In the past week, it was learned that two major Hollywood productions that had intended on filming in the Tampa Bay area chose not to because the state had no tax incentives to provide.
The Tampa Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reported on Thursday that Gifted, a new Hollywood film starring Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer about a St. Petersburg man fighting for custody of his niece, is being filmed off the coast of Savannah, Ga. Another Savannah production is Live By Night, the Ben Affleck-directed adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel set in Ybor City in the 1930s.
In both cases, the producers wanted to film in the Tampa Bay area, but couldn’t do so because there were no tax incentives available to offer the productions.
Legislation that would have replenished those tax incentive funds in a program previous created by the Florida Legislature went down to defeat for the second year in a row in Tallahassee earlier this year. And one of the leading advocate groups against such funding, Americans for Prosperity, is already gearing up to make sure those incentives aren’t available in the 2016 session as well.
The Koch Brothers-funded group has created a new website, ScarySpending.com, to highlight for Floridians what they call the “importance of ending carve-outs for well-connected industries.” The site invites citizens to sign a petition to “Kill the Hollywood Handout Zombie!” and “Don’t Bring the Film Credit Back to Life,” done in a Halloween horror-type design.
“It’s not shocking to hear that special interests have their hands out again hoping to convince legislators to revive the failed film tax credit program,” said state director Chris Hudson. “AFP spent countless hours last session, knocked on thousands of doors, and made over 30,000 phone calls to Florida taxpayers to educate them about the failed track records of the film tax credit program, and the dismal 43 cents on the dollar return on investment; and we’re prepared to exorcise this demon again!”
One of the most prominent Tallahassee lawmakers advocating for the tax incentive program for Hollywood productions was Sarasota-based Republican state Sen. Nancy Detert. After AFP went after her personally via television commercials and direct mail pieces that blasted her for her voting record, the moderate legislator burst out during a committee hearing last April at Kylar Zander, the Florida deputy director for AFP.
“You’re called Americans for Prosperity — you’re all on the Koch Brothers payroll. Good for you, I’m glad you’re employed,” Detert said at the time, adding that, “obviously you’re for prosperity for yourself and not other people in the industry.”
The 2015 legislation sponsored by Detert and Winter Park House Republican state Rep. Mike Miller would have given the state film commissioner increased ability to grant money quickly and the power to determine the level of quality and economic impact of the projects that receive state money.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 39 states had some type of film incentive program existing in 2014. Florida did not come to the party with a substantial incentive package until 2010, setting aside about $296 million. But that package ran dry by 2014, putting great weight the past two years on the Legislature to approve a new plan to keep Florida competitive with Southern states such as Louisiana and Georgia, prospering in recent years with Hollywood productions.