Florida film rebate legislation up for Senate committee vote

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Georgia just closed a blockbuster 2021 where $4 billion in direct spending on movie and television productions poured into the state’s economy. But for Florida’s film industry, this isn’t the ending anyone had in their script.

“As the top state for business for an unprecedented eighth year in a row, the jobs, economic development, and investment in film and other supporting industries are a key part of Georgia’s success story,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a recent news release. That’s good news for Atlanta camera shops and caterers, fans of Marvel movie lovers, and those who can’t get enough of seeing zombies wander around the greater Macon area.

Florida in 2010 put a film incentive program in place that was supposed to make the Sunshine State the Hollywood of the South. And for a while, it seemed to do just that. Shows like “Ballers” and “Burn Notice” beamed images of South Florida into homes across the country, and movies like “Spring Breakers” turned Sarasota college campuses into movie sets for buzzy films. Since the program expired in 2016, those sorts of projects have found their way to Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina.

But could things turn around for the industry?

Sen. Joe Gruters has tried to reignite some type of film program for several years. He crafted legislation this Session (SB 946) that replaces an incentives model with a rebate system instead. That bill will be heard on Monday, ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session, by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

The bill would create a Targeted High Wage Production Program, housed within the Department of Economic Opportunity and managed by the Commissioner of Film and Entertainment. It would give tax credits to tourism-promoting and family-friendly productions shot in Florida.

A project could receive a tax credit award of up to 23% of its qualified expenditures or $2 million, whichever is less.

Gruters said the move could help restore much of the loss felt by Florida film in the past five years.

“I get so many calls from constituents, from former film studio workers, that have been displaced, from former Floridians who want to come back to Florida,” the Sarasota Republican said. All want more movies made in Florida so they can live their lives in the picturesque state.

John Lux, executive director for Film Florida, said it’s helpful having Gruters championing the cause, and said he was “extremely pleased that someone with the stature of the Chair of the Republican Party of Florida supports the industry enough to file a bill in support.”

“The bill is excellent and would do a lot to bring high-paying jobs to Florida for our residents,” Lux said. “The bill has great minimums for required spending and Floridians hired along with a minimum for veterans being part of the cast and crew. Those points are the same as in previous years.”

Rep. Dana Trabulsy, a Fort Pierce Republican, sponsored a companion bill in the House (HB 217) that is now in the House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee.

Gruters sees benefits to film that could last for years, such as the tourist benefits of fans of films coming to see locations from productions.

But he also represents the Ringling College of Art & Design, one of the best film schools in the country. He graduated from Florida State University, which houses another beloved film program. Beside that, Florida also has Full Sail University and film communities in Orlando and Miami. If nothing else, boosting film jobs in this state will keep more graduates of education programs and products of the industry in Florida and out of Georgia.

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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