With all eyes fixed on Hollywood this weekend for the 90th Academy Awards, local lawmakers and industry insiders want studios to once again look to South Florida as a film-friendly location.
So they’re bucking critics in the state Legislature, who let the nearly $300 million Florida Entertainment Incentive Program dry up. Some local governments have formed their own patchwork of incentive and subsidy programs aimed at attracting producers — and more importantly, investors — with tax credits and an overall atmosphere of hospitality that studios relish.
“I know that this is making a difference,” said Sandy Lighterman, who heads the Miami-Dade County film and entertainment office and organized the growing alliance between the county and a number of its municipalities.
A former producer herself, Lighterman championed the county’s subsidy program, which passed last year, and opened a dialogue with neighboring municipalities about creating incentive zones in the county.
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The alliance — currently between the county, North Miami and Miami Beach — is listed under a single name: FilMiami. And Lighterman is actively recruiting other local leaders.
Daniel Davidson, the chairman of the Production Industry Council in Miami Beach, championed the island city’s subsidy program, which is expected to be approved by city commissioners on Wednesday. Last year, commissioners approved other incentives that include loosening parking restrictions and lessening the requirements for getting sign-offs on shoots from nearby property owners. They also directed city staff to draw up an ordinance for the subsidy program.
Through its program, Miami Beach would distribute nine grants of $10,000 to studios shooting TV shows, movies or other specified work who spend a minimum of $25,000 in the city and employ a workforce that is more than half Floridian, among other provisions.
Eva Silverstein, Miami Beach’s director of tourism, culture and economic development, said that since the city announced that “culture shift” last April, several productions have taken advantage of its efforts to attract Hollywood talent.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” on FX filmed in Miami Beach last year. The producers liked it so much that they came back to film the houseboat scene where Versace’s killer is found by police. A replica houseboat was docked in Indian Creek and used for the production last year.
Some of the other productions that have shot in Miami Beach in the last year include an upcoming Netflix show about magicians, and “The Beach Bum,” a Matthew McConaughey movie. A new ABC pilot starring Eva Longoria shot there, too.
Recently, rapper Drake and singer Taylor Swift filmed music videos in the city. Drake’s video for his song “God’s Plan” has been viewed 95 million times in a week on YouTube.
“These productions weren’t coming here prior to our change in guidelines and our incentive program we put in place,” Silverstein said. She added that the number of permits has not changed much but the quality of productions has.
Miami gained fame as a shooting location during the “Miami Vice” era of the 1980s and was featured in many movies, TV shows and other productions over the years, including the TV show “Burn Notice” and “Moonlight,” which won the Best Picture Academy Award a year ago.
But the disappearance of the subsidy pot in 2016 made studios feel unwelcome and led to an industry exodus, Davidson said. Now Miami Beach is taking steps to fill the gap left by the loss of the state program.
It’s not only about money. Productions want the red carpet rolled out.
Daniel Davidson, chairman, Production Industry Council
“It’s not only about money,” Davidson said, acknowledging that $10,000 to a multimillion-dollar film studio is simply a drop in the bucket. “Productions want the red carpet rolled out.”
More important than cobbling together monetary incentives is hanging out “a welcome sign” and making easier the entire process of setting up a shoot in the city, he said.
“It makes a massive difference for these movie companies,” Davidson said.
The state program, which critics called corporate welfare, was approved in 2010. It established a pool of $296 million in tax credits for film, TV and video productions that required 60 percent of the cast and crew of any eligible project to be based in Florida. The program lasted six years, allocating its last $42 million during the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Christine LaBuzetta, the owner of a Beach-based production services company, said film crews used to spent months in the island city. Now, she said, crews stop by to shoot what is absolutely necessary and then recreate South Beach in Georgia or another more hospitable state.
Hundreds of local crew hands and entertainment workers have left the state, she said. Her company now relies on seasonal work, like fashion shoots and commercials.
“It’s affected so many people here,” she said. “It’s a shame.”
The Beach’s proposed subsidy program is a good start, she said. “It’s cracking open the door and hopefully the numbers will bear out it being worth it.”
The county’s program, which is more strict than that of North Miami or the proposed Beach program, grants $100,000 subsidies to companies that spend at least $1 million and film at least 70 percent of their footage within county lines, among other prerequisites.
The subsidy program in North Miami, approved shortly after Miami-Dade County acted, covers $50,000 subsidies, but otherwise is similar to what Miami Beach is expected to pass.
Florida Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, introduced a bill this legislative session to create a public-private partnership to further lure production companies to the state.
But with a week left in the legislative session, Florida’s Congress of Motion Picture Association, which championed the model, is looking to restructure Taddeo’s bill with an eye on the 2019 session.
“We must acknowledge there will be no more committee hearings for our bills this year,” the group said in a statement released last week. “We’ve gone as far as we can go.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer Rene Rodriguez contributed to this report.