For many years, Florida was the top television and film location outside of Hollywood and New York with productions filmed here such as “Caddyshack,” “Flipper,” “Parenthood,” “Miami Vice,” “My Girl” and “Edward Scissorhands.”
In the late 1990s other states began to compete aggressively for these multimillion-dollar productions and the high-wage jobs associated with them by offering economic incentives. Production companies, sound stages and post-production facilities emerged in those states, and Florida saw a sharp decline in film and television production. In 2004, state leaders recognized the value of investing in our industry and implemented a program to bring the jobs back.
Unlike some states, Florida did not offer incentives on the front end. Instead, it offered a small tax rebate after Florida residents were hired and production was completed. As a result, Florida quickly reestablished its film, television and digital media industry growing to more than 16,000 companies employing at least 100,000 Floridians with an average wage of more than $72,000 per year.
Because of the state’s program, diverse locations and skilled workforce, popular television series such as “Burn Notice” and “The Glades” and movies such as “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2” were filmed in Florida, injecting more than $1 billion into Florida’s economy. The state’s incentive program was good for industry professionals, good for the tourism industry and good for the taxpayer. Since 2004, for every $1 Florida invested, more than $5 was spent in the state. Much of the spending came from other states, new money injected into Florida’s economy.
Unfortunately, the Legislature let the program sunset, and no successor was passed to compete with other states for these jobs. The last two significant productions to receive the credit and showcase our beautiful state — while creating thousands of jobs — were the hit television series“Bloodline” and “Ballers.”
In large part because of the infrastructure cultivated by Florida’s tax-credit program and Florida’s workforce, Netflix announced “Bloodline” would return to Florida for a third season without the incentive. According to the Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council, season 1 of “Bloodline” generated $65 million in new travel spending, 1,738 jobs and $9.4 million in state and local tax revenue — in addition to the $30 million in production spending. Unfortunately, the coup was short lived. The number of episodes for season 3 was reduced, and production ended after that, a huge loss for the Keys and the South Florida economy.
On the heels of losing “Bloodline” HBO recently affirmed that the incentive was a key factor in deciding to set up production of “Ballers” in Miami. But HBO just announced that, since the incentive no longer is available, it is moving the show to California after two seasons. In Florida, each season of “Ballers” produced more than $20 million in spending; jobs for more than 2,800 Floridians, including cast and crew; 1,000+ hotel room nights and another 3,000 condo/short-term rental uses.
The confluence of losing “Bloodline” and “Ballers” further demonstrates that, absent a program to allow us to compete for new productions, Florida will be stuck watching a version of “Groundhog Day” repeating the jobs losses of the 1990s.
Film Florida is committed to rebuilding this industry and ensuring there are Florida-based jobs for the 5,000 film and digital media students graduating annually who are currently moving out of state to find employment. Specifically, many of our graduates are moving to Georgia, where, Gov. Nathan Deal reports, “Film and television productions generated an economic impact of more than $7 billion this year.” Meanwhile Florida, absent a state program, lost more than 50 projects in the last three years that would have spent more than $700 million, used more than 110,000 hotel rooms and had an economic impact of close to $2 billion.
Florida has come back before, and it will come back again. As the president of Film Florida, I am committed to working with legislators and stakeholders to send the signal that despite the recent losses, Florida is open for business and competing for high-wage jobs in the film, television and digital media industry. Putting Floridians back to work at home, generating new revenues and increasing tourism is an important step toward growing and diversifying our economy. Let’s put Florida back on the map as a perfect destination for entertainment production.
Kelly Paige is the president of Film Florida.