Filmed in Florida no more, without state’s attractive incentives

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A scene from Oscar-nominated “Moonlight” is shot on a South Florida beach.
A scene from Oscar-nominated “Moonlight” is shot on a South Florida beach. A24 FILMS

The Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday night, and a front runner in the coveted Best Film category is a precious, low-budget gem called “Moonlight.”

Know where “Moonlight” was filmed? Miami, and Liberty City specifically. Unfortunately, the coming-of-age film created by two Miami natives, Tarell McCraney and director Barry Jenkins, might be the last major film set here for a while.

For the last few years Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have pulled up the welcome mat to the Hollywood film industry, denying movie companies past tax incentives to film here. As a result, several other states, primarily Georgia, are eating our lunch. The film industry follows the tax breaks. Take them away, and the filmmakers go elsewhere.

Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature scoffs at the idea of luring movie types, even though they brings buckets of money with them that filters down in communities statewide to actors, make-up artists, caterers, casting agents, set designers, etc. For a governor who’s mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs, he’s doing a poor job himself in this area.

According to the Miami-Dade Office of Film & TV Entertainment, permitted movie and television productions in Miami-Dade and Miami Beach spent $410 million at the height of the rebates between 2010-2011, compared to 2015-2016, when the number dropped almost 60 percent, to $175 million.

And, sadly, there is no indication any Florida lawmaker will step during the upcoming legislative session to try to stop the freefall.

To be fair, Florida isn’t the only state to turn away from attracting filmmakers with tax incentives. Texas and Michigan have also recently cut back or ended the rebates altogether because, they say, it’s difficult to prove a direct return on the investment.

But the economic benefits are undeniable in Florida.

A 2015 study by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council on the economic impact of the first season of “Bloodline” revealed combined film production and tourist spending of $95.4 million, the creation of 1,738 jobs and an economic output of $158.7 million.

But kiss all that revenue goodbye. “Bloodline,” now on its third season, is gone — and so is The Rock’s “Ballers.”

Recent and upcoming movies that are set in Florida, such as Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night” and the Chris Pine-Octavia Spencer drama “Gifted,” were shot in Georgia, which has decided to offer up to 30 percent in tax credit to big-budget productions.

Yes, the tax breaks have taken a quarter-billion dollars from Georgia’s coffers, but the trade off has been 79,000 jobs and $4 billion paid in wages. Can Florida continue to spurn such a deal?

There are some local efforts to keep attracting low-budget films like “Moonlight,” which was a labor of love. Jenkins insisted on soldiering on, filming in Miami despite the lack of incentives.

Graham Winick, film and event production manager for Miami Beach, is helping Film Florida develop a proposal, called the Education Retention Bill, which would offer a 5 to 20 percent reimbursement to any film, TV or digital media project in which one of the key primary roles — actor, writer, director, producer — is filled by a graduate of a Florida university. The modest program would have a cap of $500,000 per project. But Winick believes it’s enough to lure smaller projects to the state. At least it’s something.

As for the Oscars? May the sun shine on “Moonlight!”