Weeks after “Moonlight” won the Oscar for best picture, the filmed-in-Florida movie is playing an outsized role back home as advocates battle to preserve funding for the state’s film and entertainment industry.
Florida legislators are considering cutting 24 different economic development programs, including the Office of Film and Entertainment, which markets and promotes local productions and serves as a liaison between filmmakers and government agencies.
Supporters of the state film office have been citing “Moonlight” – and the buzz it's generated for Florida-based productions – as an example of the many ways the state benefits from the film and entertainment industry.
In response to legislators' cost-cutting proposals, Film Florida, the statewide nonprofit trade association, recently announced it would focus all its energy this legislative session on fighting to maintain the 40-year-old Florida Office of Film and Entertainment.
Film Florida's membership comes from production-related businesses, film commissions, educational institutions and labor organizations in the state. Crain's recently talked to Film Florida President Kelly Paige about the challenges ahead and state House Bill 7005, which would shutter the state film office.
Q: Your announcement cites “philosophical conflict” in Tallahassee as a reason for not pursuing a new incentives program. What are the film-related aspects of HB 7005?
A: If HB 7005 is signed into law, it would shutter the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment and put an end to the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption program, which would effectively [result in] a tax increase on an industry that is vital to our job creating and our tourism economies.
The Florida House has been pursuing HB 7005 strongly and, while there is not a companion bill in the Senate, there’s still plenty of time for negotiating. We hope no bill materializes in the Senate, so we will continue meeting with and educating legislators so they understand the importance of our industry to Florida.
Q: You say over the last three years, Florida has lost more than 50 film and television projects, which would have spent $875 million, due to lack of funded incentives. What types of spending are we talking about?
A: The financial impact of films and television series are wide-ranging. Roles on a project include location scouts, production coordinators, audio and lighting technicians, hair and makeup, wardrobe, camera people, camera assistants, etc. But outside of those immediate roles, films and television series bring work for electricians, carpenters, catering companies, dry cleaning services. While most cast and crew are local, a project still brings a number of people from out of town and those people eat at restaurants, stay at hotels, spend money at local businesses, etc.
The OFE [state film office] approved 836 applications for the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption on production-related expenditures for companies producing content in Florida during fiscal year 2015-16, resulting in an estimated 38,082 Florida jobs and $1.14 billion in Florida expenditures. The elimination of this program would result in a tax increase for the companies working in this industry, including small and minority-owned businesses.
Q: One state legislator [Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami] is arguing that the film office should remain open even if the state can’t offer incentives. How valuable would that service be to potential productions?
A: The Florida Office of Film and Entertainment has been promoting and providing services to Florida’s film and entertainment industry for more than 50 years and is an integral part of diversifying Florida’s economy through economic development, tourism growth, and job creation. When someone wants to bring a project to Florida, the state film office is the first stop. If there is no office to answer the phone or receive the email, that’s a clear signal to the world that Florida does not want film and television business.
Additional benefits of the OFE [state film office] include: 1) a production management database, location library services, statewide lead system, and representation at trade shows and industry events at no cost to the more than 60 local film commissions throughout Florida, including rural and underfunded communities; 2) acting as a liaison with state agencies [facilitating] permitting on state property including state beaches, bridges, forests, parks, prisons, roads and waterways; and 3) development and marketing services to Florida’s film and entertainment industry, including assistance with locations, permitting, cast, crew, service providers, and industry association and union coordination. These services helped OFE assist 1,363 Florida productions last fiscal year, converting 1,083 productions into new business for the state.
Q: “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins is a graduate of Florida State’s film school. What has been the role of the state’s educational programs related to its production business?
A: Florida is home to more film and digital media degree programs than any other state in the country. Graduates from Florida-based institutions are some of the most sought-after talents in the world. Those students are graduating and leaving our state to find jobs because of the lack of jobs in Florida. Film Florida [envisions programs that] would entice graduates to stay in Florida to do their work and would also entice projects coming to Florida to hire our graduates in leadership roles on projects. The concept would also guarantee cast and crew positions to Florida-based professionals.
Our state rightfully puts a huge emphasis on education. Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy at the University of Central Florida is the number one graduate school in America for game design, and Florida is home to two of the top 25 film schools in America. One of those film schools, Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts, just lost their dean, Frank Patterson. As of Jan. 1, he is the president of Pinewood Atlanta Studios. Every year more than 5,000 students graduate from Florida-based colleges and universities with film or digital media degrees. Those students, many of which attend state-funded institutions, are taking their degree and moving to other states to find jobs.
Q: During recent years, out-of-state locations have substituted for Tampa, Cape Canaveral and other Florida locales after learning that no incentives were available. Do those productions benefit businesses in Florida?
A: Film-induced tourism is real. Whether it’s “The Walking Dead” in Georgia or “Breaking Bad” in New Mexico, business is driven to communities where these films are shot. According to the Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council, season one of “Bloodline” was responsible for generating $65 million in new travel spending, 1,738 jobs and $9.4 million in state and local tax revenue in addition to the $30 million in production spending.
Tourists go where films and television are shot, not where they are fictionally based. Long-term, a location cannot drive tourism based on a film or television series that was shot elsewhere, even if it was based on a location. Authenticity matters.
Q: What type of alternative promotions are in the works that might help compensate for incentives?
A: Florida has a lot to offer anyone looking for a filming location, with warm temperatures year-round, hundreds of miles of beaches, countless number of diverse neighborhoods and locations, Florida has long been considered the perfect location for “Anywhere USA.” Florida can double for any location except one with mountains and snow.
We believe Florida has the locations, experienced crew, in-depth infrastructure, and desire to do excellent work, as well as a willingness to work with [production] budgets. In addition, a number of cities and counties do have local incentive programs, and we believe more will follow since they see the positive impact the film, television and digital media industry can have on a community.
Q: Florida’s film incentive program has for all intents and purposes been out of business for a while now, so what can industry professionals expect going forward without a program in place?
A: Florida’s independent film and commercial productions continue to do well. Some industry professionals have moved to other states, and some companies have relocated – and that is a tremendous loss. Unfortunately, we believe the loss of crews, companies and infrastructure will continue. However, those that remain have shown a willingness to adapt and want to stay in Florida. Our industry is very resilient. Florida has come back before and we will come back again.
We are committed to working with legislators and stakeholders to send the signal that despite the recent losses, Florida is open for business and competing for high wage jobs in the film, television and digital media industry.