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How Incentives For Film, TV Production In Florida Are Drying Up

Now that “Burn Notice” has wrapped up seven successful seasons, will a new show step in to send the world a postcard of Miami every week?

The USA Network production ended its run recently while ratings were still strong. Thanks to a worldwide audience, it’s likely to live for years in syndication.

But the end of the show, as well as A&E’s The Glades and Starz’ Magic City this summer, leaves a void in Miami’s economy. A lot of folks made money off these productions selling props, renting cars, catering food, cleaning costumes and working on-camera.

“Burn Notice” thrived in its South Florida locale for seven seasons thanks to tax credits provided by the  Florida Legislature to boost economic development.

In 2010, Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, sponsored a bill to bolster the incentive program.

"It's an economic stimulus bill that will work now, at the same time providing long term incentive for permanent jobs as well, builds on Florida's legacy in the film and entertainment business, and helps us enter the new media age," Precourt told lawmakers.

Film and television productions can get nearly one-third of their expenses refunded in the form of tax credits. But the money that’s left in the incentive program is dwindling, and there may not be any additional funding available for new projects.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, says there will be a push to increase entertainment subsidies during the upcoming legislative session.

“I would like to see more of a focus on independent and avant guard productions using our Florida landscape,” Sachs said. “Promoting film and TV production is one of the best ways to promote tourism in our beautiful state. There is no other place in the country other than Florida that boasts our lighting, our dramatic scenery, and the edginess of our culture.”

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, launched the Florida Film, Entertainment and Television Caucus four years ago.

If something brings in jobs and it brings a rate of return that is very good - it actually becomes an investment. ~Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

“If something brings in jobs and it brings a rate of return that is very good, it becomes not a subsidy of a business or an incentive. It actually becomes an investment,” Vasilinda said.

“We get lots of spin-off from it with regard to tourism, with regard to the kind of jobs that we need, which is jobs that require an educated workforce, and the film and television industry does indeed do that.”

USA Network’s Graceland was renewed for a second season, and the city of Miami is ready to spend $10 million for developers to build and operate a TV studio on city land in Overtown.

But in this highly competitive industry, it’ll take more than a new studio to lure business.

Economic Spillover

Shows and movies have budgets, and those budgets are often spent in area grocery stores, flower shops, furniture stores, etc.

Graham Winick is already seeing the impact of losing three shows this summer.

“A show like Magic City raided all of Florida’s lumber yards for sub flooring and went through every antique collectible market and purchased everything they could,” said Winick, film and print manager for the Miami Beach Film Office.

Plus there’s the added bonus of tourists who spend money to come see where these shows are filmed.

“Now there are three crews effectively that need work, and there’s not work available here,” Winick said. “Today I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine on “Burn Notice” who’s having to go to Georgia for work.”

Winick says upwards of five televisions series want to film in South Florida, and there’s interest in projects in other parts of the state.

These shows cannot come here because there is not currently a guaranteed incentive. ~Graham Winick, Miami Beach Film Office

“But these shows can’t come here because there’s not currently a guaranteed incentive,” Winick said, “That’s a concern on television because it’s such a big investment – especially in the first year – that they need to know that the investment is going to pay off.”

The tax credit incentives are performance-based, meaning the producers have to pay Floridians and Florida companies for their services first. Only then will they be eligible for tax credits.

“So it’s a tax percentage of money that otherwise would not be coming to the state of Florida,” Winick said. “Not only are we now seeing shows that would have been coming here move to other states with incentives, but we’re seeing productions that do work here on an indigenous basis, like video game industries, moving work to states that have incentives.”

Winick wants to see independent filmmakers who are experiencing growing success stay in Florida. After all, some used Florida Lottery–supported Bright Futures scholarships to learn the ropes.

“We’re already paying for the education of some of these students going to some of the top schools – which are here in Florida - only to watch them leave for other destinations that can provide work for them.”

Winick says many of young filmmakers want to stay, “but they have to be assured they’ll have a future here.”