Originally posted on the Tampa Tribune website
For the third straight year, the Florida Legislature has decided not to replenish the state’s empty tax incentive pot earmarked for film and television productions.
Those connected to the local movie and television industry say that means states that offer financial breaks will continue to lure major productions away from the Sunshine State, including opportunities to host the bulk of the production days for three major films with Tampa-area backdrops.
One of those films is “Live By Night.” Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, it is a fictional story based on a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane about Prohibition-era rum-running in Ybor City.
Another is “Not Without Hope, ” a movie based on the memoir by Tampa resident Nick Schuyler, the lone survivor of a 2009 boating accident that left three friends dead in the Gulf of Mexico. The production has secured Dwayne “The Rock’’ Johnson as lead.
Tony Armer, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner, said a third film with a story that takes place entirely in St. Petersburg will probably film most of the production in another state because of Florida’s lack of film incentives.
“Not Without Hope” is still listed as “in development.” Armer, though, said the Tampa area probably has lost out on chances of hosting the production.
“I don’t think they will come anywhere near us now unless someone can get a private film fund going that is supported by the residents and businesses that will incentive films,” he said.
“It’s disappointing,” Armer said. “But it’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we move forward.”
The Florida Legislature allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2010-2016, but all the money has been awarded.
Proponents of replenishing the pot of incentives originally wanted as much as $50 million over four years but pared that request down to $10 million for one year.
“We may have lost ‘Live By Night’ when the incentives failed to pass in 2014,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. “We hoped to maybe get it passed this year and save the project for Hillsborough. But that didn’t happen.”
Through movie-making techniques, the films can look as if they’re shot in the Tampa area. The three films could still have local backdrops if the productions want to film at least a few scenes in authentic locales, such as exterior establishing shots.
Armer said he is hopeful that while “Not Without Hope” may be gone, the third film, which he declined to provide more details on, will film for at least a week in St. Petersburg.
Nor has Hillsborough film commissioner Gordon given up on getting at least a few days of local production for “Live By Night.” The film’s cast includes Zoe Saldana of “Avatar” and the new “Star Trek” films, and Sienna Miller, who most recently starred in “American Sniper.”
“Many parts of Ybor remain historically accurate,” said Gordon. “The film may want to take advantage of that. We all have a toolbox, and, yes, the state incentive is in the toolbox, but we have other tools we can use to ensure we at least get those few days.”
Those tools, said both Gordon and Armer, include county or city cash incentives or in-kind services.
“That seems to be the direction we will head,” Armer said. “If there is a film that is set in the area that will shoot somewhere else for six weeks, we will try to get at least some days here through local incentives.”
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a proponent of bringing film production to the area, said he would push for such incentives if the right project came along.
“Should we have an opportunity to land a high-impact film production that makes economic sense, we will absolutely consider a local incentive,” Hagan said.
“Live By Night,” Hagan said, would be worthy of local incentives.
“That would be our ‘Dolphin Tale,’” he said, referencing the popular film about Winter the dolphin that was largely shot in Clearwater. “I think it would be right to provide to that film what we provided ‘The Infiltrator.’”
“The Infiltrator,” starring Bryan Cranston and based on the true story a federal agent posing as a Tampa businessman to bust a financial institution laundering millions of dollars for Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, wanted the bulk of its production to take place in Hillsborough County.
But without a state incentive, the producers chose England, which offers incentives of up to 25 percent.
Still, Hillsborough County agreed to provide the production up to $250,000, the county and city provided in-kind services such as off-duty police patrol and street closures, Port Tampa Bay provided office space and the University of Tampa’s film production program provided students for support roles.
In return, the production had to spend at least $1 million locally. That deal was enough to get the Tampa Bay area eight days of shooting.
In February, Hillsborough County voted in favor of $100,000 incentive for Tim Burton’s film “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” as long as the production spent $2.5 million locally. Pinellas County agreed to give another $100,000 in return for the production marketing the area. Proponents of state film incentives say the incentives have a strong return on investment, with an economic impact of $15 for every $1 awarded.
Still, even without Hollywood making regular visits to the Tampa Bay area, film commissioners Gordon and Armer believe there will be plenty of local production work. Films are just one component. Hillsborough County’s “bread and butter,” said Gordon, is television commercials.
“One commercial can create over 200 high-wage jobs and contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to our local economy,” Gordon said.
Armer will seek to increase the amount of digital content shot on his side of the bridge.
“YouTube and other forms of online content are big players right now,” said Armer. “Those videos get a lot of views and bring a lot of attention to the area. They can be made for a lot less than a movie yet have a big impact.”
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