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New Florida Film Industry Leader Thinks Show Biz Can Give State’s Lagging Economy A Boost

Bird's eye view of "Graceland" cast and crew filming on location in South Florida
Jeff Daly
The set of “Graceland” for USA Network; the show filmed 3 seasons in South Florida from 2013-2015.

Film and TV productions shut down around the country as COVID-19 spread. Film Florida, a not-for-profit trade association, has a new president who thinks shows biz productions could be a major part of Florida’s economic recovery.

Florida is home to the coming-of-age series David Makes Man. It was filmed in Orlando and produced by Warner Horizon Scripted Television. It premiered on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, and HBO Max licensed the first season for streaming.

“When an average feature film or TV series films in a location, they spend roughly $20 million in the local community in just 3 or 4 months while hiring approximately 1,500 Floridians,” says Gail Morgan, new president of the Film Florida Board of Directors.

National Geographic’s The Right Stuff is another production kicking some money into state and local coffers. Filming recently took place in downtown Tampa and nearby Sanford, with most filming being done in Orlando and the Space Coast. The Right Stuff series about Mercury Seven astronauts will premiere on Disney Plus later this year.

“$20 million going directly into the pockets of local individuals and small businesses at the tune of $150,000 per day while generating tax revenues for both the local and state government, that can be an important part in getting Florida’s economy going,” says Morgan, who will continue in her role of Destin-Fort Walton Beach Film Commissioner.

She says Florida is losing too many productions to Georgia and other states that offer incentives, like tax rebates. “Florida is only one of 17 states in America that doesn’t have a program, and it’s the only state in the southeast without a program which puts us at a major competitive disadvantage.”

Florida’s film tax incentives program expired in 2016, and the last two legislative sessions saw bills that tried and failed to bring it back. “This legislation has an excellent return on investment (ROI),” Morgan says. “For every one dollar Florida invests, more than 5 dollars will be spent in the state.”

That's the ROI often touted by lawmakers and supporters of film incentives over the last decade. State economists found differently in this 2018 report.

For now, Film Florida is focused on keeping everyone on the set COVID-free. The association was one of the first in the country to release a list of recommendations for maintaining clean and healthy sets. It followed up with two virtual town halls and is also distributing personal protective equipment to production teams.

Update: This article has been revised to reflect additional and corrected information about David Makes Man.