ISLAMORADA -- When Jon Landau, the "Avatar" and "Titanic" producer, moved to Islamorada in 2010, his goal, in part, was to spend his non-working life away from the hot cauldron of Hollywood.
But Landau, who first experienced the Florida Keys in 1986 while working on "Making Mr. Right," starring John Malkovich, also recognizes the potential of Islamorada as a film location. Like the rest of the Keys, it is surrounded by azure waters, which make for great scene shots whether a production is set in the Keys, the Caribbean or the South Pacific. Furthermore, Islamorada is more convenient to reach than the Lower Keys and a bit more off the map than Key Largo.
"Islamorada gives you that tropical, isolated feel without being far away from the mainland and the resources of Miami," Landau said.
The production team that last week began filming the thus-far-unnamed 13-episode Netflix series set in Islamorada appears to agree. From an economic standpoint, the winner is likely to be the whole of the northern Keys. And it's not just the obvious candidates, like hotels and restaurants, that stand to benefit.
"Films have a major impact on the local economy," Landau said. "They spend diversely. Films require lumber, stationary, catering."
The Netflix show, to star Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek and to be produced by Sony Pictures TV, is far from the first Hollywood production to come to Islamorada. Since 2002, four big studio motion pictures have shot here, according to Monroe County Film Commissioner Rita Troxel, most recently the 2011 DreamWorks Pictures production "I Am Number Four." But none of those projects spent nearly as much time in Islamorada as the Netflix/Sony team plans to. The production has applied for permits through mid-October. In contrast, the 2002 Universal Pictures production "Red Dragon" filmed in Islamorada for just two weeks, though advance time took several months, Troxel said.
Even with that much shorter time window, the "Red Dragon" production made a big splash on the local economy. The production's direct spending in the Keys was approximately $2 million, according to Troxel. She said she typically multiplies a production's direct expenditures by three in considering its cumulative impact. The off-the-job expenditures of the film crew and the economic trickle down are key factors in that analysis.
One of the local beneficiaries of "Red Dragon" was Craig Lindback, whose Lindback Bobcat Company did the landscaping and maintenance at an Upper Matecumbe Key home used in the shoot.
"It brings in good money," said Lindback, who has also worked several times as a local facilitator for production companies and who has taken on the same role with the Netflix series. "They always pay pretty well."
Unlike the other recent productions that filmed here, the Netflix show's story will be set in Islamorada, which should bring an extra economic boost. How much of a boost, of course, will depend upon the popularity of the series.
But the number has the potential to be substantial. A Greater Miami Convention and Business Bureau study, for example, found that during 2011-12 the USA Network program "Burn Notice," which is distributed in 200 countries, generated $26.5 million worth of publicity to the Magic City.
More immediately, Islamorada Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judy Hull said local businesses are already feeling the benefits of having a film crew in town. Some 75 to 125 workers will be on-site through the course of the more than six months of production.
"We are getting room nights, we are getting restaurant reservations, and they're shopping," she said.
Lindback said that he'll be piloting boats during water-bound shoots for the Netflix series. For previous film projects he has helped producers secure everything from homes and warehouse space to antiques. They've also purchased plants, hired caterers and even rented a big rusted drum to be used as a burning barrel.
For "I Am Number Four," the producers rented charter boats that were used to create large wakes for a Jet Skiing action sequence.
"A yard worker all the way to the person that owns the house is making money down here," Lindback said of the film productions.