The groves of wrath 

At noon on Nov. 13, about four dozen protesters gathered to picket the Lakeland offices of the Florida Citrus Commission. No, they weren't leftover '70s radicals still miffed at Anita Bryant. They were representatives of Florida's film- and TV-production industry, expressing their indignance that the commission awarded its latest commercial campaign to a Los Angeles concern instead of keeping the work in the state.

Al Crespo, a free-lance producer who helped organize the protest, is happy with the attention it earned. Three TV stations sent camera crews, and the Associated Press filed a report that was picked up by several Florida newspapers. AdWeek, Crespo says, is working on its own story. But how did Florida Citrus react?

"They came to the window and we waved to them," he jokes. "A few of them waved back." Then he turns serious: "Their official position is that they're going to do what they damn well please."

Despite the protest, Florida Citrus did not cancel its plans to have the Los Angeles-based firm Gartner/Grasso whip up two new commercials for Florida orange juice. The company's retention rankles Crespo and his cronies for a few reasons. First and most obvious is the importance of providing work for Floridians in the current economic climate. Second is the knowledge that, as a state agency, Florida Citrus is spending our tax dollars on the campaign. Third is the commission's apparent flouting of an Oct. 12 appeal by Gov. Jeb Bush that state agencies keep production dollars and jobs within Florida. And fourth is the long-standing and sad state of affairs that prompted Bush's appeal in the first place: the history of Florida agencies hiring out-of-state businesses to make their commercials.

According to Kathryn Waters, an Orlando crew worker and three-term former president of Women in Film and Television in Central Florida, the Visit Florida tourism agency recently reversed its hiring of a Canadian production team after an outcry was raised on the Internet.

"We got that turned around in less than 24 hours," Waters recalls. "I really thought that [the Florida Citrus issue] would take care of itself."

Shortly before the protest, Waters e-mailed Gov. Bush to point out Florida Citrus' apparent contradiction of his wishes. His response:

"Thanks for writing. I agree that, all things equal, Florida companies should be given the business. I have expressed this view to all Florida agencies in writing and over the phone."

Creative juices

Florida Citrus spokesman Eric Boomhower is currently on vacation and unable to address charges that the commission is indeed giving Florida companies "the business." But in a release circulated before the protest, his office said that Gartner/ Grasso's Jim Gartner was chosen over more than a half-dozen in-state directors who vied to helm the spots. Gartner's proven ability to convey a "period feel," it was said, would be invaluable in a campaign designed to "transport viewers from the black-and-white fantasy world of the 1950s to the tumultuous, Technicolor reality of today's American family breakfast."

Perhaps aware that today's Floridian family breakfast frequently includes perusal of the anything-but-Technicolor want ads, the commission assured that the commercial shoot would return $1.6 million to our state economy. How? Via the hiring of Florida-based production workers, acting talent, casting agencies and other personnel.

Crespo calls those claims erroneous. Californians, he says, were hired as the project's location scout and casting director. He also alleges that Shoot Florida, the Miami-based firm hired to provide production services, is actually a shield company retained to obscure the "real money's" ultimate progress to Californian coffers -- an all-too-common strategy known as "pass-through." And anyway, Crespo says, Florida Citrus cross-collateralized the TV shoot with its print and radio spots, and outdoor advertising. So who's to say how much the TV portion really cost? (Note: Florida Citrus' advertising agency is based in Dallas.)

Though Crespo says he is known to "spout off every now and then" on industry issues, he was clearly reticent about proceeding to the picket line.

"Even when you succeed, this is not the best way to do things," he says. "Protests are an indication of weakness in some regard."

And with this one apparently having proven (pardon the term) fruitless, his colleagues are weighing their next move. They may appeal to the Florida legislature to adopt "some language that would point these agencies in the right direction," Crespo says. A boycott of Florida citrus products has been mentioned, as well as a counter-advertising campaign that "will not be flattering to Florida orange juice," Waters warns.

If the latter initiative goes through, they can have this slogan free of charge: "A day without accountability is like a day without sunshine."

Graze period

To coincide with the second "Third Thursdays" downtown arts crawl, the Mad Cow Theatre Company hosted a Nov. 15 open house at its new, permanent performance space on the second floor of the Gallery at Avalon Island. Knowing how (understandably) protective Avalon owner Ford Kiene has been with the property, I was taken aback at the leeway he has granted the Cows to make the place their own. The once-white walls are now a deep maroon (the exact shade, I'm told, is "merlot"). A lighting grid has been installed and black panels placed in some of the windows to minimize outside light and noise. The room will be in full thrust-stage configuration for the Cows' season opener, Mole's Homecoming (opening Nov. 29), though the layout will change to fit each future show. Late-night and lunchtime programs are among the initiatives the Cows are mulling to appeal to downtowners.

The troupe will not, however, be sharing the space with others when the next Orlando International Fringe Festival arrives in May 2002. Kiene has no desire to make the space available as a Fringe venue for a second year running, though the Cows are talking to the festival's executive producer, Chris Gibson, about "partnering" with the Fringe in some capacity -- like hosting a "best of" marathon on a succeeding Saturday.

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