Two Letters, Two Views On Film Incentives For Florida Productions

May 15, 2015

The "Burn Notice" crew gets cameras in place during the 7th and final season of the hit TV show. This scene was shot along the Miami River.
Credit Miami-Dade Office of Film & Entertainment

Florida has been home to TV shows like "Burn Notice," "Dexter," and most recently the reality show "Gator Boys." With a special session looming, there’s a new push for the state to offer film incentives for production companies that bring their projects to Florida.

Lawmakers have to reconvene June 1 to finish the state budget, and that gave Palm Beach County Deputy Film Commissioner Michelle Hillery an idea.

“One of the opportunities that we knew could be before us is if our language was rolled into an economic development package and made part of special session,” says Hillery, who also serves as president of the non-profit entertainment organization Film Florida. She says the industry creates jobs and positively impacts smaller businesses from pizza delivery to dry cleaners.

Film Florida estimates more than 100,000 people are employed by Florida’s film and TV industry.

A tax credit program created five years ago quickly ran out of money, and legislation to revive it fell through last month when the session ended early.

The group sent a letter this week asking lawmakers to revive the film incentives program so the state can compete for more productions. Hillery says a study by the state’s marketing corporation shows about a quarter of Florida tourists are lured here by something they saw in a TV show or movie.   

“These production companies are looking at their bottom line, and when they can turn a story around that is a Florida-based story and film it in Atlanta because of the tax credit program that they have there, they’re going to do that,” Hillery says.  

But Chris Hudson, director of the public policy group Americans for Prosperity-Florida, doesn’t think taxpayers should help pay for show business ventures.

“Film programs, TV shows – those aren’t essential services,” Hudson says, “and if there’s a marketplace for them, then they’ll be funded in the private marketplace by someone who wants to take the risk to do that.”

In a letter, Hudson told state leaders “the core function of government is not to subsidize glamorous industries – which are competing with essential services like public safety, transportation and education for limited taxpayer resources.”

Studies are mixed about the state’s return on its investment in these projects. For every dollar spent, the return could be as low as 43 cents or as high as $5.60 depending on how the formula is calculated.

House and Senate leaders haven’t said whether film incentives will be included in their budget discussions when they return to Tallahassee.