Miami filming hobbled by lack of tax credits, conference told

The producers of Walt Disney Co.’s Million Dollar Arm wanted to film the family-friendly baseball movie in Miami — but the 2013 depletion of the state’s movie tax incentive fund put Florida in the strike-out zone.

“Since we’ve gotten no tax credits, we’re completely off the radar,” said Susan Simms, the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment’s liaison to Los Angeles.

After two legislative sessions without allotting additional funds for movie and television industry tax credits, Florida filmmakers are looking for new ways to attract productions to the state. At the annual Miami Media and Film Market conference Tuesday, film professionals worried about attracting business before the planned $11.5 million Miami Entertainment Complex opens in August 2015.

Southeast Florida accounted for the majority of tax credits awarded under the state’s incentive program, which launched in 2010. A total of $296 million was allocated to the program, but all of the tax credits have been given out, according to the state film office.

Every dollar of tax incentives added $5.60 to the state’s economy, according to Leah Sokolowsky, past president of the industry group Film Florida.

Miami-Dade County is starting to track how many productions have located elsewhere because of the end of the tax incentives. Sandy Lighterman, Miami-Dade’s film commissioner, said the county has lost at least two films, as well as a series of films similar to The Hunger Games.

“We’re also losing crews — that’s the sad part,” mostly to film-production hubs in Atlanta and New Orleans, Lighterman said.

The Miami Entertainment Complex, which will include office space and two studios — each almost twice as big as the largest studio in Miami — could be a draw for the film industry, its owners said at Tuesday’s conference. But it could also suffer from the incentive shortfall.

“There is a certain amount of risk involved to make sure it will be occupied,” said Pieter Bockweg, executive director of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. The government agency owns the Northwest 14th Street property and plans to break ground in August.

Film workers said they would double their efforts to lobby the Legislature next year. Film Florida board member Graham Winick suggested the group consider new funding sources, such as a sales tax on online purchases and pay-per-view fees in Florida hotels.

A Hollywood producer should visit the Florida Legislature to explain how tax incentives make or break location choice, said Chris Cooney, chief operating officer of EUE/Screen Gems, which will operate the complex. The film industry should latch onto tourism — one of Florida’s top industries — by promoting the idea that each movie is “a postcard for the state of Florida,” he said.

Sam Tedesco, a location manager for Miami productions such as 2012’s Rock of Ages, said he hopes the private sector will begin to invest in small, independent films. With a lot of indigenous talent, money and beauty, there’s no reason Miami shouldn’t be able to attract productions, he said.

“We’re here, where everyone wants to be, and we have a legislature that’s dragging its feet on creating incentives,” Tedesco said.

The Miami Media and Film Market is in its fourth year of collaborating with the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States’ annual hemispheric conference. Tuesday was the second day of the four-day event, which emphasized international cooperation by welcoming a large delegation from Chinese film associations. Actor Stephen Baldwin will be honored Wednesday.

“I wanted to focus [the conference] on the theory of co-production because I knew something was going to happen with the incentives,” said Patricia Arias, who coordinates the event every year.

Arias and many of the 125 film conference attendees were optimistic that the Florida Legislature would add film industry tax credits into the budget next year.

“We’re not going to go another year without incentives,” Cooney said. “There’s going to be too much groundswell.”