Imagine, if you will, South Florida through the eyes of a movie director. The Everglades could double as the Amazon rainforest. And if you’re doing a period piece set in 18th Century Europe, how does using Vizcaya as a Spanish castle grab you?
You would imagine that South Florida would be the first choice for movies or TV shows set in a tropical paradise. Yet, in the three years since state lawmakers pulled the plug on a tax incentive program for the film industry, Florida has been losing movies to other southern states, mostly notably Georgia.
Several local governments have since filled the gap by creating their own their tax rebate programs. One of them is Miami-Dade County, which recently voted to relax some of the requirements for big-budget productions, while also creating a smaller grant that might attract more independent filmmakers here.
Film or television producers who spend at least $1 million in Miami-Dade get $100,000 in tax refunds, provided the production meets certain conditions.
"The 10 percent return is on hiring a percentage of residents that are here, not bringing in your own crew," says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman, who sponsored the program from the start. "So we're hiring locals."
To make it easier for producers, Miami-Dade recently reduced some minimum requirements for the program; local businesses must make up at least 70 percent of a production's vendors, down from 80 percent previously.
Miami-Dade County started its own film and television subsidy program two years ago, to compensate in part for the $300 million tax incentive plan Florida lawmakers let expire the year prior. it wasn't long before South Florida's film and tv industry started feeling the impact of the Legislature's decision; Netflix canceled the Florida Keys-set drama "Bloodline" in September, 2016, and HBO's Miami-based football comedy "Ballers" moved production from Miami to Los Angeles two months later.
Miami-Dade also recently voted to make the county more attractive to independent movie producers by adding a second tier to the incentive plan. Productions spending more than $500,000 but less than $1 million would receive a tax rebate of $50,000.
Heyman says the success of "Moonlight" -- which was filmed on a budget of just $1.5 million and won the 2017 "Best Picture" Oscar -- illustrates why that additional rebate category is so important.
"It ['Moonlight'] showcased Liberty City and Miami Beach and other parts of our community. And it was sort of low-budget. And it brought people back to 'Hey! South Florida!'," she says.