Sarasota OKs $1.75M Ringling College film grant

Sarasota County commissioners continue to bet heavy in hopes of creating a film and television industry.

They have approved a grant of $1.75 million to Ringling College of Art and Design to develop a post-production facility on the campus. The announcement was released Wednesday.

The news comes on the heels of the same elected officials helping to pave the way for Sanborn Studios in September, with Sarasota County committing $717,000 that includes a local match for state funds that will total $468,000.

The $1.75 million grant is believed to be the largest single amount of taxpayer money the private college has ever received.

“By far the biggest, especially from the government, even from the state,” Ringling President Larry Thompson said by phone late Wednesday.

“The (grant) has been in the works for some time,” he said.

Christine Lange, special assistant to the president for media and community relations at Ringling, called it a “unique economic development endeavor.”

She added, “The next step in the grant process will be for the college and the county to jointly design a legally binding agreement -- agreed to by both parties -- which outlines the terms of the grant, the use of the funds and defines the future business relationship, if any, between the county and Ringling College. We anticipate this will take place in January 2011.”

Ringling has been world-renowned since the mid-1990s for its computer-animation program.

Three years ago, it ventured into digital filmmaking. Bradley Battersby heads the program. Thompson estimated that it has 40 to 45 students.

“By going digital, we’re creating a film school without film,” Thompson said. “It’s the wave of the future.”

In January of this year, critically acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog (“The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” “Grizzly Man”) attended the inauguration of the college’s new digital filmmaking studio lab.

The stated intent of the facility is bringing Hollywood filmmakers to Ringling to work with students on actual projects. It’s a collaboration between Future Films LLC and the college. Future Films founders are Sam Logan in Sarasota and David Shapiro in New York.

“They’ve been working with us as consultants to people in the industry,” Thompson said. “Helping us with advising on what we’re going to need, bringing in professionals and determining what they would want.”

Thompson declined to state what Future Films is being paid for its services.

In addition to Herzog, Ringling has brought in producer Paul Schiff (“Rushmore,” “Solitary Man”) during the past year to work with students.

Thompson recalled making his pitch for the $1.75 million grant to Sarasota County Commission Chair Joe Barbetta about six months ago.

“I started thinking about what we could do to make digital filmmaking and post-production a real possibility and met with Joe Barbetta, and told him about bringing producers and directors to Ringling College to work with the students,” Thompson said. “(Barbetta) asked if this was the real deal and I told him how if we had this new facility people like Werner Herzog and Paul Schiff would absolutely be interested in doing post-production here because they love these students. It’s a great atmosphere and that’s when we started talking to the county about developing film as a platform for economic development. We couldn’t do this on our own.”

Barbetta could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. But a statement the commissioner made in September regarding the creation of Sanborn Studios and its performance-based incentive grant echoes Thompson’s view on Sarasota becoming a filmmaking destination.

“This is a breakthrough achievement in our effort to diversify our economic base,” Barbetta said then. “Businesses like Sanborn Studios can become the core of a film and television production cluster that generates the skilled, well-paying jobs everybody wants. The county’s commitment to business recruiting is delivering a new economic sector that positions Sarasota County to attract the talent needed by creative companies.”

Thompson foresees Ringling eventually requiring sound stages and offering the same services as Sanborn Studios in Lakewood Ranch. But Thompson doesn’t view the two operations as being future competitors.

“I’m pleased (Sanborn) built the studio,” Thompson said. “That way we can help this region to become real filmmaking center.”

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057 and follow him on twitter @accentbradenton. Visit his blog, Buzz Worthy, at