Film world coalesces around incentives gap
Written by Catherine Lackner on December 24, 2013
Miami’s film industry saw hardships in 2013, but out of those obstacles may arise opportunities, experts say.
“The significant thing for us was the loss of ‘Burn Notice,’ ‘The Glades’ and ‘Magic City,’ shows that either got cancelled or did not continue,” said Sandy Lighterman, Miami-Dade County film commissioner. “And for the first time since the current incentives started in 2004, no incentives were added, which was a signal by the legislature that things were changing.
“What also changed was that we realized we needed to come together to discuss what this industry means to Miami-Dade County and the rest of the state,” she said. “The departures of these shows left a major void, and we decided to take the issue across the state and run with it.”
With the Film Florida advocacy group, Ms. Lighterman traveled “from the top of the Panhandle to Key West to deliver the message about the positive jobs created by this industry” and legislators seem to be receptive, she said.
“We have had positive feedback from legislators to reinvigorate the program, and the governor’s office has been supportive,” she said. “We need a long-term sustainable program in Tallahassee, and we need the help of the governor and legislature to make this happen. We still have a chance to be in this game.”
Some incentives had been reserved for the three television shows that ended, and those went back into the queue, to be claimed by three pilots that will film soon.
“Our fear was that we would have a downturn in production, and when those dollars came back into the queue we didn’t know where they were going to go. Luckily, they ended up here,” Ms. Lighterman said. The three shows, for HBO, Netflix television and FX, may also film here if the pilots are picked up – meaning they find a buyer.
Meanwhile, “Telenovelas are robust,” she added, with Telemundo filming three at once and Venevision producing two at the same time. “We’re also flush with reality shows and TV commercials,” Ms. Lighterman said. Advertisers include Coors Light, Fiat, Sprite, Nike and Wendy’s.
While at times it’s challenging to propel the local film industry’s forward momentum, “We are very lucky to have a mayor and county commission who understand the importance – and job creation – of this industry,” Ms. Lighterman said.
“Certainly the shows kept a lot of people employed,” said Richard Wolfe, principal of Wolfe Law Miami. “But their leaving creates opportunity,” because crews and production facilities are then available to take on new projects, he said.
Miami is very strong in the small-budget film market, he said. “There is a real opportunity for low-budget films here. There is no business in the middle – you have the $100 million movies and the $2 million-$5 million films. These can be financially successful, even if they don’t get theatrical release, even if they go straight to video or cable. There’s tremendous demand for them.”
Florida attracts many of these small projects because producers are able to keep costs down, Mr. Wolfe said. “Florida is reasonably priced, we have the studios and equipment, and it’s a right-to-work state, so low-budget films still want to come here.” Reality shows are significant for many of the same reasons, he said.
Asked whether he thinks legislators will vote for the return of strong incentives, “They have to,” he said. “It’s a clean industry, and it’s horizontally diverse. Production companies spread money around, and it’s good economics for the whole state.”
“The Sunshine State’s entertainment industry has grown over the past decade for one reason – producers find everything they need in Florida,” said Jessica K. Sims, spokeswoman for the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment, part of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
“Florida’s skilled workforce and large support-services network are two of the many reasons why Florida is a desirable filming location. Our production infrastructure continues to grow, with state-of-the-art studios and post-production facilities, soundstages, equipment, rental houses, talent and casting services, and a network of local film offices around the state. Promoting the film and entertainment industry in Florida will continue to diversify Florida’s economy and will allow us to attract new jobs.”