County delegation to lobby state to extend funding for filmmakers
By Suzy Valentine
Florida could take the lead as a filmmaking destination if state officials take direction from a Miami-Dade delegation this month.
A contingent from the county is scheduled to visit Tallahassee next week to lobby for a continuation of financial breaks rolled out last year.
After taking office in August, Florida Film Commissioner Paul Sirmons vowed to triple the entertainment-industry fund from $10 million to $30 million.
Projects dropping more than $850,000 into the state's economy may apply for a 15% refund of production costs up to a maximum of $2 million.
Film officials and private individuals plan to visit the state capital March 22 to support the hike and encourage the state to extend the incentive beyond this year. The state fiscal year runs July 1-June 30.
"The hope is to convert our system into one with more cash-back options," said Graham Winick, Miami Beach film and event production manager who is joining the delegation. "We'd like to raise the level of tax rebate and extend it year-to-year so that there are benefits to multiple year filming here."
A colleague said film officials across the state are joining forces to bring projects to Florida.
"All of the film offices are working with the state office to make Florida more attractive for filmmakers to do business here," said Robert Parente, director of the City of Miami Office of Film, Art and Entertainment.
Mr. Parente doesn't plan to go on the trip.
A University of Miami educator said increased incentives should help Florida match the appeal of other states.
"It means more will happen," said Robert Stahr Hosmon, associate dean of the university's School of Communications. "What happened in Louisiana was that the state was effectively investing in films, so if there was a return on the investment, the state shared in it."
Projects have been lost to other locations, he said, because the cost of shooting here is prohibitive.
Dr. Hosmon said the executive producer of TV series "Nip/Tuck," often cited as an example of a project fictionally set in Miami but shot elsewhere, wanted to stay in Florida. Producer Michael Robin graduated from the University of Miami in 1985.
"The cost was too much," Dr. Hosmon said. "If you're looking at a one-hour long-form series on ABC or NBC, that costs $3 million or $4 million an episode. If you're shooting at Bravo, Warner Brothers or UPN, you'd be lucky to make an episode for $2 million."
Barry Waldman, a producer who works closely with film director Jerry Bruckheimer, owns a house in Kendall but is now working in Louisiana on location.
"He's producing 'Déję Vu,' starring Denzel Washington, there," said Dr. Hosmon of a project that almost came to Miami-Dade. "It's just another example."
"Then's there's the writer and producer of 'Invasion,' Carlos Coto," he said, whose latest venture is set in Homestead but shot in California. "He keeps writing pilots for series set in Miami in the hope that one day one of them will be filmed here."
The makers of a pilot for "Aquaman," based on a DC Comics character, resolved to return for the full series, said Dr. Hosmon. Shooting began last week.
"It's an exception," he said. "The producer told me that if it's picked up, she wants everything for the show done here."
A shortage in film talent remains a problem, Dr. Hosmon said.
"There's another side that I hope the legislature will get round," he said. "We need more qualified people. It's too expensive to bring cinematographers here. In Arkansas, state legislators decided to try a 5% rebate, the equivalent of no income tax, but the filmmakers said, 'there is nobody here that can help us.'"
The county's skill set also falls short, he said.
"I've heard there are enough people here at any one time to do a movie-and-a-half," he said, offering a solution. "We need to provide certificate workshops and programs to educate people. Then we'd see real economic boom."