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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Legislature declines to fund incentives for film industry

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s next foray into the film industry will have to wait.

A bill amping up tax incentives to lure more motion pictures being filmed in Florida was declared dead on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

The measure (SB 1734) would have extended the incentive program another four years and provided an extra $50 million per year through 2020. It also required a film production company to show proof of a cash match from the county where filming would take place.

The House had been asking for $200 million a year. That initiative also was killed.

The state allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012-16, but all the money was spent just a year into the four-year cycle, damaging the state’s chances to lure major films.

This news comes as Hillsborough County was hoping for a host of film productions to roll into the area over the next year.

For example, “The Infiltrator” seemed ready to film here. The movie is based on a book by Tampa Bay area resident Robert Mazur, his real-life story of a two-year investigation as a DEA agent posing as a Tampa-based businessman. Mazur helped bring down an international financial institution that had laundered tens of millions of dollars for infamous drug cartel head Pablo Escobar.

With a rumored budget of $47.5 million and director Brad Furman of “Lincoln Lawyer” and “Runner Runner” fame attached to it, the Hillsborough County Commission recently approved a local $250,000 incentive to try to lure the film here.

If the state had allocated new funds for production tax incentives, state law would have allowed “The Infiltrator” to be reimbursed up to 30 percent of the money it spent in Florida, with a cap of $8 million.

The film’s England-based production company Good Films could not be reached for comment Thursday on whether the lack of incentives was a deal breaker.

This year’s proposal, carried by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, simply didn’t beat out other competing priorities as lawmakers scrambled in the last two days of the legislative session to finalize their respective tax packages, legislators said.

“At the end of session, when we’re making allocations and entering into a conference agreement, we look at … what money’s available to fund bills,” said Senate budget chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “At this time, the budget doesn’t contain funding for film incentives.”

A last-minute effort to tack on the program to another bill failed.

“It was a Hail Mary pass,” Detert said. “Unfortunately, it looks like we’re dying on the one-yard line.”

Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he supported the policy behind subsidizing films being made in Florida.

“Timing is everything,” he said. “But I’ll be here next year and we’re going to work on this.”

Dale Gordon, executive director of The Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, declined comment Thursday but said she expects the film industry to release a statement Friday.

Director Furman is close friends with Ben Affleck, who will be directing “Live By Night,” based on the best-selling novel of the same name about rum-running in Ybor during the 1920s and ‘30s that was written by part-time St. Petersburg resident Dennis Lehane.

In November 2013, rumors began to swirl that Affleck would film the movie in Savannah, Ga. instead of Ybor City because Florida’s lack of incentives.

But when his friend Furman chose Tampa as the locale of his next film, production was pushed back due to Affleck’s other projects, and with a chance that the state would approve new tax incentives, some hoped the pendulum would swing back to Ybor City. The lack of state incentives, though, might have given the edge back to Savannah.

Georgia also offers up to 30 percent back on in-state expenditures but has no cap on how much a project can receive or how much the state can allocate per year.

Industry leaders had preached throughout the process that film and television production in Florida has generated more than 100,000 jobs in the state over the past three years, paying more than $650 million in wages to Floridians.

Local officials and economic leaders have been hoping that the Bollywood Oscars recently held in Tampa would bring Indian productions to the city.

“Saat Hindustani” has already been rumored to begin filming this month or next. The county commission has approved a local incentive of $50,000.

The film tells the story of seven students from India who come to Tampa to study at the University of South Florida. It will be produced by Rhea Kapoor, daughter of famed Bollywood actor and producer Anil Kapoor.

Last week at an entertainment summit at the Tampa Convention Center sponsored by the International Indian Film Academy as part of its four days of event celebrating the Bollywood Oscars, Anil Kapoor said he loved Tampa as a filming location, but added:

“It’s not as hunky-dory as it looks to make films. You need financial support. Things are tough. People will compromise if you can give incentives.”

— Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau reporter James L. Rosica contributed to this report from Tallahassee.

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