The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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The Future of Florida’s Film Industry is in the Hands of the Legislature

Imagine that you are a producer, scouting locations for your new tv show. You need a sunny climate with easy access to beaches. Your network has green-lit a full first season, and you need somewhere to set up shop. You don’t have an unlimited budget, though, so you have to make the call based on what location gives you the best balance of cost and atmosphere. Are you coming to Florida?

With companies like Netflix spending more than $12 billion on new programming in 2018 alone (yes, that says billion), there is no shortage of film and television productions out there, going on-location with new jobs and new spending. Add to that the impact on tourism that can come from having millions of viewers watching a show set in a tropical paradise like the Keys, and the benefits are pretty clear. So why is Florida losing so many productions to Georgia?  

Florida TaxWatch’s recent report, “Is The Sun Setting on Film in Florida,” reported that in 2016 the Florida motion picture and television industry was responsible for more than 150,000 jobs and $2.02 billion in wages. Five years (2010-2015) of incentives for studios helped to accelerate the growth of the industry in the state and should have set us up to be a leader for many years to come.

Unfortunately, this program was allowed to sunset without establishing a successor program to ensure Florida remains competitive with other states. The results of discontinuing the economic incentives have been predictable. Several high-profile productions have either been canceled or moved to another state, and the film industry workforce and infrastructure are leaving with them.

Given a choice between fixing the legitimate flaws within the 2010 program and scrapping it, the Legislature chose to scrap it, leaving the state without any competitive program to attract new projects. Those critical of the incentives program believe that Florida’s warm climate, exotic locations, and beaches would continue to attract film and television production companies to the Sunshine State, even without economic incentives.

In reality though, it is not at all unusual to film in one place and pretend that it is another. A significant number of films use Vancouver, Canada as a proxy for stories set in Ohio and the Mid-West, and the well-known Hawkins, Indiana from Netflix’s Stranger Things is actually filmed just outside of Atlanta.  Locations can be substituted. Sets can be built anywhere.

If history has shown us anything, it is that film and television production companies will spend when on location. It has been reported that when Walt Disney Studios recently filmed in Lakeland, the company spent more than $134,000 for local acting talent, hotel rooms, and other expenditures, in just three days.

Film Florida, a not-for-profit association that provides a leadership role in Florida’s film, TV, commercial, and digital media industry, estimates that the Legislature’s unwillingness to fund the tax credit incentives has cost the state more than $1 billion in known lost film and television opportunities.

Florida’s film industry is at a crossroads. Unless efforts are made to support the industry by creating a more competitive playing field once again, its continued decline is certain. More and more production will head to Georgia instead of Florida, and the home of some of the most iconic entertainment destinations on the globe will become a place where television and movies are remembered, rather than made.

Florida TaxWatch has long maintained that incentives are simply one tool in the state’s economic development toolkit and that, although not a substitute for the fundamentals of good economic growth, incentives for the film and television industry should not be ignored as a part of the state’s overall economic development strategy.

The Legislature and our new Governor have the opportunity to reverse the decline of the industry by putting together a new, improved incentive package that allows us to compete with Georgia, to let Disney and Universal serve as more than theme parks, and to ensure that the next time someone watches a show set in a desirable climate, it is highly likely that they’ll be seeing a real part of the Sunshine State instead of a set built somewhere else.

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