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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Hillsborough OKs incentives for two film projects

While state lawmakers consider beefing up Florida’s incentive program for film production, Hillsborough County commissioners created their own small incentive fund Wednesday to try to lure two motion pictures to Tampa.

With back-to-back unanimous votes, commissioners approved $250,000 for an American film, “The Infiltrator,” and $50,000 for the Bollywood feature, “Saat Hindustani.”

“Though “The Infiltrator” has a tentative budget of $47.5 million, Commissioner Ken Hagan said the $250,000 incentive could tip the scales in Tampa’s favor as a location site.

“While it’s an A-list movie with A-list talent, it’s an independent movie company,” Hagan said. “It’s not a Universal (Studios), so every dollar is crucial to them.”

“The Infiltrator” is Tampa resident Robert Mazur’s story of his role in bringing down Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar when Mazur worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Producers have expressed an interest in shooting in Tampa, and the film is in the state’s queue for tax incentives. But those incentives have yet to be approved by the Legislature, which began its 60-day session Tuesday.

“This is a true story that actually took place in our market,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. “In some regards, it would be somewhat of a loss not to tell our own story.”

Gordon said producers of “The Infiltrator” had set March 10 as a starting date.

“They have a 45-day-window,” Gordon said. “The local incentive is somewhat of a safeguard for them to have some confidence in coming into our market. We feel comfortable they’ll get state incentives.”

After Hagan made a motion to set aside $250,000 for “The Infiltrator,” Commissioner Al Higginbotham said the same consideration should be given to “Saat Hindustani” (“Seven Indians”). The film, which will be produced by Rhea Kapoor, daughter of famed Bollywood actor and producer Anil Kapoor, tells the story of seven students from India who come to Tampa to study at the University of South Florida.

“It’s a positive story; it’s not an ‘Animal House’-type movie,” Higginbotham said.

Unlike “The Infiltrator,” whose producers have not committed to Tampa, Kapoor has already been scouting locations for “Saat Hindustani,” Higginbotham said.

And though Americans tend to think of Hollywood as the center of the movie-making universe, Bollywood films gross four times the amount of revenue the U.S. film industry does, he said.

The International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, Bollywood’s version of the Oscars, will be held here in April. Gordon and others local promoters see the awards ceremony as an opportunity to convince other Indian film-makers to bring their productions to the Tampa area.

Among the 30,000 visitors expected here for the Bollywood Oscars will be an estimated 800 members of India’s film community.

“Bollywood, with their international awards coming here in April, should have the (same) opportunity” as “The Infiltrator,” Higginbotham said.

Higginbotham said he asked for only a $50,000 incentive because the Indian film has a smaller budget than “The Infiltrator,” though he would not disclose the figure.

To get the incentive money, producers of both films will have to document certain contributions to the local economy, such as room nights production workers spend in local hotels and the number of local residents hired to work on the movies, Hagan said. The county administration will develop those benchmarks and present them to the commission at the March 18 meeting.

“Today was to show a commitment from the local government that we want this film,” Hagan said.

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