Thomas arrived in Florida in 1981 to work as a stage manager and lighting designer for The Alhambra Dinner Theatre. When the theatre was sold he made the leap to film as Location Manager on a CBS movie called The Tony Cimo Story. He’s been in the business ever since.
Where specifically are you based?
Jacksonville Florida. It was the first film centre outside New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century. Before Hollywood was Hollywood, dozens of film production companies called Jacksonville home. We still have one of the only existing silent film studios in the world still standing – Norman Silent Film Studios – and a group of us are working to restore it to its original state.
What can you tell me about the region that you cover?
North-east Florida has what is commonly referred to as ‘Anywhere USA’ in the location field. We get a lot of work because of our chameleon attributes. It’s New York City one day, jungle the next, or Virginia or California. We have anything but mountains.
Since we’re the only major city between Orlando and Atlanta we can cover a lot of ground from central Jacksonville. Our broad leaf oaks stay green year-round along with grass, allowing companies to shoot in the winter without the typical Florida palms and tropics.
What locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews when they come and film in the area?
Our beach is a huge draw as have many miles of open seashore. The military is another reason that major pictures have filmed here, but every film is different and our ability to stand in for multiple places without a move is what brings most projects our way.
I think ‘Florida’ brings a certain image to most people’s minds, whether it’s the iconography of Miami or Orlando’s theme parks. What’s different about north Florida is its ‘Deep South’ look.
What are the more unusual locations that our readers would not necessarily associate with the region?
I think ‘Florida’ brings a certain image to most people’s minds, whether it’s the iconography of Miami or Orlando’s theme parks. What’s different about north Florida is its ‘Deep South’ look. We have huge oaks, Spanish moss and small-town ‘Americana’, none of which necessarily isn’t comes to mind when you think ‘Florida’.
I think my favourite part of this area is our natural springs near Ocala. These are fresh, crystal-clear springs that bubble from the ground and meander through thick woods. The original Tarzan films were made here, as well as The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
What has been your most difficult location assignment to date?
A few years back HBO chose north-east Florida for the backdrop for Recount, an account of the 2000 Florida election recount that threw the country into political mayhem and eventually resulted in George W Bush becoming President.
Very important parts of the story were the decisions by the Florida Supreme Court and how they affected the eventual outcome of George W Bush’s victory over Al Gore. The producers, Sydney Pollack and Mike Housman, were able to open the door with the Supreme Court members, but it was up to me to get the deal done. I listened carefully to all of their concerns, requirements and stipulations and working with Supreme Court Staff to get final permission to film interiors and exteriors for two days.
Of course, the day we had to film the exterior was the day of the Florida A&M Homecoming parade, a huge annual event. I was able to convince the University to re-route the parade and work with the great folks in the City of Tallahassee to make filming possible. Southern hospitality is more than a slogan; down here, it’s real!
I think my favourite part of this area is our natural springs near Ocala. These are fresh, crystal-clear springs that bubble from the ground and meander through thick woods.
What types of production do you work on most frequently?
My work can be a one-day simple industrial to a six-month major feature. Larger projects I’ve worked on over the years have been Ridley Scott’s GI Jane and John McTiernan’s Basic. Even more fun were films like Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland and John Sayle’s Sunshine State. Recently, I was able to scout for Harmony Korine for his new script Spring Breakers.
Are there any particular tips that you would like to share with our audience about filming in north-east Florida?
Ours is a film-friendly community, to be sure, but since we do not have a huge number of projects many locations are completely new to the filming production process. So that is a bit different where locations are more of a business, where buyer and seller both know the process and are comfortable with it.
It may take some education to make property owners realise that the film industry isn’t the malicious presence that it’s sometimes rumoured to be. We truly do everything we can to protect property and owner. We’re just there to do our job and go home like any other profession. Some people perceive us as ruthless or reckless and most are neither.
Which are the best airports to use to film in your region and who flies there? Any tips on customs clearance or film-friendly freight agents?
Jacksonville International Airport is our main hub. All other regional airports are for private or small commuter planes. Since it’s tough to get here without going through New York, Miami or Atlanta first, most customs issues are dealt with elsewhere.
Jacksonville International Airport is our main hub. All other regional airports are for private or small commuter planes.
What are the most film-crew-friendly hotels in your region and where is your favourite wrap party venue?
The Hyatt Regency in Downtown Jacksonville has always gone above-and-beyond to house large and small crews alike, and knows that the impact of the industry on our area is significant. But the last time I shopped hotels for a feature, the number of hotels willing to make bare-bones deals was quite impressive. We are very fortunate to be ready with a wide assortment of housing in all price ranges.
What do you do with your time off and what would you recommend crew and cast do to have fun and relax in north-east Florida?
My time off has been filled with family in the last 25 years. My daughters are now grown, so I’m heavily involved in teaching and working with local theatres as a designer and director. I’ve even done some acting in local plays, a web series and a music video. Having a great network of friends in the film industry has given us all a sense of family; we’ve all been in the trenches together and have the stories to prove it!
To contact Thomas please click here.
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