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Citrus commission hires L.A. company, irks Florida filmmakers

Four dozen workers from Florida's film industry Tuesday protested the Florida Citrus Commission for hiring a Los Angeles company to make a commercial instead of using a local one.

It was the first time representatives from Florida's film industry, carrying signs that read "Florida Citrus Commission Freezes Florida Filmmakers," have demonstrated against a Florida agency for sending business out of state.

In recent months, they have publicly chastised Visit Florida and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for respectively hiring Canadian and Boston companies to make commercials or handle photo shoots.

The decision to hire Los Angeles production company Gartner/Grasso is particularly galling after millions of taxpayers' dollars were spent to remove canker-infested citrus trees from yards in South Florida at the behest of citrus growers, the filmmakers said.

The filmmakers are also upset that the Citrus Commission uses a Dallas ad agency instead of one from Florida.

Florida's film industry accounts for about 39,000 jobs, according to some estimates.

"When it comes to spending money that they could spend here, they go to California, and we think that is something that shouldn't happen," said Bill Randall, president of AFI/Filmworks in Miami.

But Citrus Commission spokesman Eric Boomhower said $1.6-million of the commercial's $1.9-million budget would be spent in Florida on location scouts, purchasing and renting production equipment, hiring actors and using casting agencies.

"We've done four commercial shoots in the last four years and all of them have been in Florida," Boomhower said.

Gartner/Grasso's James Gartner was selected after citrus officials reviewed demo reels from about 30 directors. More than a half-dozen were from Florida, Boomhower said.

"He's a nationally renowned (television ad) director," Boomhower said. "The work he had on his reel demonstrated a unique ability to capture people and their reactions, especially children, and convey a period feel, which is what we're looking for in our campaign."

The commercial, which has yet to be filmed, starts in a family's kitchen, a Pleasantville-type setting of 1950s suburban tranquility. The scene then morphs into a modern-day kitchen "with all the chaos of going to work and getting the kids ready for school," Boomhower said.

"The message is we're trying to talk to moms," Boomhower said. "We're trying to encourage moms to have everyone in the family start their day with a glass of Florida orange juice."

In recent years, the consumption of orange juice at breakfast has declined about 5 percent. Citrus officials hope the new ad helps get at least 27 percent of U.S. breakfast-consumers to drink orange juice each morning.

Gov. Jeb Bush recently sent a letter to tourism officials, encouraging them to use local filmmakers when creating ads to lure travel-wary tourists back to Florida.

"We feel that if the state of Florida is going to live up to its word that the film industry is an industry that needs to be supported, then they have to put their money where their mouth is," said Al Crespo, a Miami freelance line producer.

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