Sunday, January 21, 2018
  • Friday, Dec. 22, 2017
Hot Locations: Recovery & Resilience in USVI, Houston, Florida
Luana Wheatley

While devastating hurricanes in recent months took their toll on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Houston and Florida, these locales have recovered or are at least well on the road to recovery, reaffirming the resilience of affected communities as they get back to business as usual on varied fronts, including filmmaking.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria both hit the U.S. Virgin Islands hard in September. But in recent weeks, Luana Wheatley, director of the USVI Film Office, shared, “We are starting to feel like we’ve turned the corner. Some of our locations are bruised but not lost. We’ve had heavy rains which have restored the lushness, reviving a lot of our landscapes and locations. The beaches are still beautiful. Choice locations have been cleared of debris. Filming inquiries are coming in again.”

Helping to spark these production inquires has been coverage from CNN, E! Entertainment and Good Morning America. “They’ve provided great exposure showing the recovery process,” said Wheatley. “And while they were here, they hired people and used services, visited restaurants, used accommodations, all helping the economy here.”

Wheatley acknowledged that there are still challenges that need to be met, one of them being accommodations. “While we might not have all our traditional hotel rooms available, we have rental villas, timeshares. Especially in  St. Thomas, our hotel product is down. But we’re able to find other creative and nontraditional accommodations.”

While cell phone service and Internet access is spotty in some areas, there are accessible hot spots. “All we ask is that people call us, talk things out. We’ll let you know up front if a project is doable. We’ve gotten quite a number of calls. We have a commercial coming in that’s planned for February, for example. Location managers and crews are starting to feel encouraged again.”

So too is there cause for optimism in Houston which withstood Hurricane Harvey, a force of nature that reached its peak on Sept. 1.  “It was an historic and horrifying event,” said Rick Ferguson, executive director of the Houston Film Commission. “But the perception from media coverage was that the entire city was under water, which just wasn’t true.”

In fact, in relatively short order, Houston hosted a cable narrative TV series shoot. Ferguson wasn’t at liberty to publicly identify the show at press time but noted that the production went off without a hitch. “There’s no way I’d want to downplay the dramatic effects of Harvey for many. The fact is, though, that we’ve been able to bounce back.”

The timing of that bounce back has been fortuitous, continued Ferguson, in that Houston is entering busy season for commercials, particularly automotive advertising. The prospects for a healthy car spot season are again good, according to Ferguson. “We’ve sent out information to our repeat clientele, to production companies that historically have been here in the fall and winter, letting them know all is well. Crews have recovered, are moving about and are accessible.”

Helping to buoy spirits in Houston was the World Series as the Astros were crowned champs of the baseball world in November. Ferguson noted that beyond promoting good feelings, Houston’s sports world continues to have a positive impact on commercialmaking. “We have so many outstanding athletes, many of whom are dedicated to keeping production here in Houston. There are big-name sports figures like J.J. Watt [of the NFL’s Houston Texans] endorsing products and helping to keep our commercial business thriving.”

Also in a thriving mode is production in Florida, which felt the impact of Hurricane Irma in September. In response to a query from SHOOT, Karen Smith, press secretary for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, stated, “While many residents and businesses were impacted greatly by Hurricane Irma, the state’s recovery has been swift. Luckily, the film and entertainment industry was not significantly impacted, and we are happy to report that Florida is open for business.”