Film Florida Part 2: The Future Depends On A Return To What Works

Film_Florida-logoBy James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

In our article regarding Film Florida, we talked about how a perfect storm that struck the state of Florida caused filmmakers and producers to look elsewhere to film. Increased competition from other states, the crash of the housing market, and an ill-timed removal of tax incentives all conspired to cause the Sunshine State to plummet from its once lofty perch of the number 3 most popular state for production. The timing couldn’t be worse, and the state was not only seeing projects leave, but also the students who came to learn the craft of cinema. What can be done to turn the tide? Well, Film Florida hasn’t given up yet.

“We have been looking at a number of options over the last year. Film Florida’s top priority is to collaborate with legislators to find common ground and hopefully find a solution. Solutions aren’t found by just saying no, solutions are found by working together because we all have the same goal, to do what’s best for our state.” – John Lux, Executive Director of Film Florida.

Finding a solution for self-inflicted problems like gutting Florida’s film industry with ill-timed legislation isn’t easy, but the consensus seems to be that the state assembly needs to realize what is happening, rather than doubling down with rhetoric designed to obscure what is really happening in the industry.

“The tax incentive is being vilified as a burden on taxpayers,” said Ben Stinson, a Florida-based Dolly Grip and Set Grip. “The state representatives then perpetuate that myth ignoring the cold hard facts that [they] are an investment for the state and one investment that pays back tenfold.”

Aaron Wells, Florida-Based Filmmaker
Aaron Wells, Florida-Based Filmmaker

Sunshine State filmmaker Aaron Wells tells us he’s hearing what some filmmakers are considering doing with movies based in Florida. He said he had an “interesting conversation with two producers [recently]… One of their main concerns is where to shoot for ‘maximum film incentives’ for their South Florida-based story. Can Georgia or Louisiana double for South Florida? How about Canada? [It’s] becoming an all too common theme in production related chats [without Film Florida incentives].”

“If a program returns, so will the business. So much is happening in Georgia it won’t stop, but Florida has so much to offer the business will come back.” – Tony Armer, Film Commissioner, St. Petersburg and Clearwater

Michelle Hillery, the Deputy Commissioner of the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission, goes so far as to say that a modest return to the incentive program could have the proper effect. “Film Florida has been saying for years that [the Sunshine State] does not even need to be as competitive as these other states. Productions select their film locations based on a variety of factors, such as location needs, talent, storyline and of course budget, which ties into incentives/rebates offered. There is no doubt Florida can flourish once again as a top three production state.

“With good leadership at the state level, a conservative investment program that would allow our state to compete, sound oversight and our film friendly hospitality, we can put Florida back on the map as a perfect destination to do entertainment production.” – Michelle Hillery, Deputy Commissioner, Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission

To that end, the Florida Legislature is putting forth a new initiative that could stem the tide. With bi-partisan support, and help from the Florida Office of Film Entertainment, a series of legislative priorities were achieved by the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. These priorities included (via Film Florida):

  1. Preserve the Florida Office of Film & Entertainment (OFE), also known as the State Film Office: The OFE has been an integral part of diversifying Florida’s economy though economic development, tourism growth and job creation for 40+ years.
  2. Maintain the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption: This is a program thousands of Florida-based companies have benefited from since 2001, most of which are small businesses. Eliminating this program would have constituted a tax increase on businesses in our industry. Businesses will continue to benefit from this program in Florida.
  3. Reinstate funding for Los Angeles Liaison within the Florida Office of Film & Entertainment: Serving as a conduit between the OFE and producers and directors around the country, this position has only been partially funded by the state and has been increased in this budget to a full-time equivalent employee and continue to signal that Florida is open for business.
  4. Talent Agency De-Regulation: If passed, this would have allowed unqualified people to register as talent agencies. This aspect of a bill was removed, keeping talent agencies regulated and thus protecting the most vulnerable in our industry.

In addition, the state of Florida has earmarked $25 million for promoting state tourism.

Ben Stinson, Dolly Grip, on the set of Burn Notice in South Florida
Ben Stinson, Dolly Grip, on the set of Burn Notice in South Florida

Ben Stinson says Florida-based and out of state filmmakers and producers should go even more local.

“I see an opportunity for local cities and counties to reap the benefits of film investment on a smaller scale,” said Stinson. “And those benefits extend much further than simply a living wage for a couple hundred technicians on a single project. Every production uses huge amount of resources beyond simply individual salaries.”

He cites the uses of office buildings, warehouses, lumber, local law enforcement, emergency services,and more. “Small targeted investments can have a large benefit to the communities that make them. Contact your local film commission to ask about the hard numbers in terms of money and jobs that your state, city and county are missing out on.”

John Lux, Executive Director of Film Florida
John Lux, Executive Director of Film Florida

Film Florida Executive Director John Lux agrees, saying that while there is currently no state-wide program to entice projects to Florida, a growing number of cities and counties have developed local incentives.

“We believe that number will continue to grow since more local communities are seeing the positive impact the film, television and digital media industry can have on their region,” he added. “When our industry is working in Florida, jobs are created, millions of dollars flow into our economy, tourism is enhanced.”

Those moves are good first steps, to be sure, but unfortunately, the legislative action didn’t include a return to the Florida Film Tax Incentive for filming within the state. Without that financial boost, it’s unclear whether the modest investment will provide the proper incentive to lure productions away from states like Georgia, Louisiana, and others. Film Florida believes that there are members of the legislature that get it and will continue to work towards bringing film back to the state.

“Despite challenges, Florida is open for business and competing for high wage jobs in the film, television and digital media industry,” the annual Capital Update said. “We plan on continuing to spread that message.”

“Whether there is a program in place or not,” Lux said, “our industry will continue to fight to be successful. If Florida struggles to get TV series and feature films to come to the state, we will focus our efforts on commercials and independent films. Those may not spend as much money and may not hire as many people, but our industry is flexible and resilient, so many will do what is needed to do.”

About doddle 16509 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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