James Gibson, of Fort Pierce, one of the original Highwaymen artists, waves to the audience after being called out in attendance during a press conference announcing a Highwaymen movie “The Unknowns” Tuesday outside Fort Pierce City Hall in Downtown Fort Pierce. The movie is to be filmed in Savannah, Georgia. “The most important thing, I want it to be here, but they can’t get together on it,” Gibson said. “So if it’s in Georgia, California, whatever, it’s good for the Highwaymen and the State of Florida.” (ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS)
So near and yet so far away.
A proposal to film the story of the Highwaymen group of painters in Fort Pierce, where it all took place, has collapsed at the eleventh hour.
The $8 million project became a victim of financing and lack of state incentives, the movie’s producer Walter T. Shaw announced Tuesday outside Fort Pierce City Hall.
Instead of using Fort Pierce for location shooting at the sites where the Highwaymen were active in the 1950s and 60s, Shaw has accepted a multimillion dollar offer from the city of Savannah and the state of Georgia to film the story there, the Fort Lauderdale-based producer said.
Jointly, the two Georgia sources have offered Shaw’s Top Cat II Productions LLC 40 percent of the $8 million production budget. It’s a number the state of Florida — let alone Fort Pierce — cannot match.
“This production demonstrates another example of a production business choosing to film scenes that are set in Florida in one of our neighboring states,” said Michelle Hillery of Film Florida, in notes provided by Shaw.
“In the absence of a state-supported financial program,” Hillery went on “Florida will continue to lose hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in local spending. If a new Film, Television and Digital Media Industry program is not funded this year, a once thriving business that has been cultivated in Florida for more than 100 years will severely deteriorate as we watch a quick exodus of high-paying jobs and companies move to competing states.”
Shaw noted that Gov. Rick Scott failed to mention any such incentive program Monday when he unveiled details of his proposed 2016 state budget.
The lack of state money and a ready-made moviemaking infrastructure here were the most serious obstacles to getting “The Unknowns” made in Fort Pierce, but there may have been other aggravating factors.
It seems there were differences between Shaw and Fort Pierce city government which recently became “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Shaw claimed.
“The story of Florida’s Highwaymen should be a film to rally those who oppose discrimination and racism to bring about more change and equality through art,” Shaw said in a written statement. “Their paintings should hang in every home or business in America as a visual rallying point. Because even today out attempt to produce a feature film in Fort Pierce … about the Highwaymen was met with constant obstacles and an intransigent local government that was willing to accept the free publicity created about the city in the film but unwilling to support its production. If you ask me, ‘Does prejudice still exist today, the answer is yes,’ ” Shaw added.
The city paints a rather different picture.
“He was producing plaques (to install at various Fort Pierce sites associated with the painters) that included the city seal,” city spokeswoman Linda Cox said. “He was advised not to do that without getting the permission of the City Commission beforehand. That’s standard procedure, but he did not do that.”
Cox explained the city is in the process of establishing a Highwaymen Trail and that Shaw wanted to add his plaques to the project.
“It’s unfortunate because the Highwaymen are from here,” she said. “It would have been great if we could have worked it out. I can’t fault him for going elsewhere (to find financing). I’m not aware of any other problems (with the city),” Cox said. “It was made very clear what he had to do. I’m told he had never applied to the county Tourism Development Council for a film permit either. We weren’t putting up any obstacles.”
Shaw has championed the story of the Highwaymen, a loosely affiliated group of black painters who took to the highways of Florida to sell their landscapes because white gallery owners would not display their work. Shaw has been scouting locations for the last 20 months in Fort Pierce, he said. I have interviewed him several times.
The decision to film the movie in Georgia represents a great loss to Fort Pierce. Although there have been at least two previous attempts to film the Highwaymen story, Shaw’s project seemed the closest to coming to fruition.
Shaw has been assembling a roster of actors including Whoopi Goldberg, Sam Rockwell, Khandi Alexander, Keith Stanfield and director Bill Duke.
Making the movie in Fort Pierce would have undoubtedly given the city both prestige and a financial shot in the arm. Along with hotels and restaurants likely to benefit, about 600 extras will be needed for crowd scenes, Shaw said.
One of the original Highwaymen, James Gibson attended the news conference.
“Yes, I wanted it to happen here,” he said. “But to me, the most important thing is that the movie will be made and that the world will be able to see it. I wish it could’ve been here, but I can’t change that.”
Anthony Westbury is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion. Contact him at 772-221-4220, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at TCPalmWestbury on Twitter.
Article source: http://www.tcpalm.com/opinion/columnists/anthony-westbury/anthony-westbury-highwaymen-movie-producer-ditches-fort-pierce-for-georgia-2537ce70-22b0-181a-e053-0-353207881.html