The fate of Florida’s film industry, decimated two years ago by the elimination of the state’s film incentives program, might hang on the outcome of next week’s gubernatorial contest. It’s a tight race, and whoever wins – Democrat Andrew Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis – will have to deal with a Republican-dominated Legislature that’s adamantly opposed to film incentives. But industry sources in the Sunshine State clearly are pinning their hopes on Gillum, who has declared, “When I’m governor, we’re going to bring film tax credits back.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, largely has remained mum on the issue. Last month, without quoting him directly, the Tampa Bay Times noted that when he was asked between campaign stops if he supports tax incentives to recruit businesses to Florida, including tax breaks for producers making movies in the state, he responded with a nebulous, “Maybe, but it depends on the situation.” DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to Deadline’s requests for comment.
Gillum, on the other hand, has given a full-throated endorsement of returning film incentives to the state. “I’m a huge supporter of reintroducing and bringing back the tax credits into the state of Florida,” he said in a recent video (watch it below). “I think our Legislature was shortsighted when they cut this tax-incentive program. And I agree, like Sen. Annette Taddeo, that we ought to bring it back, right here to the state of Florida. Bring back the contract economy where people can make good wages, do good work, produce great products and showcase the beauty and the attractiveness of the state of Florida all across the globe.”
Florida, he said, “doesn’t have to look any further than our neighbor to the north, the state of Georgia, to see the amazing impact, financially, that the film industry can have on a state. Black Panther alone meant some $73 million of direct investment in the state of Georgia through its production. Total, all told over the year, $9 billion of this industry helping to raise the economy of the state of Georgia, and I want that money right back here in the state of Florida. Which is why we must bring back these film incentives. We’re talking about the future of the state of Florida.”
This stark difference between Gillum and DeSantis didn’t go unnoticed by the Congress of Motion Picture Associations of Florida, a trade organization representing film and TV workers and industry-related businesses in the state. In a posting on its website, COMPASS pointed to a recent report by a local TV station that asked the two gubernatorial candidates why more film and TV productions aren’t being filmed in Florida. “We all know the answer, of course,” COMPASS noted. “No tax credits. No support from our state Legislature. No support from the outgoing Florida governor [Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate]. But how about the two gubernatorial candidates on the ballot in November? Where do they stand? The article states that Channel 9 asked each one whether they plan to bring film back to the Sunshine State. Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum said ‘Yes.’ Republican candidate Ron DeSantis had no comment. ‘Nuf said?’”
But even if Gillum wins and keeps his promise to fight for new film incentives, he’ll be facing a steep uphill battle with the Legislature, especially in the state’s conservative House of Representatives. “The industry would love to be back in Florida, but right now there’s no pathway,” an industry source told Deadline. “Maybe next time around, but the next governor is going to be faced with a very conservative House, and there’s no chance there.”
Once dubbed “Hollywood East,” Florida’s film commission boasted in 2006 that the state was “the third-largest film-making state in the nation” – behind only California and New York. “We were always No. 3,” a local casting director lamented. “Everyone wanted to come to Florida to film. Now we’re not in the top 20.”
The state’s once-vibrant film industry was left for dead in 2016 after the Florida branch of Americans for Prosperity, the lobbying group backed by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers that’s ideologically opposed to all forms of incentives that target specific industries, convinced state legislators to scrap the film incentives program.
Launched on July 1, 2010, the state’s film tax credits ended on June 30, 2016. The Florida Legislature initially had allocated $242 million in tax credits for the program then added an additional $12 million in 2011 and another $42 million in 2012 for a total of $296 million – less than California spends in one year on film incentives. After that, however, the state’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives refused to allocate any more money for the program.
“Without a funded state-wide program to help bring projects and companies to our state, Florida has lost more than 60 major film and television projects that would have spent over $1 billion in Florida,” said John Lux, executive director of Film Florida, a non-partisan trade association that promotes the state’s entertainment industry. “That’s more than $1 billion directly in the pockets of Florida residents and companies, and more than 87,000 cast and crew jobs. In addition, those projects would have also used more than 160,000 hotel room nights state-wide.”
Film Florida doesn’t endorse candidates, but Lux noted that “with the upcoming elections, there is an opportunity for our industry. The industry has spent considerable time over the last six months communicating with current legislators and candidates. The focus has been on further educating legislators and candidates so they understand the challenges and opportunities for the industry in Florida. There has never bene more content available to viewers than there is today. That means there has never been more money available to create content. We believe that content creation should be done in Florida, creating jobs for Floridians, pumping new money into our economy, and showing off our state on the large, small and mobile screen.”
He added: “In order to change the current state of the industry in Florida, we look to the new Legislative Leadership in Tallahassee to have an open mind, and be willing to consider options that first and foremost helps the entire state, and second, sends a signal to the industry in Florida, the United States, and the world, that Florida is open for business and competing for high wage jobs in the film, television and digital media industry.”