Senate panel greenlights film funding bill

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“This bill will bring high-paying jobs to the state"

A bill that would provide grants to film and television shows shot in Florida was “certified fresh” by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism Tuesday.

SB 526, sponsored by Committee Chair Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, differs from film bills that have been on offer in past Legislative Sessions.

Under the bill, studios would be eligible for a check from the state covering the lesser of 20 percent of production costs or $2 million.

Their end of the deal: spend 70 percent of the production budget in the state and staff the set with Florida residents and at least one veteran — extras don’t count. Those requirements were upped from 60 percent thanks to a late-filed amendment by Gruters.

Productions that go the extra mile and hit the 75 percent mark in spending and staffing could get a 3 percent bonus on top.

“This bill will bring high-paying jobs to Florida residents, will enhance tourism and encourage more family-friendly productions in the state and the kind of productions we’re proud of. This is the most conservative film bill that’s been presented across the country,” Gruters said, noting that the grant money wouldn’t be doled out until production wraps and the receipts are handed over.

“It would be nice to see the Florida symbol [in the credits] rather than some other state.”

Gruters’ proposal is simpler than the pitch given by former Republican Sen. Nancy Detert a few years ago or the one given by Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in 2018.

Instead of getting into the weeds with reimbursements for computer software, per diems for film advisory board members, or requirements a production co be able to prove they’ve sold $50 million in feature-length films to distributors, Gruters’ plan sets a flat rate.

Spend the cash in Florida, get some of it back via grants.

The Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida TaxWatch and Film Florida all lauded the bill, with the only opposition coming from Americans for Proseperity Florida, a Koch-funded advocacy group with a libertarian bent.

AFP-FL has consistently blasted film bills as “corporate welfare” in the same vein as stadium bills, citing stats showing a poor return on investment for the state.

Those numbers have been questioned by the pro-film crowd, who point to intangibles such as skyrocketing ticket sales at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium following the release of “Dolphin Tale.”

Phillip Suderman, policy director for AFP-FL, told the Senate committee the economic goals of Gruters’ proposal are unlikely to pay off.

“Florida has tried to use film incentives before to poor results,” Suderman said.

“Instead of corporate welfare handouts involving taxpayer dollars that will almost certainly provide poor returns,” Suderman continued, “government should offer pro-market solutions for economic growth, such as removing unnecessary regulations and fees.”

The group reiterated the point in a statement released after the committee hearing.

“Hollywood handouts have failed taxpayers before and only amount to corporate welfare,” AFP-FL director Skylar Zander said. “Instead of handouts to companies, we’d like to work with Senator Gruters and the Film Industry toward pro-market solutions for economic growth that could remove unnecessary regulations and fees that would otherwise make it easier for industry workers and entrepreneurs to succeed.”

SB 526 cleared the panel with a unanimous vote. It now moves to the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


8 comments

  • COMMERCIAL BRIBERY. If a private contractor did something like this to get a contract, it would be criminally prosecuted as “commercial bribery”. But since it is being done by government, it is viewed as something less offensive and, indeed, as something wonderful. Besides, everyone else is doing it …

    The platform of the Libertarian Party of Florida quite explicitly says (Part VI, Section 4 ): ” … Tax favoritism should be illegal. Abatements, subsidies, credits or other incentives to business … deny equal protection under the law.”

    A truly free market will recognize that Florida is truly beautiful and will accord us exactly as much recognition as we deserve.

    • Robert Fox

      February 19, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      This is nonsense. Mr. Gillis does not seem to understand the dynamics of the industry.
      The film industry follows incentives. Period. To say that the film industry will return because of Florida’s beauty and such, shows how little Mr. Gillis understands.
      The Florida Film industry was gutted thanks to the lack of leadership by then Gov. Rick Scott. A huge blunder. The film industry runs deep in Florida…film makers prefer to film in Florida…but money talks.
      The industry in Fla supports FLA in many ways…Film classes and majors in schools, part-time jobs for the little people as extras, and full-time jobs for teachers, film crews (which is a vast number of people), acting classes, food suppliers, location services and money for use of facilities, transportation, police, etc. The industry is comparable to a steel mill in how much it supports the town. And make no mistake, It supports major FLA markets such as Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Jax, etc. Think of all the FREE publicity for the state. Think Miami Vice, Free Willy, Bad Boys, Ballers, The Glades, etc.
      Just look at how the smart legislators changed the landscape of Atlanta and Georgia. Georgia is killing it in many, many ways. Property value, tourism, people movement because of outsiders coming and going, renting cars, coming thru Hartsfield, lodging…it is painfully obvious. Not to mention the talent we continue to lose because so many talented people cannot stay because of lack of income…any income. What a shame to almost lose a Green, vertical industry with only positive side effects. Not to mention state pride!
      This is a quick reply, a little haphazard, but you get the drift.
      Fixing this fiasco is long overdue.
      Thank you to the legislature for figuring this out.
      Robert Fox

      • Ray Watters

        February 19, 2019 at 6:19 pm

        Could not have said it any better than Robert Fox!

      • Genoveva Capobianco

        February 20, 2019 at 1:10 am

        Thank you, quick reply but a very good one. Green, well paid industry that supports and empowers so many other industries, including tourism, hospitality and construction. Also you can’t throw libertarian values at a rigged game. Everyone else has incentives, France, South Africa, Hungary, Bulgaria, Canada, you name it. Are you seriously telling us, produces cannot find palms and good weather, anywhere else, if they can save millions? You know what is sad, I am sure Larry Gills and the AFP know fully well their statements are full on hypocracy, but that does not stop them from trying to bamboozle the general public, to futher their agenda. But guess what, people are not that stupid.

      • Well said and agreed!! I have seen first hand much money goes back into my community just by production assisting for WWE a few years back and producing my own show now. When I production assisted for WWE I spent about 500 a day or more on just food and lunch. I spent more money on office supplies and equipment daily. We gased up vehicles daily, hotels were paid for months in advance for employees that weren’t native to the state. Rental cars were needed, we had about 6 of them!!! The area surrounding us and wherever we traveled for shows benefited greatly from our production.

        For my series The Enhanced I spend countless dollars on food for my team, props, ink for printing, paper for printing, money on gas from traveling to locations, promoting and going to events to get our name out there. All of this and I can’t afford to pay my team as we are independently trying to get this off the ground. I hope this bill helps small Productions like us uprise, we really need the help and could be doing so much better with some benefits from our state.

      • Take a look at the Big Picture, Bro. This is a “race to the bottom”, funded by taxpayer dollars. This infection has already spread to the point that governments are now actively bidding against each other with preposterous sums of money.

        In the instant case (SB 526), we are told that we should be delighted that this “caps out” at only two million bucks. Frankly, I am underwhelmed by the logic on display here.

        Let the market decide. Sticking your thumb on the scales sticks it to consumers and taxpayers. If you really wanna benefit the “workers” and “small businesses” here, be honest about it and just give them our money in hand, in cash.

        Then, be prepared for some serious blowback from the taxpayers.

  • DT

    February 19, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    If all could be equal and incentives did not exist
    Florida would get it’s fair share of film
    But since it is a race for the free money
    If Florida doesn’t want to be left out
    We must join the fray

  • Me

    February 20, 2019 at 11:40 am

    I had to move to Georgia because of boneheads like Americans for Prosperity got involved with Florida legislators and let the program sunset. You would be stupid to not want tax incentives in Florida. An entry level job in the film industry averages $120,000(not a PA of course) salary a year! That is nothing to snub your nose at. I’d love to move back to Florida and make the same amount of money I make in the industry in Georgia but Georgia is far busier than Florida would be mainly because they let the incentives sunset a few years back and I don’t see anyone building sound stages in Florida because of it unfortunately.

Comments are closed.


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