Tax incentives proposed to bring filmmakers back to Florida

There are renewed efforts in Tallahassee to bring major film productions back to Florida through a proposed tax credit incentive program.

State Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) introduced a bill that would create an incentive program for film companies, and it already cleared the Commerce and Tourism committee this week. 

Currently, there are only local-level incentive programs through organizations that include Film Tampa Bay and the St. Pete-Clearwater Film Commission.

"So when the state of Florida had an incentive program previously, that's when we got the original Dolphin Tale that shot here and we all know the impact of that film has had on the area. And then, of course, the sequel to that film and Magic Mike shot in in the Tampa Bay Area back then, as well as Spring Breakers," said Tony Armer, the St. Pete-Clearwater film commissioner.

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Armer said Pinellas County has built up a reputation for independent filmmaking and the local incentive program has brought millions of dollars into the local economy. But he said not having a statewide incentive program can be challenging.

"The biggest thing, the number one question any production asks when they call my office, if they're coming from Los Angeles or anywhere else is, ‘What's your incentive?’ So that's the number one hurdle.  If there's a state incentive, then that kind of eliminates that hurdle and that brings them more of a reason to come here," said Armer.

The proposed film incentive program (SB946) from Grugers could scale up productions coming to Florida. The bill would create the "Targeted High Wage Production Program," giving credits to filmmakers that meet certain requirements. Film Florida’s executive director explains what it includes.

"The minimum for the cast and crew would be 60 percent have to be Florida residents and that doesn't include extras. So it's really focused on a project hiring the Floridians," said John Lux, the executive director for Film Florida. "More than 70% of the filming budget would need to be spent here in the state of Florida. So it requires a project really set up roots for a couple of months."

Since the state’s previous film rebate program ended, productions moved to states like Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina, said Lux. The goal is to land $5 million to $25 million projects moving forward, so the state can start cashing in on shows and movies set in the Sunshine State, he said.

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"A good example of a series that we did not get was the recent series on TNT called Claws. It was actually set in Sarasota County. And over the last four seasons, Florida has gotten very, very minimal work out of that series," said Lux. "So in that case, we've lost upwards of $40 million over those four seasons that would have and probably should have been spent here in the state of Florida."

Lux said Florida has also lost out on other film and TV series that are set in Florida or about Florida but not produced in the state. Film leaders said the proposed program could not only pump money back into local communities, it could help keep jobs local too. Lux said the average annual salary for a film industry professional in Florida is $89,000.

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"We do have amazing, wonderful crew here, but in a lot of scenarios, our crew actually has homes in Florida, but then they go somewhere else to work. They go to Atlanta to work or they go to Louisiana to work," said Armer, adding that film school graduates in Florida also end up leaving the state to find work in the industry.

While local film incentives help, Film Florida tells us that doesn’t benefit Florida as a whole to attract major productions to try and compete with other southeastern states that have film incentive programs. Film commissioners said the program would help state and local tourism and local economies if the proposed programs passes.