Originally posted on the Orlando Sentinel website

orida filmmakers hope an effort to create an incentive program that offers tax breaks to production companies has not seen its final act.

In a late-night session last weekend, state lawmakers resolved a budget impasse but did not include the entertainment tax-incentive program, which supporters say would attract more filmmakers to the state.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said the issue simply wasn’t a priority during the special session that is scheduled to end this week.

“It’s a lost opportunity for Florida with regards to bringing film and those who produce them to us,” said Thompson, vice chair of the commerce and tourism committee. “I am disappointed, and we are going to reconvene this in January. We’ll be back at it.”

The bill was intended to provide millions of dollars in incentives for digital media, though it did not outline specifics before the effort died. That money also would have helped the state’s growing video-game industry. John Reseburg, vice president of corporate communications for Electronic Arts, said the company will work with the state Legislature on future programs.

Electronic Arts has supported the tax credit, on behalf of its Tiburon video-game studio in Maitland.

“We are disappointed that the entertainment tax credit incentive was not funded,” Reseburg said in an email to the Sentinel.”We are committed to our incredibly talented teams in Florida developing amazing games for players around the world, and look forward to working with the legislature to identify new ways to support the growth of our industry.”

John Lux, chief operating officer of IDEAS, an Orlando design company that works with global entertainment clients, said it is infuriating that the state seems OK with sending film jobs away.

“We live in a state that is all about jobs, but we continue to let thousands of high-paying jobs go elsewhere,” said Lux, who serves as treasurer for Film Florida.

He said proponents had reduced the request from $50 million over four years to $10 million for one year last weekend, in an effort to make it more agreeable.

The proposal, which Lux called a “we’re open for business” gesture, was dropped last week.

An annual report released by the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment in November 2014 said that the state’s film industry completed 342 projects from 2010 to 2014, paying Floridians $926 million in wages.

A separate study by the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research placed the industry’s economic impact at $4.1 billion annually.
But Andres Malave, communications director for the conservative Americans for Prosperity-Florida, said industries should be expected to stand on their own without tax breaks. Malave said his group voiced its opposition to the incentives by making more than 40,000 phone calls and sending more than 30,000 emails to legislators.

“Why should taxpayers be asked to foot the bill for someone else’s project?” he said. “I get that it’s an industry in Florida, but let’s make it so we have a fair environment for everyone and make it an attractive climate for every industry in Florida.”

One obstacle facing supporters is the track record of a program approved in 2010, which quickly depleted $296 million by awarding the money on a first-come, first-served basis, rather than targeting potentially lucrative projects. For the last three years, advocates have been trying to get a new program in place.

Film Florida President Michelle Hillery said other states’ incentives already are luring producers away from Florida.

“We don’t even have to be as competitive as those other states,” she said. “We just have to compete. If we compete, they are knocking on our door. They want to come here because of what Florida has to offer.

The industry has become a competitive one, with states across the U.S. crafting incentives programs to attract filmmakers. Hillery said not renewing the credits will cost the state.

“If it affects a production company’s bottom line, they will change the script to fit another state,” she said. “Our legislators seem to think they will come no matter what. That is not the case.”

Thompson, the state senator, said a thriving film industry in Florida helps improve its reputation abroad.

“We want to put a public face on Florida, and film helps you do that,” she said. “When you consider people all over the world will view these films, they will attract people here.”

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