Miami-Dade County

HBO’s ‘Ballers’ leaving Miami over subsidies and Zika?

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his fellow cast members hit the “black carpet” during premiere night for HBO’s “Ballers” on Thursday, July 14, 2016, at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his fellow cast members hit the “black carpet” during premiere night for HBO’s “Ballers” on Thursday, July 14, 2016, at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. CARL JUSTE

Over the summer, HBO announced that “Ballers,” a Miami-based football comedy centered around Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, would return in 2017 for a third season.

Whether the show will continue to be shot in Miami, however, remains unclear.

Miami’s mayors and film czars have been scrambling in recent weeks amid rumblings that the network may pull the plug on South Florida and move the show’s base of production out of state. They say they haven’t been told that “Ballers” is definitely leaving, but with Florida’s film subsidies program bone dry they’re not confident the show is staying, either.

“This is an issue that, for [HBO], is worth millions of dollars,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who recently called one of the show’s producers in California to talk about staying in Miami. “We had a good conversation. It’s up to them right now.”

An HBO publicist declined to comment.

“Ballers,” built around a hapless linebacker-turned-financial adviser played by Johnson, just wrapped up its second season in Miami. The show has been shot at Seaspice on the Miami River, the W South Beach and the Raleigh, among other locations. Each sun- and liquor-soaked episode is seen by millions of viewers.

If “Ballers” leaves, it’s likely the story would remain based in Miami, but most scenes would be filmed in a studio elsewhere where South Florida locations are recreated.

This is an issue that, for [HBO], is worth millions of dollars

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Gimenez is among Miami’s officials and business boosters worried that if “Ballers” leaves, it will take millions in spending, scores of jobs and invaluable marketing opportunities with it. Ongoing concerns about a Zika outbreak on Miami Beach have been discussed as HBO weighs its options — presenting a public relations problem for the tourist-dependent region — but local officials say the real issue for the network is that Florida lawmakers ended film subsidies at a time when other states are throwing cash at the industry.

“That really hurt us, because this is an extremely competitive field,” said Maria Chavez, a local manager in South Florida for TV and film shoots since the “Miami Vice” boom days in the 1980s. “A lot of our crew is moving to Atlanta and we’re going to lose our infrastructure. It’s tragic that the state doesn’t support the entertainment industry the way it supports tourism. We used to be the third-biggest production center in the U.S. Now I’m telling young people to move to New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta, because that’s where the work is.”

In 2014, “Ballers” received $6.7 million in Florida tax credits, some of the last dollars from a $300 million fund created in 2010. “Bloodline,” a Florida Keys-based Netflix production that also snared the last of Florida’s film subsidies, recently announced that the show’s third season will be its last.

If “Ballers” goes, that’s catastrophic on so many levels

Miami Beach film czar

“If “Ballers” goes, that’s catastrophic on so many levels,” said Graham Winick, film and event production manager for the city of Miami Beach. “It would take away jobs that we desperately need in our industry here.”

Winick said he and county film czar Sandy Lighterman spoke Thursday to Jay Roewe, HBO’s senior vice president of production, and were told that “a decision has not been made.” He said Miami’s film industry boosters are putting together an incentive package, the details of which were too preliminary to discuss, in order to keep the show in town. Next week, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine have tentatively scheduled a sit-down to talk about keeping the show in Miami.

In an interview Sunday, Levine blasted the state for doing nothing as productions flee Florida for other states. Regalado, who made a Season 2 cameo, said keeping “Ballers” in South Florida should be a priority.

“I was there for the film for several days. It employs hundreds of people, locally,” he said. “If the state doesn’t come out with something, then we should figure out something locally.”

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