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Can Florida Ever Regain Its Favorable Status in the Entertainment Industry?

September 4, 2019 - 8:00am
Dwayne Johnson in HBO's so-called "Florida" comedy, "Ballers"
Dwayne Johnson in HBO's so-called "Florida" comedy, "Ballers"

The HBO football-based comedy “Ballers” was a production tailor-made for Florida. The sunny locales played into the high-flying living of the players, members of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins franchises. The star of the show, Dwayne Johnson, is not a mere celebrity in the area, as he has a history as a former player on the UM Hurricanes roster. 

Yet, after two seasons the storyline, and Johnson, shifted entirely and abruptly to California

The reason was a result of a state revenue program established in 2010 for Hollywood productions that abruptly came to an end. When the tax incentives were no longer in place, it ceased to make sense for the show to remain filming in the Sunshine State. 

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, introduced a bill this past spring in the upper chamber to rectify the situation with grants through the Department of Economic Opportunity. In the House Rep. James Buchanan, R-Venice, presented similar legislation. Both bills failed. State lawmakers are reticent to give out tax incentives as they have in the past, even though they had proved in past years to provide windfalls among the Florida workforce, and boosted the economy in rival states more than happy to take the business off Florida's hands. Part of the problem was having a set -- or, static -- total of funds to distribute, and seeing the money used up at an earlier date than predicted. 

The expiration of the previous incentive affected more than just the HBO production. When the Legislature declined to reinstate the revenue offer for Hollywood in early 2016, it not only chased away existing productions, it also stalled the arrival of many others. 

This summer the hurricane-alligator thriller “Crawl” was released in theaters. Set in Central Florida and with a main character shown as a University of Florida Gator coed, it was a fully immersive Florida-set film -- yet none of it was filmed here.

Similarly, “Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar” is a female road-trip comedy starring Kristen Wiig, that is soon to begin filming. Even as the titular destination is in Florida, the production is not taking place here. 

By 2015, in Miami alone, Hollywood productions taking place in the city fell from spending levels of more than $360 million to $175 million. Florida chose to abandon entertainment incentives. Meanwhile, other states quickly stepped up to the plate to replace us. Louisiana has used its lure of Hollywood to aid in its economic recovery from Hurricane Katrina. And Georgia has been especially aggressive in its desire to become a hotspot for film and television productions. Not only is the list of films and television shows made in Georgia growing annually, it has also seen Atlanta becoming a growing hub for animation work.

California has long been wrestling with the problem of production flight. Decades back, Canada made a concerted effort to become a filming destination and it has been so successful in this regard, it has been dubbed “Hollywood North.” Now, as many states are employing the Canadian template -- rubbing their hands together because Florida has turned its back -- some legislators are looking to recover these lost opportunities. It has not been easy.

Another challenge is how the effects of these incentives are measured. Some studies in other states have shown tax incentives become a net loss for states. However the measurements used are commonly flawed. They compare the funds distributed against the revenue generated by a film production -- the local workforce used as well as the ancillary services, such as hotels booked, local restaurants used and so forth. 

These studies normally fail to measure the benefit of the industries taking root in a region after the fact. Once regular production work is established, affiliated businesses will rise up. Local production studios, as one example, can flourish, providing more work after the fact for diverse needs as television work, commercials and other local industry needs. The arrival of steady productions would have equipment and labor established and expanded in the area.

Georgia is experiencing this very result with its mushrooming work. Look at Pinewood Studios in England, possibly the biggest name in film production. Pinewood recently built a sprawling new facility outside of Atlanta, where most of the new Marvel superhero movies are made. Pinewood has no such presence in California. 

Even some local governments have undertaken the effort to lure entertainment work, despite the handicap of trying to negotiate without the statewide incentive. As many as six Florida counties now have their own grant program, in the hope of drawing entertainment work to boost the local economy. But lacking a statewide effort limits the "package" a county can offer a studio. Counties have to settle for a much smaller result than in incentive days.

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.


as proud member of local 477 fl iatse its been almost 4 years now that we got to work in other state to put food on the table...and cant stay home!!!!!!

Member of the film local, let me explain how this works to all of you. If the Florida government can gives tax incentives to companies that provide minimum wage jobs, god forbid they give incentives to Film companies that Pay UNION WAGE to workers plus benefits. Film companies also hire local businesses from food catering, security, transportation services. hotels, restaurants, food stores, clothing stores, hardware companies and more. These film companies put back into our communities more than they receive by the thousands into our local community. Rick Scott ended the incentives due to his hate of UNIONS & dislike of mostly Democratic South Florida without considering what the local communities are receiving back. Films are a Great addition to Employment. One of our State representatives figured out Florida was losing billions by not having filming come back to Florida.

I’ve been working Atlanta for six years because the lack of work in the film industry back home in Florida it’s sad that I have to be away from my family to provide for them I fly back home like at three or four weeks are used to work home mini TV shows and movies since 2004 I just hope one day We can get some type of program that excite production company to go back and fill in Florida

No corporate welfare!

Please explain how creating well-paying jobs and supporting local businesses is corporate welfare.

The expiration of the previous incentive affected more than just the HBO production. When the Legislature declined to reinstate the revenue offer for Hollywood in early 2016, it not only chased away existing productions, it also stalled the arrival of many others.......................Copy and paste......................

The problem with Georgia and many other states is they offer too much in incentives. A conservative one like Sen. Gruters’ makes financial sense — his plan brings back more than a dollar to government coffers before it pays out each dollar, how is that bad economics? it makes money for Florida and creates high-paying jobs with a product that boosts tourism! It

A business is supposed to be self sustaining, not needing incentives. Movies are not hospitals and people in the industry change the community. Georgia is growing, but losing so much too. It makes not sense to give one industry such incentives.

Brad your point is a great one. I have been involved with three BBC projects that are supposed to be about Florida with one being shot in Georgia and the other two in Spain! With streaming video causing a huge need for content Florida would be wise to get back in the game.

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