As Filmmakers Leave Florida, Cities Hope to Entice Them Back

by | July 27, 2017

By Lance Dixon

As more TV and film productions make their home in Georgia, California and elsewhere outside the Sunshine State, another local government is hoping to make up a part of the nearly $300 million in incentives that Florida once offered to the industry.

North Miami, which has a long history of hosting TV and movie shoots from "Flipper" to "Ballers," is following the lead of Miami-Dade County in offering incentives to TV and film production companies if they spend thousands in the city. Companies could receive reimbursements as well as breaks on certain fees, parking and other costs. The city of Miami Beach is drafting ordinances that would establish a similar program.

The city's program, approved by City Manager Larry Spring in June and announced Tuesday, will provide 30 percent reimbursement of costs for filming, if it's done in the city's redevelopment area. That area covers the majority of the city's central and western side and a portion of the east side off Biscayne Boulevard.

The incentives of up to $50,000 will be paid by the redevelopment agency or the city. Production companies could also be eligible for free parking or space to hold equipment based on how much they spend to film in the city.

Spring said the plan came through conversations between the city's economic development and community planning departments and members of the film industry.

"Film incentives from the state level, that's where the real meaty incentives were," Spring said. "We wanted to come up with something to help the production companies at least a little bit."

Productions with a budget higher than $100,000 may be allowed to waive fees for hiring off-duty police officers. Productions with a crew of more than 12 people and a budget of more than $30,000 could receive waivers for reservation fees at city parks, community centers and other public spaces.

North Miami locations have been featured in TV shows and films ranging from USA Network's "Burn Notice" to HBO's "Ballers" and several other TV commercials.

The city is also home to Greenwich Studios, one of the largest studios in South Florida, which in recent years has mostly gotten work from Spanish-language shows that Telemundo didn't have room to house at its studios. The studio was founded in the early 1960s by TV producer and director Ivan Tors and was home to 1960s shows like "Flipper" and "Gentle Ben."

The move by North Miami and other municipalities comes after state lawmakers chose to not replenish the Florida Entertainment Incentive Program after it ran out of money. It officially ended last summer.

The popular program started in 2010 with nearly $300 million in tax credits for TV, film and video productions. To take advantage of the program, 60 percent of a production's cast and crew had to be established in Florida.

In Miami-Dade, to qualify for the maximum $100,000 subsidy under the new program, a production would need to spend at least $1 million within the county, do 70 percent of filming in Miami-Dade, hire at least 50 county residents and have Miami-Dade firms make up at least 80 percent of the production's vendors. An extended application and audit process would delay payouts for months after production.

The Oscar-winning film "Moonlight" which filmed in Miami at a cost of about $1.5 million, would have been eligible for the subsidy.

Sandy Lighterman, head of the county's film office, said that the county had been in conversation with North Miami for about a year and that she has encouraged more municipalities to follow the county's lead.

"I think we need to take care of ourselves," Lighterman said. "Obviously the state is not understanding, from their measurements, what the return on investment is."

Since Florida's incentive program ended, states like California, Georgia and Louisiana have made a strong push to entice film and TV productions.

"Live By Night" and "Gifted," recent movies with storylines set in Florida, were filmed in Georgia. And "Ballers" moved filming of the show's third season to California. The show's first two seasons were filmed in South Florida and included cameos from Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and NFL stars.

Lighterman is hopeful that as more cities and counties across the state adopt their own incentives, they can help support smaller productions that keep camera operators, actors, technicians and other professionals employed and in the state.

"They can say 'I get to stay home with my family, I don't have to leave." That's huge for them," Lighterman said.

Kim Wolf, owner of Worldwide Production Services, has felt that impact. Her husband Bart Tau, a director of photography, has been working in Atlanta since May because he's had difficulty finding steady work in Florida. She said the local incentive programs have given her "profound optimism."

"I'm really happy to hear that other towns are thinking of jumping in," Wolf said. "We need to step it up and I think we will."

In addition to North Miami and the county's efforts, Miami Beach is also considering an incentive program.

Some of the Beach's proposed changes include easing the process for crew members who park in municipal garages during off-peak times and simplifying approvals for filming in residential neighborhoods and closing traffic lanes.

Miami Beach has proposed a pot of up to $100,000 in cash incentives that would be funded by the city and/or private entities.

Lighterman said that her office has had conversations with officials from Miami Gardens and Doral who are also considering incentive programs.

The state, and particularly South Florida, has been home to several popular and high-profile movies and television shows over the year dating back to "Miami Vice" which sparked tourism and development in Miami Beach, the films "The Birdcage" and "Scarface" and several other TV shows, commercials and independent films.

"This industry has done free advertising for this city for decades," Wolf said.

Miami Herald staff writer Rene Rodriguez contributed to this story.

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