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Lawmakers Want To Revamp Film Incentives, Get Florida Back On The Silver Screen

Ernest Duffoo/ flickr

State lawmakers want to put Florida back on the silver screen by rebooting the state’s film incentives program. Some lawmakers are tired of watching films about Florida being shot in other states.

Coming soon to a theatre near you is Ben Affleck’s newest project Live By Night. Set in Prohibition era Ybor City, the film features South Florida’s vibrant history of rum-running and organized crime. But the film wasn’t shot in Ybor City. In fact it wasn’t shot in Florida at all. With the state’s film incentives drying up, it was cheaper for Affleck’s production to build their own Ybor City in Brunswick, Georgia, less than 300 miles away. Roberto Torres owns a café in Ybor City, and he says this was a missed opportunity for his business.

“This is like a comet, right? That comes every thousand years. This is one of those. But the other thing is that a comet comes back. This one is not going to come back,” he said.

Senator Nancy Detert of Venice is tired of seeing films about Florida slip away to states with better incentives. In 2010, the Florida Legislature put forward some $260 million in incentives. The money was supposed to last six years, but ran out halfway through. Now Detert is going back to the drawing board.

“Georgia is beating the pants off of us. They got the Ybor City story which they should’ve never gotten, they got the Highway Men which is a Florida story. But their poison pill in their process is they have no cap on their incentives, and that’s not a sustainable program long run. Short run, they can beat us, but in the long run they cannot,” she said.

But Florida isn’t the only state vying for Hollywood’s affection. Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina all offer incentives to lure productions away from New York and Los Angeles. Dale Gordon represents Film Tampa Bay, and she says incentives play a huge role, and Florida isn’t keeping up.         

“Just yesterday I spoke with CBS and they have a television pilot that’s based on two four star generals in Tampa, Florida, at our military base. And they are going to most likely do it in LA or Louisiana. And again it’s the number one determining factor of where a high impact production will go. So we are missing out on these opportunities daily,” she said.

Despite the strong competition in Atlanta and New Orleans, Senator Detert wants to get Florida’s film industry back on track.  Detert says her plan would correct for past mistakes, and sustain the program long-term.

“We’re going to have an empowered film commissioner that can field projects and say this is a good one, this is not a good one. What killed our process here was first come first served. You’re not getting the best project, you’re getting the first one through the door,” she said.

Incentives are great, industry insiders say, but they’re not everything. Florida boasts two of the top film schools in the nation: the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State and Ringling’s College of Art and Design. Yet every year, qualified, talented film school grads flee to the Hollywood hills. Senator Jeremy Ring supports Detert’s plan, but he says policy should encourage a creative workforce, not just cut taxes. 

“But I truly believe that when we do these economic development packages, we need to be thinking a whole new paradigm, in a way. You know, we need to be thinking more about an innovation economy,” he said.

Detert has attached her proposal to the Senate Economic Development bill. With the support of influential Senator Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Detert may see her plan through. The bill will get its second hearing Thursday.