The future of Florida's film and television industry is uncertain after lawmakers failed to approve funding for a tax credit program that is broke.
That has studios looking at moving production to other states with aggressive incentive programs.
Graham Winick, the city of Miami Beach's film coordinator and a past president of Film Florida, said it was disappointing when the Legislature didn't approve additional funding last year, but industry advocates were confident they could win over lawmakers during the recently concluded session.
The incentive program, which was supposed to run from 2010 to 2016, has already used up the $296 million in tax credits it was allocated.
"We rolled up our sleeves and dug deep and spent an entire year from the moment session ended last year on a grand education campaign across the entire state," Winick said.
A recent study by the Motion Picture Association of America concluded that Florida's film incentive program supported 87,870 jobs, $2.3 billion in wages, and $7.2 billion in economic spending across the state, both through production spending and added tourism, over the last four years. Its findings could not be verified.
Besides jobs for actors and film crews, the productions often spend money at gas stations, lumberyards, dry cleaners, hotels and restaurants. As for the impact on tourism, a recent movie industry study said that almost 20 percent of visitors said viewing a movie or television series filmed in Florida contributed to their decision to travel here.
Similar bills for a new program were introduced in the House and Senate (HB 983 and SB 1640) this past legislative session. But lawmakers ultimately failed to include a new film incentive plan to its record $77 billion budget by the time the session ended May 2.
"A 60-day session can be very limiting, and unfortunately the clock just ran out," said Gus Corbella, chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council. The group is the lead advisory body to the governor and legislature on film, television and other entertainment matters.
On the session's second-to-last day, the Senate bill's sponsor, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, lamented that lawmakers couldn't get a new program approved. Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who will be the next Senate president, assured her that he plans to bring the film incentive program back next year.
Still, another year without action sends a bad message to producers, Corbella said.
"That kind of roller-coaster ride of financing is detrimental to trying to bring and grow and maintain that kind of business here in Florida," Corbella said. "Particularly when you have other states that are aggressively putting tax incentives in their budgets every year."
Besides scaring off producers, Winick said not having a program in place is undermining an infrastructure that has taken decades to build.
"Even if we get it a year from now, which would be fantastic, it will come after two years of staff and crew moving out of the state," Winick said. "We'll have to find them and get them to move back."
Also, production companies waiting to see if Florida lawmakers would pass a new tax credit program this year are essentially done waiting, Winick said.
"These great, hugely fantastic, star-driven, heavily budgeted TV and film projects throughout the entire state are falling apart and going elsewhere."
Winick said he's particularly concerned about losing the proposed FX detective series "Hoke," starring Paul Giamatti, which is based on a series of novels by South Florida writer Charles Willeford.
"Of all the shows that should be filmed here, it had our DNA imprinted on it," Winick said.
The production only received tax credits for its pilot, so if it's picked up, Winick said it will probably move to another state, like Louisiana or Georgia.
"They'll film elsewhere to take advantage of some other place's incentives and then come down for a week of pick-ups to showcase actual locations," Winick said, "instead of potentially five or six months of production."
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