Could a revamped film rebate program finally come out of development? The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee gave the green light to legislation creating a new program to attract more crews to Florida.
“We could have an all you can eat buffet of film and television if we offer just a little bit of help,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, who has championed a film program for years.
The Sarasota Republican said his film rebate program as proposed comes with greater accountability than one allowed to sunset in 2016. The program offers as much as $2 million in tax rebates, but only once a project is completed and meets certain criteria.
Requirements include hiring 70% of cast and crew from the state of Florida.
Film leaders say getting a state-run film program back on its feet is essential to keeping cameras rolling in the Sunshine State. John Lux, executive director of Film Florida, said the state has lost out on 100 major movie or television productions since a previous incentive program ran out of dollars six years ago and was never replenished. That cost the state $1.5 billion in lost business, Lux said.
Meanwhile, Georgia in recent years has become a film capital, home to major Marvel movies and the popular television series “The Walking Dead.”
Florida boasts solid infrastructure for films, including soundstages. Additionally, schools like Florida State University, Ringling College of Art & Design and Full Sail University all have robust film programs producing Oscar-winning graduates.
Those grads more often than not end up leaving the state once they earn degrees and work for a variety of platforms, whether that’s making movies, creating web content or delivering animation for advertising and marketing.
“There has never been more content available, which means there has never been more money to make content available,” Lux said. “We want to compete for those projects.”
Democratic Broward County Commissioner Steven Geller, who as Mayor launched a local rebate program in South Florida, said many local governments will help with the shared mission of attracting film crews. The $2 million in rebates from the state could be added to $500,000 in rebates in Broward, for example, if productions draw 70% of their hires from Broward or Miami-Dade counties.
Not everyone feels so enthusiastic. Phillip Suderman, policy director for Americans for Prosperity-Florida, spoke against the bill as financially irresponsible.
“Our stance is this is a hand-out from state taxpayer dollars to give to targeted businesses,” he said. “This is corporate welfare.”
Moreover, he said it makes no sense for the government. The prior program saw at best returns of 43 cents in state revenue for every dollar spent.
But senators across party lines say it’s important to keep the business in Florida regardless, if an accountable program exists to do so.
Sen. Tommy Wright, a Port Orange Republican, complained even stories set in Florida continuously get filmed elsewhere.
“Films are produced around the country that make you believe they’re coming from Florida when they are not,” he said.