Burn Notice, other local productions to benefit as Florida more than doubles film incentive
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Florida's film industry received its own stimulus when the Legislature agreed to increase the film- and entertainment-industry incentive from $5 million to $10.8 million in the state's 2009-2010 budget.
While the appropriation fell short of industry hopes for a change to a transferable tax credit, the money will be put toward a handful of projects, including Miami-based "Burn Notice's" third season.
"Right now we have $200 million in production lining up and wanting to come into the state," said State Film Commissioner Lucia Fishburne. "At a 15% rebate we would need $30 million to do that.
"These are projects that if we pulled the trigger today we'd have tomorrow," she added.
The Legislature cut the incentive from $25 million to $5 million in May 2008.
The move put Florida well behind such states as Michigan, which offers a 42% tax break on in-state filming expenditures, and New York, which launched a $350-million incentive program in late March.
Although Ms. Fishburne and Florida Film Production Coalition President Maria Chavez believed the additional funds were a step in the right direction, legislators also delayed until the next session the bills that would have overhauled the incentive program.
That legislation, according to sponsor state Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Hillsborough County Republican, would help keep the film industry's money out of heated appropriations battles.
"Until we get serious about converting into the tax-credit model, we're going to be continually plagued with an annual problem of how much to appropriate [for] filming," he said.
Under the current structure, the industry's appropriation competes for funds with such programs as healthcare and the justice department.
"You can't pit the film industry against those [programs]," he added.
Rep. Ambler's bill proposed a $75 million transferable tax credit over three years, with individual tax credits varying depending upon the type of project being produced.
It offered a 5% increase in the tax break if companies shot during hurricane season. Feature film producers would enjoy a 15% tax credit on expenses while digital media projects would only be eligible for a 10% tax credit and incentives on commercials.
And while the change to a tax credit would help end the political battle over film incentives, it would also help sow the seeds of a profitable statewide industry.
"For ever dollar of those incentives [the state] is getting seven back," Rep. Ambler said. "Florida needs to understand that in terms of weighing its priorities this is not an expenditure, it's an investment."