Joe Gruters’ film rebate bill gets a 2021 remake

It’s not a sequel, it’s a soft reboot.

Sen. Joe Gruters filed a bill Thursday that would set up a targeted rebate program aimed at attracting film and television productions to Florida.

SB 704 would set up the “Film, Television, and Digital Media Targeted Rebate Program” under the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The program would offer film, TV and digital media productions a rebate for the lesser of 20% or $2 million of production costs if they get pre-approved as a “certified project.”

To get certified, studios must rent equipment such as cameras, vehicles or lighting setups from Florida businesses; spend at least 70% of its budget or production days in Florida; employ a majority Floridian cast and crew, one of whom is majority veteran; and meet minimum budget requirements — $1.5 million for films or $500,000 per episode for TV or streaming episodes.

Projects could qualify for another 3% rebate if they film in underutilized counties or if they are deemed “family friendly” by the Commissioner of Film and Entertainment and a council.

The bill is new. The content of it isn’t.

Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, filed a nearly identical bill in 2020. It cleared one committee before it fizzled despite strong support from the business community and Film Florida, a statewide association that advocates for pro-film policy.

The 2021 effort has again drawn support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida — the state’s largest business associations — as well as government watchdog Florida TaxWatch, which has analyzed past iterations and found they would produce a net gain for the state by way of tax collections.

A year later, it stands by that determination.

“Florida TaxWatch research shows that a film incentive program could create jobs for Florida residents, promote Florida tourism, pump additional revenue into local businesses, and generate state and local revenues,” the group wrote in a statement. “Florida lawmakers need to recognize the value of this industry and leverage its ability to bring in serious cash flow into communities that desperately need it. Now is the time for Florida to build a new incentive program.”

Supporters cast the plan as a way to claw back some of the business Florida has lost to other states. Without some sort of program, be it rebates or incentives, they say Florida will continue losing business to Georgia and other states where robust programs make it less expensive to craft a faux Miami out of plywood, palm trees and movie magic than to shoot the genuine article.

Film Florida estimated the lack of a program has already cost the state upward of $1.3 billion. It notes that Florida is the only state in the Southeast and one of only 17 states in the nation without a state program to compete for film and television projects.

AIF echoed the competitiveness argument, saying it “is committed to legislative efforts to help Florida compete for high wage jobs in film, television and the digital media industry. Our great state has much to offer and a sound fiscally responsible program will help us attract the high wage jobs we have lost to Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and California in recent years.”

The biggest detractor is Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which has derided past efforts as government handouts. The group cites reports from Florida’s now-defunct film program that recouped between 18 and 43 cents on the dollar when incentives were flowing.

Those reports don’t account for tertiary benefits such as boosts to tourism, Florida’s No. 1 industry pre-pandemic. The new program also only offers rebates to completed projects that show receipts for the money they’ve spent — no money changes hands pre- or mid-production.

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.

One comment

  • Greg Feldman

    January 23, 2021 at 9:23 am

    While I applaud the effort and hope that it is fully supported and funded as a first step, the financial minimums are counter productive. Small, independent films and television work can be a source of indirect revenue for communities without the ability to support major productions. The $250,000 short film, the $100,000 TV episode all bring direct and indirect cash flow to some of Florida’s most beautiful but smaller jurisdictions. And the economic impact of that TV series, with it’s weekly reminder of scenic Florida, far outweighs a one shot exposure from a motion picture.

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