Film industry focus fuzzy in Tallahassee
By Catherine Lackner
Extending and expanding Florida's film incentive program is key to bringing more productions to Miami, industry experts say. The big question is: how to do it?
Florida Film Production Coalition, a nonprofit industry group, hosted a well-attended workshop at the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the USA's Miami Media and Film Market conference. The consensus: faced with stiff competition from other states, Florida must be more aggressive.
For example, Florida puts a cap of $8 million per project on tax credits; many states have no cap. The state's incentive program will "sunset" — cease to exist — unless the legislature renews it; that's not the case in some other states.
These policy differences have allowed states including Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina to surge ahead with their film industries. In the past, Miami ranked third in film production after Los Angeles and New York City; now it is third after cities in Louisiana and Georgia.
"Why, when there is unending demand for work in Georgia and Louisiana," asked Chris Ranung, president of industry labor union IATSE Local 477, "and we are still setting $8 million caps?"
Mr. Ranung, a principal in the newly formed Congress of Motion Picture Associations of Florida (COMPASS), suggested removal of both the cap and the sunset provision. "We need to go after the big prize. It starts at the top; the rest will follow."
"We should unify the industry and set up a strategy that works," said film industry lobbyist David T. Caserta. He suggested an economic impact study be drafted to show Tallahassee how much the film industry benefits the state and creates jobs.
That might be crucial, said Fausto Gomez, a lobbyist retained by COMPASS. Gov. Rick Scott is a "last-century smokestack-chaser. Gary Swoope played that role in Mississippi," Mr. Gomez said, referring to Mr. Scott's secretary of commerce, whose accomplishments include enticing Toyota, GE Aviation, SeverStahl and Automated Data Processing to build in Mississippi.
It might be difficult to persuade the governor to prioritize films over factories, Mr. Gomez said.
Eugene Rodriguez, president of Big Time Productions and owner of the Ice Palace in Wynwood, suggested Florida's higher land cost should trigger some offset to property owners.
"There is almost no land value in some of these states," Mr. Rodriguez said, "so they can be more competitive. Then the market goes lower, and the expectations go lower." He suggested a real estate tax rebate that would also be extended to hotels and condominiums that house casts and crews.
Film coalition member Richard Seres recommended that the group commission a white paper analyzing the production success Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina have built, and exploring how Florida can compete. It should be completed by fall, he said, so that the industry can approach legislators before the 2013 session begins.
"They need to see a real live voter with some really solid facts," he said. "They should support this industry. Shame on them if they don't, and shame on us if we don't pursue this."
The tax incentive task force has more meetings scheduled, Mr. Gomez said after the meeting. "This is an excellent beginning, but now we need to hone a measurable legislative program to be advanced in the next session."
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