit for young, aspiring filmmakers. He said the infrastructure, including sound stages like G-Star Studios, are here.
I could be persuaded on the new credit, sure, but it’s the governor and state legislators who need to be persuaded. One way for that to happen is if locally made and produced films like Bernstein’s get strong reviews and, more important, draw audiences.
So here’s my plug: Check out the “Walt Before Mickey” website, www.waltbeforemickey.com, and mark your calendars for the Palm Beach County opening on Sept. 4.