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This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Florida’s year-round sunshine, versatile locations and robust infrastructure long have made the state a coveted destination for such series and films as Burn Notice and Spring Breakers. But so did the state’s tax incentives program, which legislators in March decided against replenishing for a fourth consecutive year. As one Florida film commissioner put it, the conservative legislature isn’t keen on giving “Hollywood handouts,” and instead is betting on the region’s built-in assets to continue to attract business.
But with lawmakers declining to inject any new money into the program — nearly $300 million was allocated in 2010 — the future of the Sunshine State’s once-booming film industry is unclear. In 2006, Florida ranked as the third-largest filmmaking state in the U.S., behind California and New York. Now, Film L.A. research analyst Adrian McDonald says he’d be “stunned” if Florida made the top 10, noting that production spending within the state has plummeted in recent years, down from $366 million in 2011 to $175 million in 2015 in Miami alone.
The last of the state’s funding was scooped up by Netflix’s Florida Keys-set drama Bloodline and HBO’s Miami-based football comedy Ballers, but it was only enough for two seasons. “We have a long history of shooting projects in Florida and were obviously disappointed in the recent vote to not renew the incentive program,” HBO said in a statement to THR. “We will be assessing its impact on any future productions like Ballers, who have established Florida as their home.”
In an effort to lobby lawmakers, Bloodline script supervisor Kathryn Waters wrote a Facebook post in January imploring business owners in the Keys to email a “Friends of Bloodline” Gmail address about the impact of the show, which earned two Emmy nominations for its first season, on the local community. (According to a film impact study, the series helped create more than $91 million in economic output by way of production spending and tourism in its first season.) “If new money is not made available, it is doubtful that Bloodline will have a season three,” Waters wrote. Netflix and Sony declined to comment.
Though it might not be so easy for a series as atmospheric as Bloodline to film in substitute locations, other projects are turning to nearby states that do offer incentives. “Have we lost business to Georgia? Of course,” says Michelle Hillery, president of Film Florida and deputy film commissioner in Palm Beach County. “We’ve lost about $650 million of business. We’re losing a great deal of our history because our stories are being told in other states.”
A prime example is Ben Affleck’s upcoming thriller Live by Night, which skipped the historic Tampa district where it’s set altogether and instead created a replica in the Peach State. “We were flabbergasted to learn that it’s cheaper to rebuild Ybor City in Georgia than it is to film it right here,” says Florida State Sen. Nancy Detert, who is stepping down after leading the charge to reinstate the incentives program for the past four years. “We have to sit here and be embarrassed as we lose projects. Georgia is doing a bang-up job.”
In fact, shooting exteriors in Florida and then relocating to complete filming is becoming more the norm. “It used to be the reverse,” says Sheena Fowler of the Orlando Economic Development Commission. “For a long time, we were Anywhere USA and would be [a stand-in for] San Diego, Egypt, all these places across the globe. Now they’re coming here for two days to film ‘Florida,’ then going elsewhere.”
This is the approach Paramount took on its upcoming Dwayne Johnson-starring Baywatch, which shot for a couple of weeks in Miami and Broward County before moving to Savannah, Ga., for the majority of the beachside flick. Other films that chose the partial-shoot route: Ride Along 2, last year’s Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel and the upcoming War Dogs, starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill.
Florida actors also have become more mobile as productions cross state lines. When Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shot an upcoming episode at Universal Studios, several guest stars came from the local talent pool. “One of the guys I met was Orlando-based but mostly working out of Louisiana and Atlanta,” says series co-creator Robert Carlock. “He said it was the shortest commute he’d had in some time.”
Many in the local film community are looking for positive signs about the state’s future filmmaking prospects. “Are we concerned? For sure,” says Hillery. “We will continue to get those establishing shots or a couple days or maybe a week or two, but the majority of these projects are done in other areas that do offer some sort of tax credit.”
Between Ballers and Baywatch, Johnson alone has ushered in substantial business for the state, partly so that he can be near his Fort Lauderdale home, his girlfriend and their newborn. Jokes Sandy Lighterman, film commissioner for Miami-Dade County, where Ballers filmed: “Can he please have more babies?”
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