Miami battles South for film work
By Catherine Lackner
Debate raged last week as members of the Congress of Motion Picture Associations met to discuss how Florida can better compete with Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina in the race to lure film productions.
Some members, including Chris Ranung, the group's president, say the state should expand its incentive program and remove the $8 million cap on incentives per project. But others say the program, which grew from $2.45 million in 2003 to its current $296 million, is successful.
More than 250 projects have been certified and all available incentives are now spoken for, said Herb Miller, incentive administrator of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. New applicants are being put on a waiting list.
High-impact television shows — those that shoot a minimum of seven episodes and spend in excess of $625,000 per episode — are a particular target.
"We believe high-impact fits this state better than anything else — even feature films," Mr. Ranung said. The shows bring long-term jobs, which usually last 20 to 25 weeks and recur every year, he said, while films depart when shooting is over.
The state recognizes high-impact television's importance, Mr. Miller said. In fact, almost 32% of projects certified eligible to receive incentives are television series, records indicate. Across all categories, 59% of the incentives were earmarked for Southeastern Florida, where five TV series are filming.
State legislators "have sent a loud and clear signal that Florida wants productions, and we owe gratitude to Tallahassee," Mr. Ranung said. Still, he questioned whether the incentive cap is necessary. "I don't see our legislature ever making it an unlimited program, but if you look at what Georgia spends, it's hard to justify."
Georgia's aggressive film promotion program offers assistance in facets of operations and tax credits of up to 30%.
In Florida, "The cap allows more projects to be certified, and that's not a bad thing," Mr. Miller said.
There was a deliberate emphasis on spreading the money around, said Leah Sokolowsky, president of the Film Florida advocacy group, in a recent interview. "We felt we did not want a larger out-of-state workforce; we wanted to be Florida-centric. We give less money per project to more people. Our program is so broad; it covers so many different sectors. We need all types of projects."
In addition to feature films and television shows, non-series television, digital media, video games, documentaries, independent films and commercials are eligible for incentives.
"We also try to be somewhat fiscally responsible to the Florida taxpayer," Ms. Sokolowsky continued. Unlike Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina, Florida has no personal income tax, "so the pot of money that each state has is different," she said. "We have a limited resource pool. Very few projects that have reached the $8 million cap."
In terms of the US economy, film production may be one industry that bucks the outsourcing trend, Ms. Sokolowsky said. "We hardly manufacture anything in this country anymore except content. There's always a trade surplus there, and the ways in which we can watch content are multiplying. We're good at telling great stories, and we've got multi-talented, skilled artists here. We need to capitalize on that."
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