Jobs, tourism at center of film incentive debate

- Florida is hardly "Hollywood East" anymore. Local actors and producers say Florida's film industry is dying.

"They have taken our jobs away, and we are very, very pissed off," said local actor Lance Tafelski.

"It's actually heartbreaking. It truly is," said casting director Kathy Laughlin.

It hasn't always been this way.  'Dolphin Tale,' 'Magic Mike,' 'Moonlight,' and other Florida productions became Hollywood hits. Filmmakers cashed in on almost $300 million in tax credits.

Then the money dried up when lawmakers halted the incentive program last year.  Filmmakers went elsewhere, and so did the jobs.

"People who want to do productions will go to where they can actually receive some help. That's not here," said Laughlin.

Part of Ben Affleck's 'Live By Night' are set in Ybor City, but not filmed in Tampa. Ybor City was built in Brunswick, Georgia, 30 miles north of the Florida state line because filmmakers get a tax break there.

Think the Florida lottery casts its commercial here? It doesn’t.  Recently, they’ve gone to New York and Georgia to cast, although the commercials themselves are shot in Florida.

"We don't understand it. We really don't," continued Laughlin. 

Supporters of the tax incentive says Florida tax credits lure filmmakers to the state, who then hire local extras and crew. In turn, it boosts tourisms and fills hotels rooms and restaurants.

"When a production comes into your town, every small business is utilized," said Film Florida president Kelly Paige.

"That's not going to Hollywood," said Paige. "That's going right here in our pockets."

'Dolphin Tale' created 11,000 jobs in Pinellas County in 2011. People flocked here to see Winter the dolphin after the movie was shot here.

A state report takes a more unfavorable view of tax credits, saying an investment creates a return of only 43 cents for every dollar spent. But, the study didn't look at the economic benefits of tourism that movies and commercials bring to Florida. That's the most important benefit, according to those who support the tax credit.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is an adamant opponent of any tax incentive.

"What we have to do with all these economic development programs where we're giving away taxpayer money is see, 'Are we getting a return on investment?' And, 'Should we even be in that space?'" 

Now Florida's film industry is digging in for a fight.

"I'm hoping he will keep an open mind, and really look at the data and not just say, 'Oh, it's incentives, I disagree with it," said Paige.

Otherwise, Netflix's 'Bloodline' may be the industry's last lifeline. Season three is expected to be shot in the Keys.

"Once 'Bloodline' is gone, we go into a film nuclear winter, so to speak? I mean, where's the hope?" said Tafelski.

Another local actor, Anja Akstin, says she regrets moving to Florida to pursue her dreams.

"I hate to admit this right now, but like I have this pang of regret for not having not just gone to L.A. in the first place."

Editor's note: This story initially stated that the Florida Lottery films its commercials in New York. This version has been corrected to note that the casting takes place out of state, but filming is in Florida.

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