Film Incentives On Cutting Room Floor
By Catherine Lackner
The Florida Legislature ended its 2013 session Friday having created no incentives for film production, a move observers say could strangle the booming local film industry.
"I don’t think it is so impactful on our production for the next two years, because we had the ability to reserve money for the tax credits," said Bob Lemchen, senior vice president, production, at Fox Television Studios. "But we certainly wouldn’t be able to bring a new show to Florida" if there were no incentives in the future.
Fox currently has three shows based in South Florida:
n"Burn Notice" is nearly halfway through its 13-episode seventh season and has a $25 million local budget.
n"The Glades" is in the midst of filming season four, and recently spent $200,000 on a single episode filmed in Miami-Dade County, according to the Miami-Dade Office of Film and Entertainment.
n"Graceland," set to debut on USA Network this summer, just completed filming its first season, during which the production spent $3.75 million in Miami-Dade.
In 2010, a Jobs for Florida bill designated $242 million over five years for tax credits for film studios and other production companies. By March 2011, $227 million of the credits had been committed, with the majority going to so-called high impact television shows like "The Glades" and "Burn Notice."
The state’s film incentives come in the form of tax credits based on the scope of the production, number of local people hired, the season in which filming occurs and several other variables. The credits can be sold at the end of the term if the production doesn’t need the equivalent tax relief.
"At some point, if the old incentives were to run out," Mr. Lemchen said, "I’m sure people who would be interested in Florida will look elsewhere. As much as we’ve enjoyed working there, we will shoot where it best satisfies our budget."
North Carolina, Louisiana, New Mexico, Illinois, Georgia and other states all have dynamic incentive programs, he said. "Pennsylvania has limited funds but can be a good place," he added. "New York is very aggressive, but has higher fixed costs. I’m in the manufacturing business, and it’s our job to create the best product at the lowest cost."
"Like any other producer, they have to find the money to fulfill the budget," said Richard Wolfe of Wolfe Law Miami P.A., who has a large entertainment practice. "State incentives help complete the budget so a producer can bring his project to Florida. Not having the incentives puts us at a competitive disadvantage — now there’s going to be one less reason to come here.
"This is a very clean industry that brings big dollars here," he added. "For example, when a production comes here, they’re not only hiring crews and caterers, they’re also renting hotel rooms, and all of the people who come in to work on the shows are spending money, too. It’s a vast multiplier that we’re now going to lose."
But all is not lost, he said.
"The industry has mobilized in the past in order to get these incentives, and when the film office numbers start coming in, people are going to see the impact of losing these incentives, and come back together again," Mr. Wolfe said. "A lot of these states realize what an economic boom a production is. It’s always great to have a show like "Burn Notice,’ and has been, going all the way back to the "Miami Vice’ days."
"It’ll definitely hurt the industry," said Chris Sloan, owner of 2C Media. "I know of a couple of USA Network shows that would not have been able come here without the incentives. I think it will have a really serious effect."
2C Media produces shows locally including "Airport 24/7:Miami" and "Swamp Wars," as well as creates trailers and promotional films for several network cable shows.
"We did lose productions when the incentives went away" prior to 2010, Mr. Sloan said, "and we haven’t been updating our infrastructure as some other areas have. But we have great production crews here, and we’re building our post-production capability. And we have to remember, we’re not competing just with other states, but also with Mexico."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.