Only Along the Gulfshore

From the Editor: Documenting Where We Live

Collier County Film Commission head Maggie McCarty on selling our area to Hollywood

BY May 4, 2015
Collier County Film Commission head Maggie McCarty on selling our area to Hollywood


Need a luxe mansion? We’ve got a $10 million beauty on Gulf Shore Boulevard. Want a resting spot in the wild? How about a fishing camp in our Everglades?

Speaking of Where We Live, the theme of this issue … Maggie McCarty’s job is to seduce those plotting to make movies, TV series and the like into believing that Southwest Florida is their dream come true. And she’s doing just fine as the film commissioner of the Collier County Film Commission. Especially fine, since she’s the Commission’s only employee. Movies like The Big Year (with Jack Black and Steve Martin) and TV series Burn Notice and The Glades have been shot here, and she’s especially excited about Highbridge rolling out next year; it’s a dark comedy film shot mainly in Ave Maria, starring Paul Sorvino.

“What do we have to offer?” Maggie says. “On the one hand, spectacular resorts, high fashion, mansions. But we’ve got those amazing natural settings—Corkscrew, Old Cypress, the Fakahatchee, the Everglades. And the light here is incredible. Think of the sunrise over the Everglades, the sunsets on the Gulf, the color of our sky and water and the cloud formations.” The visual people treasure these, Maggie says.

Maggie brings credentials to her job: an MA degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Art, an early production job with the movie Flashdance, and tours of duty at the Paramount and Disney studios. She arrived in Naples to be with her mom after her dad died 11 years ago and it was goodbye, Hollywood career and hello, Southwest Florida opportunity. Around the time Jack Wert was forming the Collier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, she proposed her film commissioner job as part of a tourism push.

And thus began her doing it all. That includes scouting and shooting lots of her finds for a location site library (she’s currently hot on the Hendry Correctional Institute, now deactivated and in private hands. Its “creepy cells and drippy water,” she says, have made it a candidate for a projected prison movie). She takes care of permitting and hotel rooms and other services for film crews and executives landing down here. “Some of those people need help,” Maggie says. “They’ll try traipsing through the Everglades in flip-flops and high heels and wearing no insect repellent. I’ve often got to get them into the right shoes, fishing shirts, netting for their faces and more. One producer stepped on a rattlesnake and—true to form when he realized the fangs didn’t find any part of his body—said, “Well. Let’s get a picture of this.”

There are shoots done here for catalogues and for publications like Women’s Wear Daily, which likes Southwest Florida backgrounds for models in J. Crew and Lilly Pulitzer clothing. And Maggie says she’ll never forget the fallout from an Estee Lauder commercial filmed on the beach, with a model diving into the Gulf. One local observer, watching from afar, reported to authorities there was a nude cavorting on our sands. Maggie had to provide photo evidence that the “nude” was actually wearing a beige swimsuit.

Another time, some locals called in about UFOs circling over us. That was when the Discovery Channel was shooting its series When Dinosaurs Roamed America at the Pepper Ranch Preserve. The “UFOs” were actually weather balloons with lights aloft in the dark, designed to illuminate the night sky.

There are these laughs (at least after the fact) and the occasional disappointments. Maybe her biggest? Some of the very talented writers who had done Cheers and Frasier had completed what Maggie says was a very funny sitcom script called Hurricane Chad, in which a neophyte arrives in Naples and gets elected to public office. “It was so witty,” Maggie recalls, “but then there was a writers’ strike and somehow the deal fell apart.”

Beyond her location work, Maggie’s ever on the marketing beat, attending trade shows and conferences to stay current on the art and projects in the works. One problem luring shoots here, she says, is getting better tax incentives for productions in Florida, which lags behind places like Georgia and Louisiana in offering good deals.

But she presses on in her resourceful ways. The mansions and the wilds are easy to make available. But how about the time the producers of a yogurt commercial ordered up a chicken that performs tricks? A call to the University of Florida’s Agriculture Center in Immokalee turned up a kid at 4-H who had one. What’s next after turning a fowl play into successful fare for our side? Stay tuned as our lone ranger film commissioner continues her crusade to bring the action our way.



In the Circle of Giving special supplement to the February issue, the photograph of nursing students was taken at Florida Gulf Coast University, not Florida SouthWestern State College. The photo was also courtesy of FGCU.


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