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Young Filmmakers See Future in Florida : The Sunshine State exerts a strong pull on home-grown talent while backing up its ambition to lure movie production.

Young Filmmakers See Future in Florida: Second in a two-part series

March 26, 1995|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | Richard Kahlenberg of North Hollywood is a regular contributor to The Times. He is a former administrator at the American Film Institute

"I was born in the wrong Hollywood, but I'm going to fix that," says Joseph Greco, a serious young North Hollywood resident just starting out in the film business on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. His idea of putting to rights the geographic error of his birth is not, as you might think, simply to move south of Cahuenga Pass into lodgings under the eponymous sign. Instead, he says with perfect seriousness, he plans on "God willing, getting support to move part or my whole operation back to where I grew up in Hollywood, Florida. I love South Florida and would love to be able to work there."

He's already made a film there, "Lena's Spaghetti," which wowed folks at the Telluride Film Festival and got him a position with the Hollywood (Calif.) people who made "Radio Flyer" and "Sandlot."

You see, he's from the other Hollywood. The next Hollywood, in his opinion. And in no way is he alone in his ambitions. He's got fellow believers including his state's governor, Lawton Chiles; a burningly ambitious band of state film commissioners hawking Florida locations from an office right here at the Cahuenga Pass, and a squad of fellow graduates of Florida State University's new School of Motion Picture, Television & Recording Arts who live in his apartment building on Whitsett Avenue.

And on Friday, over 500 men and women alumni of various disciplines at their state university gathered in a Los Angeles ballroom at the Marriott Hotel near LAX to raise money and drum up business out here for down there. The group included six living presidents of that institution and the dean who runs the nation's newest and probably best-financed state film school.

Several decades ago I was a high school kid in Florida, then 46th in population among 48 states. The big movie-making action thereabouts--the only such action--was DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth," which I watched being made.

Now, after decades of rambling all over my adopted state of California, I live in North Hollywood, in the thick of the biggest population and media production state. But, as I lamented in these pages last week, our state and city seem to have less enthusiasm for the movie business than its economic benefits to us would justify.

Last week the Los Angeles City Council showed some signs of life, approving a measure that might mean tax breaks for movie and TV companies in the Hollywood and North Hollywood redevelopment areas.

Meanwhile, Florida has become third in population and does $500 million annually in film and TV production, expecting to double those dollars by 1999. So I thought it worth a look when the Director's Guild of America recently announced a screening of thesis projects made as part of Florida's $20-million fling at training movie makers. There I met Greco and the Whitsett squad. Plus a couple of dozen other men and women graduates of the 6-year-old FSU program.

In my time I have seen a lot of student movies--Lucas' and Coppola's and Lynch's and Scorsese's. So has my wife, a recovering William Morris agent. This time around, after the DGA program of Florida-made films, we said to each other what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid said when they couldn't shake their pursuers: "Those guys are good ."

It came as no surprise to learn that the employment rate for these FSU graduates, even those as recent as last June, is 98%. Half work in Florida, half in California. But I was surprised to learn that half of the half in California hankers to return to Florida to work after "making it" out here.

It was also a surprise to learn that, on a rotating basis, almost a dozen of them lived in an apartment building in my neighborhood. It's their base camp in California. They call it "Club Whitsett," where the newest graduates pass through on their way to jobs and digs of their own.

I went over for a visit. I can't report that it was any kind of nostalgia trip. In my day in Florida, kids were rather saurian. Like gators, we lazed around a lot. Things have changed. The people at Whitsett reminded me of a bunch of "Top Gun" naval aviators I once interviewed. There is no fat in their conversations, no wasted motion. They are clear-eyed and ready for action.

One of the big reasons they are so well-trained and so loyal to the Sunshine State is that, unlike almost all other such schools, their institution puts up all the money for students to make their movies. And tuition is the lowest in the nation. The state even puts money into film training at the high school level--4,000 teen-agers are involved each year--culminating in a film festival at Universal Studios in Orlando showcasing their work. (This month MCA announced plans to make this facility "the largest single production facility outside Hollywood, Calif.") California high school and college kids would kill for such a deal.

Californians of any age will be amazed to learn that videocassettes of the student films at Florida State are regularly sent to the governor and key legislators.

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