Florida’s film program could be ready for a reboot
Image via Bad Boys for Life.

Bad Boys For Life
Florida is the only Southern State without any incentives for productions to shoot here.

When “Bad Boys debuted in 1995, the lure of Miami offered as much box office draw as yet-untested movie stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The Biltmore, the Miami River and the Opa-Locka airport provided the setting for critical plot points in the drama about cops fighting a narco trade as synonymous with mid-’90s South Florida as were palm trees and beach bods.

So it left Florida film commissioners more than a little distressed when the crew filming “Bad Boys For Life spent all of one week in Miami, grabbing enough footage to fake it before filming the rest of the movie primarily in Atlanta.

“Bad Boys is an iconic Florida franchise and we were barely able to touch it,” said John Lux, Executive Director of Film Florida.

But while the move frustrated Florida’s film advocates, it didn’t surprise them. Atlanta’s exploding film industry has swiped productions for years. When it’s not the Peach State, it’s often another Southern state standing in for Florida. Not a second of Kirsten Dunst’s series “On Becoming God in Central Florida was shot in Florida, with producers favoring Louisiana instead. The TNT series “Claws was set in Palmetto, but film crews for the most part operated out of New Orleans.

Why? Money, of course. Florida today remains the only state in the South with no type of film incentives program, and as competition in the world of video content grows all the more fierce, the savings that come from shooting in other states often outweigh the benefits of working in Florida even when plots call for action in the Sunshine State.

But each year, Florida lawmakers start the Legislative Session hopeful to change that and put Florida back in the film game. This year, Sen. Joe Gruters filed a film rebate bill in the Senate (SB 704) while Rep. Dana Trabulsy carries a House version (HB 757).

To Gruters, this seems as good a year as any to bring a program back.

“So many places across the country are shut down, there’s no better time than now to attack and bring these jobs back,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Florida offered incentives to film productions. Between 2010 and 2016, the Legislature budgeted nearly $300 million to lure filmmakers, but the first-come, first-serve nature of that pot meant money dried up by 2014. That was good for “Magic Mike,” but didn’t result in many returns afterward.

The program as envisioned in Gruters’ legislation would operate very differently, however. Most notably, by focusing on rebates instead of incentives, filmmakers would have to verify they spent money and contributed to the Florida economy before they ever see a cent. Reimbursements mean both that the state can control how much gets shoveled out and provide a little accountability.

And film, unlike almost any other type of big corporate spending, directly infuses money into small businesses wherever productions go. Beyond obvious costs like equipment and soundstage rentals or the hiring of local talent, productions hire local caterers for craft services, stay in hotels that boost local tourism economies, and pay for services like dry cleaning and auto repair. That some of these industries have been the hardest hit in the COVID-19 economy makes the allure of productions in Florida all the better.

Jeanne Corcoran, a Film Florida member who founded the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office and ran it for 13 years, said she understands the reluctance of some lawmakers to offer any type of business incentives. But the bottom line is, Florida can’t expect to be part of the film industry without being in the game.

“What is most important, is discerning the truth of the political appetite in Florida to actually want to drive a diverse economy with expanding revenue streams (that are not harmful to our environment or quality of life), across broad sectors beyond only our primary legacy industries of tourism, real estate, agriculture and construction,” she said.

“Then, if we are truly committed to that economic diversification, we must commit also to being aggressively competitive and that, unfortunately, nationwide and even globally, requires going toe to toe with what our competition offers our potential clients to draw them away from Florida.”

She also notes that while China and Mexico have been able to dramatically undercut the price of American-made goods, film remains an export from the Unites States unrivaled nearly anywhere in the world.

“Do we really want Florida to miss out on the ‘manufacture’ of our share of that powerhouse export?” she said.

For Lux, it’s also frustrating to know that when stories about Florida get streamed around the globe, those stories too often have a backdrop that doesn’t actually look like Florida, and creative talent behind productions often hold no connection to the state.

“We want to tell our own story,” he said.

And Gruters notes that the cost of rebates comes once for Florida, but the publicity Florida can get lasts for years. How many fell in love with Miami watching “Bad Boys” or “Miami Vice”? Did they see the tony community in “The Truman Show” and seek out that life for their own? The “Greatest Show On Earth” won the Best Picture Oscar in 1952 and still shows a version of Sarasota to cinephiles decades later.

“The value of the film lasts long after the monetary value goes away,” Gruters said.

Economic impact reports may not be able to trace the visitation numbers driven by a film shooting in Florida, but there are people who will see the Sunshine State on celluloid before ever watching a sunset here in person. Some will stay forever and bring their wealth with them.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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