Florida’s fickle politics can do strange things to geography. Consider how Tampa’s Ybor City became Brunswick, Georgia.
Novelist and screenwriter Dennis Lehane famously wrote about prohibition-era Ybor City in his 2012 novel Live by Night. But $6 million worth of Georgia tax incentives lured the upcoming movie version starring Ben Affleck to a faux version of Tampa’s historic district built on a movie lot in Brunswick.
There’s the irony in this chintziness. Florida’s not only losing movie productions to other states with more lucrative TV and film tax incentive programs, we’re losing Florida-themed movies and television shows to those other states.
Tax incentives moved the filming of Robert De Niro’s Dirty Grandpa, about a lecherous old man’s antics at spring break in mythic Daytona Beach, to the not-so-mythic Georgia coast.
The Tampa Tribune reported that — thanks to tax incentives — the CBS drama Four Stars, supposedly set at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, will be shot, instead, in Louisiana. Georgia snagged an upcoming film about Florida’s famed roadside folk artists known as the Highwaymen.
For three consecutive years, the Florida Legislature has refused to replenish the state’s tapped-out entertainment-and-tax incentive fund. My colleague Rene Rodriguez reported that a number of movie productions supposedly set in Miami, including Ride Along 2, Arms and the Dudes and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip abandoned town after a few exterior shots and finished production in states offering tax breaks.
Florida created an entertainment industry tax incentive back in 2010, but the program had depleted all $296 million of its allocation by 2013. Since then, legislators have been mindful of the tea party antipathy to tax subsidies. Particularly for outfits out of La La Land.
Hard-line fiscal conservatives point to a study last year by the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research finding that for every dollar spent on film industry tax credits, the state collected only 43 cents in tax revenue. But the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment reports that the $296 million in incentives created more than 170,000 jobs, with $900 million in wages, adding $4.1 billion to Florida’s gross state product. By that calculation, Florida’s getting a 15-to-1 return on its investment.
But there must be value beyond the tax ledger in subsidizing films that dazzle movie patrons in cold places with grand sun-drenched scenes of South Beach and Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. Some backwater in Georgia would seem a poor substitute.
State Sen. Nancy Detert, a Sarasota Republican, has managed to cobble new, tighter accountability requirements for film incentives onto a Senate bill that doles out similar incentives to sports venues. Maybe Detert’s new rules will appease the hard-liners.
But our conservative legislative leaders sure don’t seem bothered by the tax incentives handed out to a gun manufacturer with plans for an assault rifle assembly plant in Pompano Beach. The Sun-Sentinel reported last month that Kalashnikov USA promised to create 54 new jobs.
In our civic priorities, making guns apparently trumps making movies.