After hearing a report last week that the company producing the independent film, “Free Ride,” had spent more than $400,000 while filming scenes in the area, the Sarasota County Commission agreed unanimously to reimburse the company up to $50,000 for expenses.
During the commission’s Dec. 14 meeting, Jeanne Corcoran, director of the county’s Film and Entertainment Office, reported that almost all of “Free Ride” had been shot in the county, primarily in the Englewood and Venice areas.
Some shooting also took place on Siesta Key, though island residents reported the production crew kept a low profile. When the crew had equipment set up in Davidson’s Plaza, a volunteer with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce said her inquiries had produced no more news than the production title.
The movie, starring Oscar winner Anna Paquin of “True Blood” fame, had a total budget of more than $700,000, Corcoran said.
An Oct. 11 letter to the County Commission from Brian Dreyfuss, president and CEO of Featured Artists Productions Inc., the company producing the film, said the project “is based on a true story involving the writer/director — a story that took place in Florida in the 1970s, which lends itself to the look and atmosphere that parts of Sarasota still evoke today.”
The writer and director of the film is Shana Sosin. According to the Internet Movie Database, the film is about a single mother “caught up in the Florida drug trade during the late 1970s (who) tries to make a better life for her two girls.” It also stars Drea de Matteo, a longtime member of “The Sopranos” cast.
Sosin’s biography on IMDB says she is best known for her performances in the 1998 films “The Strangers” and “Lucinda’s Spell.”
“They hired far more local vendors, service providers and crew than they would have” without the possibility of the reimbursement, Corcoran told the County Commission. The total number of Sarasota residents engaged in the project was about 130, she said.
Additionally, the film crew stayed in the county longer than it would have without the incentive, Corcoran said.
The company also hired numerous students at the Ringling College of Art and Design to handle post-production work. That activity is what the county is trying to encourage with the incentives, Corcoran said.
Dreyfuss’ letter said the county’s “incredible rebate/incentive program is … another primary reason why we settled on Sarasota as the location. We are a relatively small but determined cast and crew shooting on an ambitious schedule and small budget … with every penny spent requiring planning and prudence.”
According to a memo prepared for the Dec. 14 agenda, the County Commission in September 2010 authorized the creation of the Entertainment Industry Rebate Incentive Program to provide incentives for the entertainment industry to undertake production and post-production work in the county, which would provide an economic stimulus to the local economy.
The rebate was set at $25,000 per project, although it could reach a maximum of $50,000 if the County Commission felt the scope of the film work generated enough economic impact to warrant that level of reimbursement.
All of the company’s expenses in the county would be audited, Corcoran said.
“They may (be eligible for) all of the $50,000,” she added.
The company also won positive responses in the community, Corcoran said.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta made the motion for the maximum reimbursement, if records showed the company was eligible for the full $50,000.
“(Corcoran has) managed with a small budget to create incredible economic results (in the county),” he added.
“The film production industry is a really tight-knit group,” Commissioner Jon Thaxton said, so good word-of-mouth about location filming makes a difference.