State’s Film Workers Reluctantly Leave to Find Jobs
Nicole Ziobro left her home in Chicago in 2001, to be a part of Disney’s college internship program. She was going to be a performer, and what better place to hone your talents than in front of the thousands of guests that visit Walt Disney World daily?
While working at Disney, Ziobro fell in love with Florida and, through a friend enrolled in the University of Central Florida’s film program, was introduced to the world of filmmaking. She quickly developed an interest in film production.
In 2008, Zobrio was accepted into Valencia College’s Film Program, and before she had finished her studies, she was hired to work professionally on Beethoven’s Big Break, filming at Universal Studios Orlando.
Ziobro finished her education at Valencia and bought a house in Orlando. She had found more than her calling with film; she had found a home. Ziobro loved her profession – and the Floridians with whom she was working.
“When I was working in Florida there was this family feeling,” she said. “I would show up on different jobs and be greeted by the Florida crews by name.”
Yet in the years to follow, Ziobro watched as film jobs in Florida began to disappear and go elsewhere. For a technician whose work specialized in films and episodic television, all of that work seemed to be heading north, to Georgia. With fewer jobs in Florida and more opportunities in Georgia, she found that in order to pay the bills, she was spending greater amounts of time away from her home in the Sunshine State.
Ziobro recalls: “I was constantly crashing on friends’ couches and missing my bedroom in Florida, but I had to eat and pay the bills.”
The melancholy in her voice is palpable when she talks about going from “crashing on couches” to renting an apartment in Georgia, and finally, in October, making the move there. When the melancholy is pointed out to her, she reiterates the “family feeling” she got working on Florida films. Asked to compare that experience to Georgia, she said, “With so much work happening there, you meet so many people from states like Missouri, and all over, that relationships are hard to maintain.”
It is obvious in her tone Ziobro misses that unique bond she had within the Florida film community and still believes in a robust, thriving Florida film industry – an industry that is facing a very uncertain future because the Florida Legislature so far has refused to renew the film rebate program that once helped lure productions to the Sunshine State.
Georgia and Louisiana have such programs, and increasingly those states are becoming stand-ins for Florida, even when the movie is set here. In Tallahassee, lawmakers argue about dollars, return on investment and the percentage of jobs that are full-time versus transient.
Lost in the debate are the people whose lives are deeply affected by the debate, people who would rather stay in Florida than develop an affinity for peaches or brush up on their Cajun. For lawmakers, it’s about politics; for people like Ziobro, it’s personal.
“I would like to settle and start a family,” says Ziobro, who still owns her house in Florida. “I want to come home.”
Deep Florida Roots
The film and television industry came to Florida more than 100 years ago. In November, 1908, Kalem Studios (a subsidiary of Thomas Edison’s General Film Company) landed in Jacksonville and the cameras began rolling. Since then, Florida has fostered film production, and later television production, by enticing movie and television producers with its consistent array of sunshine, agreeable weather, and diverse landscapes enabling dream factories and dream makers to flourish.
Fueling the state as a backdrop for dreams are Florida’s men and women working in the industry. These artisans help shape the blockbusters of Spielberg, and detonate the explosiveness of Michael Bay in order to capture our imaginations two hours at a time.
Everyone remembers the name of the lead actors and sometime the directors, producers and screenwriters, too. But, seldom do audiences closely scrutinize the names of others working the film – people with job titles such as “Key Grip,” “Best Boy” and “Gaffer” – to see exactly who makes Florida films possible.
Lately, though, a villain more vile than Scarface’s Tony Montana has appeared on the scene. Its name is unemployment. Several Floridians have stared this bad guy straight in the eye. We’ll say hello to two of them and learn their stories in Part 2.