A new report from Florida TaxWatch says the state may lose its film industry if it doesn't bring back an incentive program for production.
The report looked at the impact of the state's film industry in 2017 and found it employed more than 26,000 Floridians with high-quality, high-paying jobs. It also indirectly supported other industries, including hospitality, security and tourism.
But Florida TaxWatch found those numbers could have been higher had the state not ended its tax credit program in 2016.
Critics of that program argued by awarding incentives on a first-come, first-serve basis, the state wasn’t using its money efficiently to get the best return on its investment.
Even many in favor of state film incentives agreed that program was flawed and the report by Florida TaxWatch acknowledges that problem.
Still, advocates for the film industry say it has suffered since the program ended.
“We've been able to track about $1 billion in lost revenue to the state since 2016 and these productions have gone elsewhere,” said Film Tampa Bay Executive Director Tyler Martinolich in a recent episode of WUSF’s Florida Matters.
With productions moving to other states that still offer incentives, Floridians who work in film have started to follow suit.
The Florida TaxWatch report found the state lost out on more than 87,000 cast and crew jobs since the incentives stopped.
“These are jobs that are making $70,000+ a year, that's a very meaningful salary,” Martinolich said. “What we've seen is that most of them [film crews] have been moonlighting elsewhere – Georgia, Louisiana – but as time goes on they stop moonlighting and start relocating.”
“That’s when we really see a deficit is when they move someplace else, so even if we had an incentive come back tomorrow, we have so few talent left and so few resources left that it will be several years before we actually gain enough traction to see those people come back and see the infrastructure rebuilt again.”
Hillsborough County offers its own local incentive program. The county started focusing on attracting commercials and realty TV series rather than feature films, and has actually seen growth since the state program ended.
“The problem with commercial productions, though, is that it doesn’t necessarily build a new studio facility; it doesn’t build a new grip and electric house,” Martinolich said. “What it does do is keep the current level of crew gainfully employed, so we’ve sort a hit a saturation point as far as our growth goes.”
Florida TaxWatch says local incentives are great for helping keep the film industry alive, but says a statewide program is still critical for its success.
The report offers suggestions about how to revamp the old program to ensure incentives are given to projects that create the most economic impact.
We take another listen to our show on the state's film industry this week on Florida Matters.