For more than 100 years, Jacksonville has played an important role in America's film history. Beginning in the first decade of the 20th century and continuing in the first decade of the 21st, Jacksonville's people, its buildings and its varied and remarkable landscape have been seen on screens large and small across the country.
The early 20th century marked a period of rapid growth for the American motion picture industry. At the time, New York City provided the primary headquarters for this industry. However, with cold, harsh winters, and Hollywood not yet in the picture, the New York City film industry was in great need of a winter filming location. Enter Jacksonville, Florida: the gateway to the sunshine state. Not only did the warm climate and exotic locations in Jacksonville catch the eyes of film makers, an excellent rail system also provided easy access and transportation of equipment to the city. These services quickly made Jacksonville 'The Winter Film Capital of the World.'
The first permanent filming studio, Kalem Studios, opened in Jacksonville 1908, quickly followed by other major film companies of the time, including Selig, Edison, Lubin, Vim, King Bee, Encore, and Eagle. Among the most notable accomplishments of Jacksonville's 20-year run as a major film production center are the productions of the first Technicolor film and the first feature-length color film produced in the United States, The Gulf Between, filmed in 1917. Oliver Hardy, of the comic duo Laurel and Hardy, made his film debut in, Outwitting Daddy, a film shot in Jacksonville in 1913. In 1915 Joseph Engel started Metro Pictures here in Jacksonville. His company later merged with another production company and became forever known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM. It is no wonder Jacksonville was known as the 'Winter Film Capital of the World.'
This 'Winter Film Capital of the World' also made significant progress in the African-American film industry. In 1916, producer Richard Norman came to Jacksonville and opened a movie studio. Norman, a white man, began his career in the 1910s making movies for white audiences. Soon afterwards, he began making movies for African-American audiences, opened his Jacksonville studio and joined the ranks of others, including Oscar Micheaux and the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, in being a pioneer in producing movies not only geared towards African-Americans, but that showed them in a positive light and employed them in the production side of the film industry. Norman Studios continued to make African-American films, also known as 'race movies,' throughout the 1920s. But as Jacksonville's film production dwindled as filmmakers moved West, so did Norman's, and his company did not make the transition to talkies and instead distributed films for other companies from the 1930s on.
Many years passed before Jacksonville, and Florida in general, returned to the filmmaking limelight, with most major film and TV productions being filmed in California or New York. Still, Jacksonville continued to play a part in the industry, including the classic horror movie Creature from the Black Lagoon.
But in 1979 things changed. At that time Florida Governor Bob Graham put high priority on the development of film and TV production in Florida. That year, Florida became the third largest film and video production center in the United States, behind California and New York and has stayed in that position ever since. By 1984, film and TV production was a $200 million Florida industry.
Beginning in the 1990s, Jacksonville once again became a hot spot for high-profile productions of movies, TV shows, and commercials. G. I. Jane starring Demi Moore, (and directed by Ridley Scott,) The Devil's Advocate starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, and Tigerland starring Colin Farrell were shot in Jacksonville in the 1990s. Since the 1990s, dozens of commercials have been filmed in Jacksonville for AT&T, Burger King, Ford, K-Mart, Mastercard, McDonald's, Nike, Nissan and Wal-Mart. And TV shows such as Safe Harbor, (produced by Aaron Spelling,) First Time Felon for HBO, and Pointman for the WB have all been shot in the Jacksonville area.
Currently, statewide, the film, television and digital media industry employs over 100,000 Floridians in part-time or full-time jobs with an average annual wage over $74,000. The movies and television shows that filmed in Florida also helped bring 22.7% of domestic tourists to the state. Jacksonville has hosted several major productions recently, including Recount, The Year of Getting to Know Us and Lonely Hearts.
Jacksonville has attracted Hollywood's top stars, including Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Jimmy Fallon, Sharon Stone, Collin Farrell, Salma Hayek, James Gandolfini, Marcia Cross, Tom Arnold, Denis Leary, Keri Russell, Jared Leto, Teri Garr, Ed Begley, Jr., Laura Dern, Scott Caan, Connie Nielson, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Lee Crosby, Omar Epps, Eric Roberts and David Caruso. With stars like these coming to town, Jacksonville has secured its place as one of the hot spots for filmmaking once again.