Hillsborough County approves funding for upcoming Hollywood production

in Uncategorized by

Hope sprang eternal back in March, when Hillsborough County Commission Ken Hagan dropped a proposal on his colleagues for an immediate approval of a $250,000 grant for The Infiltrator, a $47.5 million Hollywood film production that tells the story of former DEA agent (and Tampa Bay resident) Robert Mazur, who helped take down the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. The approval came at the same time there was a furious lobbying effort being undertaken in Tallahassee to have the Legislature replenish a tax incentive program to bring more film and television productions to the Sunshine State.

But those proposals in the House and Senate went down to defeat once again, and subsequently so did the desire of Good Films Ltd., the producers of The Infiltrator, to base their entire production in Hillsborough County. Now the majority of the movie (starring Bryan Cranston) will be filmed in England, with just a few exterior shots produced in Tampa.

Though it’s not nearly what they had fantasized what might have been, Commissioner Hagan brought back that request for funding of the production to the BOCC on Wednesday, since the initial agreement was never executed. Today’s revised agreement provides a local incentive to Good Films, capped at the original $250,000, though it could be reduced to only $75,000.  The funding is included in the Economic Development Department’s FY 15 adopted budget within the Countywide Economic Development Activity Fund – Major Films Incentive Fund.

“If we had more incentives, Hillsborough County would have scored the production of nearly the entire film,” Hagan recalled wistfully today.

He then went on to extoll the virtues of having a robust tax incentive program at the state to compete with other states like Louisiana, Texas and Georgia, who have generous incentive programs and thus have be able to host a number of film, television and digital projects over the years.In the fiscal year that began  in July of 2013, 142 feature film and television projects were produced in Georgia with a total economic value of nearly $934 million. Seven years ago the total was $132 million. Since 2008, more than 80 film-related businesses — equipment, lighting, catering, trucking — have relocated or expanded in Georgia, among them 11 film and TV studio facilities.

Calling it a job creator, tourism driver and brand builder, Hagan extolled the virtues of the BOCC reignited a local film commission in the past few years in tandem with the city of Tampa. “We are well positioned here in Hillsborough County,” he said. He then went on to refer to an legislative reception hosted by the Tampa Hillsborough Film & Digital Media Commission last month featuring actor John Travolta that brought out a large number of state legislators in the Tampa Bay area, such as Jack Latvala, Dwight Dudley, Amanda Murphy, Arthenia Joyner, Jeff Brandes and others.

“The purpose was to stress to the Legislature the importance of state incentives to have this creative industry thrive,” Hagan said.

Also in that group was state Sen. Nancy Detert who is preparing a new bill to fund the program in 2015. Optimism is running high that it has a chance this year, because incoming state Senate President Andy Gardiner has already voiced support for more incentives.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.