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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Editorial: Bill not starry eyed about film incentives

Lawmakers with doubts about developing the state’s film industry should consider the impact of the International Indian Film Academy’s awards in Tampa this week. The event is expected to attract more than 25,000 visitors, generate as much as $30 million in economic activity and, significantly, highlight the region as a location for “Bollywood” films.

One movie with a Tampa setting already is planned.

So the state has good reason to nurture the industry, which includes filming movies, television, commercials and even video games.

But it is important to understand that legislation being considered in Tallahassee that would provide $50 million a year in incentives to the film industry is by no means a giveaway.

Senate Bill 7128, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice, includes key safeguards.

Leah Sokolowsky, president of Film Florida, emphasizes that state support, in the form of a tax credit, would not be awarded until both a private accounting firm and state auditor had certified the project created the jobs and economic impact as promised.

Moreover, a film would only receive credit for expenditures on goods and services in Florida, not for a film’s overall expenses.

The measure would cap the state incentive at $8 million per project.

A recent amendment to the legislation requires counties where projects are filmed to also contribute 10 percent of what the state offers. This will result in more scrutiny.

In addition to the state review, local governments would do their own economic impact studies to determine whether film proposals merit support.

But the amendment now has a flawed provision that requires counties to make only cash contributions.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has spearheaded the re-establishment of the Tampa-Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, rightly believes local governments should be given credit for in-kind services, such as letting a film crew use city property without charge.

Hagan told the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo: “The state is offering tax incentives, not cash. So why should the county only have a cash option?”

That lapse should be remedied, but the judicious support of the film industry makes good financial sense.

Sokolowsky likes to point to a Motion Picture Association of America study that found for every state dollar spent on the film industry, the return is at least $5.60 and that close to 20 percent of all visitors to Florida say seeing the state in a movie or television show contributed to their travel plans.

Or consider the financial waves that continue to ripple from “Dolphin Tale,” which was filmed in part at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. As Guzzo recently detailed, the USF St. Petersburg College of Business found 73 percent of the aquarium’s visitors come because of the film.

The study estimated that the economic impact of “Dolphin Tale” on the region would reach $5 billion.

Not every movie has that kind of impact, but the films also generate high-paying jobs — the average salary is about $70,000 — while contributing to the local economy.

The numbers, like the film industry itself, can be dazzling. But what we like about Detert’s legislation is it would keep a clear focus on the film industry’s likely return on Florida’s investment.

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