Originally posted on the Tampa Tribune website

Georgia is finding it profitable pretending to be Florida — at least on film. Because Florida does not offer tax incentives to film companies, a number of movies with Florida settings are being shot in Georgia, which does provide enticements.

Lawmakers should remedy the situation. This doesn’t mean simply throwing money at film companies. But it makes no more sense to ignore the potential benefits of the film business than it does to give money away without regard for the risks.

As the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports, offering incentives has enabled Georgia to attract high-profile films with Florida settings. Among the films Georgia has snagged:

  • “Gifted,” which has a St. Petersburg setting and stars “Captain America” star Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer, who won the 2011 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for “The Help.”
  • “Live by Night,” a gangster story that takes place in Ybor City and stars Ben Affleck, who also will direct.
  • “Magic Mike XXL,” a sequel to the story about a male stripper in Tampa that stars Channing Tatum.

All the productions could have gone to Florida.

“The Infiltrator,” the true story of a federal agent who investigated drug money laundering in Tampa, is being filmed in England, which offered $4.5 million in incentives. The movie stars “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston.

Because Hillsborough County offered $250,000 in incentives, about eight days of “The Infiltrator” will be filmed here. But producers said they would have filmed more than 20 days had the state provided some inducement.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has refused to try to build the state’s film industry. Lawmakers allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012-16, but the money was exhausted within a year, and lawmakers have refused to replenish it. This is short-sighted.

As with any incentive, government needs to be cautious, but precautions can be taken.

Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice has pushed a plan that would provide state support in the form of a tax credit, which would not be awarded until a private accounting firm and state audit had certified the project did have the economic impact that had been promised.

The plan also would limit the credit to expenditures for goods and services in Florida, not a film’s overall expense.

Carefully monitored, an incentive program, which probably also would cover advertising, television and game productions, should bring investment and jobs to the state.

If the state can continue to offer financial incentives to lure other businesses and industries to the Sunshine State, why not film production?

As Guzzo found, spending by the 342 productions that made use of the state’s $296 million in incentives added $4.1 billion to Florida’s gross state product. The average salary in the industry is $70,000. And a film can attract national attention and increase tourism.

A study by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg College of Business estimated the economic impact of the original “Dolphin Tale,” filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, may reach $5 billion.

The less successful sequel is unlikely to have that kind of impact, which underscores the need to be pragmatic about expectations. Still, there is no question the films about the injured dolphin gave Clearwater a huge economic boost.

Tallahassee needn’t go Hollywood with extravagant offerings and glitzy promotional campaigns for the film industry, which has had a long history in Florida. But officials should take a hard-nosed look at the likely return on investment and act accordingly.

Click HERE to read the article on the Tampa Tribune website.