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New Hillsborough film commissioner begins to 'discover Tampa'

Dale Gordon, new head of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, previously worked in Orlando.

Special to the Times

Dale Gordon, new head of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, previously worked in Orlando.

Dale Gordon snagged her first job in the film industry at 17, helping families make their own videos at Orlando's Universal Studios. She would direct them through their own episode of Star Trek, occasionally donning Vulcan ears and jumping in on the action.

Now, 20 years later, the new head of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission has found her niche in the industry. She has worked on three film commissions, helping attract filmmakers and advertisers to produce films in Florida.

Gordon recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston about her new role in Tampa and transitioning from serving as Orlando's film commissioner.

How did you get into this career?

I've always been a fan of the film industry my whole life. I grew up in Orlando, and of course we had Disney and Universal Studios, so I was always kind of attracted to the entertainment industry. I knew I really loved film. I loved TV. I loved entertainment. I knew I wanted to work in that world. But not on the creative side. I kind of was drawn to the business aspect of it, which I think is probably kind of unusual.

Do you have any Orlando versus Tampa comparisons?

Completely different cities. It's so weird for them to be an hour and half apart and be such completely different cities … I think it's very easy to be critical of a city when you don't take advantage of it and when you don't explore it. So my husband and my kids and I, we decided to make a commitment to Tampa. One day, we're like, we're going to go explore Tampa. So we went to the Plant Museum, and we went to some different beaches that we hadn't been to, and we went to the history museum, and we went to the Columbia, which we had not been to, and we just really started to, for a lack of a better word, discover Tampa. And once we did that, it feels like home now.

It's hard to adjust to a new place if you're not really letting yourself invest in it.

You know, I was offered a job in Seattle in the spring. We're big fans of Seattle, and we were considering it really seriously. … Part of what we were attracted to was the progressive nature of the community there. Being agro-friendly. We wanted that for our children. But really, ultimately at the end of the day, we can teach those things. It's harder, because you don't have as much of a community effort as they do there.

Is living green really important to you?

It's more that I wanted to raise my children in an environment that was. Again, Florida hasn't historically been a pioneer in that realm. I wasn't raised to recycle. I wasn't raised to turn off the lights when you leave the room or whatever it may be. But I recognize the importance of it now, and I want that to be a daily part of my children's life, so that they do take care of their planet.

Are there any particular ways you foster that in your children?

We're still figuring it out. There are a lot of parts of growing up in Florida that are good. For example, we always had gardens. Its very easy to grow things in Florida. That's definitely something I've incorporated into their lives, to teach them to be able to grow their own vegetables. It's a neat experience, too, because we're kind of discovering it all together. We're taking on this family educational effort to be more considerate of the planet.

How easy is it to find healthy food options in Tampa?

Being in Carrollwood, it's pretty easy, because we've got Whole Foods, we've got Fresh Market and other non-brand-name health food stores. I would consider Tampa to be pretty user-friendly with that. I'd love to see more farmers markets. That's just a tradition, too. It's Saturday or Sunday, let's go to the farmers market and see what's new … You also feel like you're supporting the local efforts. I wish there was a little more of that, or if there is, that I knew about it.

Back to the movie side of things, what are some types of films you personally like to watch?

I'm a sucker for the romantic comedy. Pretty much if it's got Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Jen Aniston. Bridget Jones, that's at the top of my list.

It's one of my top 10 favorite movies.

It's actually my second favorite movie.

What's the first?

Gone With the Wind. It's a classic. Probably my third would be White Christmas, another classic.

I like that sandwich: Gone With the Wind, Bridget Jones's Diary, White Christmas.

I'm a big tradition person. Me and my mom used to every year, the day after Thanksgiving, we'd put up a Christmas tree. Well, when you're in Florida, you need a lot of help, because it's 85 degrees outside and it doesn't feel like Christmas. So we'd always put on White Christmas, get some hot cocoa and put up the Christmas tree. And now I've carried on that tradition with my children. And they're like, "Here comes White Christmas! and they're singing about Mister Bones.

What do your kids think about your job?

They think that I make movies and video games. My youngest son, who's 9, of course his world is Luigi from Mario Brothers. And every now and then he'll say, "If you run into the guy who makes Luigi, can you just tell him that I said hi and ask him if he can make me some more games?" And I said, "Sure, I'll see what I can do. No high expectations or anything." I don't know if they completely understand exactly what it is that I do. They just know that I help people make movies and commercials and TV, which is true.

And a big element of it is trying to get people to come film here, right?

Yes. Our primary function is to market our particular geographical area as a filming destination and to kind of act as a one-stop-shop resource guide for filmmakers. We do this because of the economic impact of the film industry. When they come here, they spend a lot of money. They hire our workforce, they stay in our hotels, they eat in our restaurants, they rent cars. … They come in, they spend money, and they leave. You can't argue with that.

Don't a lot of places come and film in Florida, but they represent it as somewhere else?

Central Florida, they typically do come and shoot for "anywhere America," is what they call it. Especially when you're doing the commercials or independent films, they want something that looks generic. So one of the things that I'm always challenged with, in that respect, is finding locations that don't have palm trees in them. Because I can't sell that this is the Midwest if it's got a palm tree in the background. So much so that one of the jurisdictions I used to work with had a small quaint town setting but they had palm trees that lined the main street. In order to make themselves more film friendly, they took out all of the palm trees on the main street, just so they could get more filming. And they did. Because they could be "anywhere America" generic.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

New Hillsborough film commissioner begins to 'discover Tampa' 09/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 7:10pm]
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