Originally posted on the Tampa Tribune website
In the movies, the good guys always win. The protagonist prevails. The hero saves the world and gets the girl. But recently we were reminded that real life doesn’t always come with a Hollywood happy ending when it was announced that “Live By Night,” the highly anticipated Warner Bros. adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel set in Ybor City, would be filmed in Brunswick, Georgia.
The news came as a blow to the entire community, and for those of us who spent years pursuing the Ben Affleck project, it was a particularly poignant loss. This should have been our moment in the spotlight. An opportunity to serve as a principal filming location for a big-budget production, attached to an Oscar-winning director and major movie star. A chance to showcase a unique piece of our history to audiences around the world.
Instead, we’re losing jobs, revenue and recognition to Georgia, for one reason alone: our state’s failure to invest in the film and digital media industry.
After depleting the $296 million entertainment incentive program approved in 2010, the Florida Legislature has repeatedly denied our requests to replenish the fund, first in 2013 and again in 2014 and 2015, crippling our ability to attract high-impact projects and leaving us vulnerable to competitors like Georgia and Louisiana. By contrast, our neighbors to the north are reaping the benefits of our inaction, to the tune of $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2014, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Just a decade ago, Florida ranked third in the country for film production. But times have changed. Our landscape and climate are no longer enough to drive success in this sector. If we are going to be competitive as a destination for film and digital media production, we must be willing to invest in our own future.
Hillsborough County has taken the lead in this effort. Recognizing the value this industry brings to our market, the county commission instituted an aggressive local rebate program that is already delivering significant results. Thanks to this initiative, the world will soon see the Tampa Bay area represented on the big screen in the Bryan Cranston crime drama, “The Infiltrator.”
Like “Live By Night,” this is a story about Tampa. And like “Live By Night,” we almost lost the project due to the lack of support from Tallahassee. Only because of the action taken by Hillsborough County, as well as leadership at the city of Tampa, Port Tampa Bay and the University of Tampa, were we able to secure partial filming and a portion of the projected $20 million local spend.
We can’t continue to let these opportunities pass us by. We can’t ignore the economic impact this industry has on communities throughout the state. We can’t continue to fail the 100,000 workers with families in Florida who are forced to travel outside the state to find employment, or the students who graduate from our colleges and universities each year, with no job prospects here at home. We can’t forget that film and television helped transform cities like Miami and Clearwater into the international tourism destinations they are today.
Ybor City, a place of national heritage and a local treasure, had the potential to take its own place among those destinations. Fortunately, “Live By Night” will still celebrate the setting, and most viewers will be none the wiser. But locally, we’ll see past the façade of movie magic and will always regret what could have been.
Written by Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.
Click HERE to read the article on the Tampa Tribune website.