Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade creates new subsidy program for movies and television

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson poses for pictures on the premiere night of the second season of HBO’s “Ballers” on July 14, 2016. The party was held at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. “Ballers” later moved to California.
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson poses for pictures on the premiere night of the second season of HBO’s “Ballers” on July 14, 2016. The party was held at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. “Ballers” later moved to California. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade wants to pay television shows and movies to film in the county, with hopes that offering a $100,000 local subsidy will replace a tiny bit of the bait Florida used to offer Hollywood with its $300 million incentive program that state lawmakers let expire last year.

“It helps the show runners. It helps the producers when the studio asks: Is there an incentive?” said Kim Wolf, owner of Worldwide Production Services in Coral Gables. “It’s a little nod.”

Miami-Dade doesn’t expect a rush for the money. Although the Miami-Dade County Commission approved the program Tuesday without debate, the county’s budget office has set aside no production-subsidy dollars for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

To qualify for the maximum $100,000 subsidy, a production would need to spend at least $1 million within the county, film 70 percent of its footage 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.

But with the prospect of some financial help available from the local government, advocates said the new program will send the right message to studios and production companies who naturally gravitate to Miami as a backdrop but won’t consider locations if incentives aren’t a possibility.

“There are projects that say: ‘We will come here if you give us something,’ ” said Sandy Lighterman, head of the county’s film office. “We need something for the bean counters and the financial people.”

The new county subsidy arrives during lean times for Miami-Dade’s budget, with a 2018 proposal that cuts services and funding for transit, freezes hiring across departments and rolls back other spending amid a slowdown in sales-tax revenue. Florida dropped its film subsidy program under pressure from conservative activists questioning why tax dollars should boost the profits of big-budget movies and television series.

But with Georgia and Louisiana offering millions of dollars in production subsidies, local production executives say they’ve seen Miami’s vaunted film industry steadily pulled out of state by incentive dollars. Along with lavish budgets for sets, accommodations and catering, advocates said, a movie or major television series contributes to the celebrity sizzle wrapped up in Miami’s tourism brand.

Sally Heyman, the county commissioner who sponsored the program, noted HBO’s “Ballers” left Miami-Dade for California as Florida’s subsidies dried up last year — despite the series being set in Miami. “I’d love to have Dwayne Johnson back,” she said of the star.

Backers of the film subsidies see the county giving a crucial boost to the network of smaller productions that help sustain the skilled camera operators, actors, technicians and others that make the scattered larger productions possible. “Moonlight,” the Oscar-winning movie set and filmed in Miami on a $1.5 million budget, would have qualified for the program, Lighterman said.

Carmen Pelaez, a filmmaker, moved from New York to Coconut Grove because she felt Miami was a more accessible platform for launching independent films.

“I shot my first short film with HBO Latina down here,” she said after the vote. “There’s an incredible creative community in Miami.”

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