'Hispanic Hollywood': Florida's $296 Million Push to Lure Filmmakers

James Franco rapped in "Spring Breakers" while filming in St. Petersburg in March 2012.

With Spanish-language productions from Telemundo and Univision driving its entertainment business, the Sunshine State is hoping to bring in more film productions a la "Spring Breakers."

This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The opening sequence of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers paints the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., where the film was shot, as a buffet of beer, bare breasts and general bacchanalia. But that's just not so, says St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commissioner Jennifer Parramore: "We get a few spring breakers, but this is really a family destination."

In fact, when Spring Breakers went scouting for a location for its climactic bikini shootout, finding a neighborhood accustomed to such chaos wasn't easy. "We had to settle on a residential neighborhood," says the film's location manager, Sherrill Smith. "We shot for 24 hours on Good Friday and didn't wind up doing any actual gunfire until around 2 or 3 in the morning. People in the neighborhood knew it was coming, but they had already settled into their beds."

Undaunted by late-night gunfire, Florida has budgeted $296 million since 2010 to attract movies such as Spring Breakers. But since the state's 20 percent production tax credit is limited to expenditures of up to $8 million per project, the biggest film productions tend to spend only a few weeks in the Sunshine State. "We only get pieces of them because, unlike some states, we do have a cap," admits Florida Film Commissioner Shari Kerrigan.

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Iron Man 3, for example, shot for two weeks in Florida. 2012's Magic Mike, set in Tampa, was limited to some location work as well. Michael Bay's upcoming Pain and Gain was an exception to the rule, since it shot exclusively in Miami last year.

Television is the real driver of Florida's entertainment business. USA's long-running spy show Burn Notice, A&E's cop drama The Glades and Starz's period mob drama Magic City all film on location there. Miami will double for San Diego in USA Network's one-hour drama series Graceland, set to debut in the summer. And NBCU will begin shooting an as-yet-untitled pilot in South Florida in May.

And that's only a fraction of Florida's TV business. Spanish-language programming represents the bulk of television work in the state. "We call Miami 'Hispanic Hollywood,' " says Telemundo Media president Emilio Romano. "It's the gateway to Latin America. All the stars from the Spanish-speaking world love coming here."

Miami-Dade County film and entertainment commissioner Sandy Lighterman agrees. "Spanish-language is absolutely key to our market," she says. "Telemundo currently has three telenovelas shooting full time. They will have four by May. This is largely year-round work, so Spanish-language programming has been extremely lucrative for the county."

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In May, the network will expand beyond its news and telenovela base to debut a high-profile American Idol-style talent show for children called La Voz Kids.

Telemundo rival Univision does most of its production in Doral, Fla., even though its corporate headquarters are in New York. The network is partnering with ABC to launch Fusion this year; the 24-hour English-language news network in Miami will be geared toward attracting a growing Hispanic-American audience. It is expected to produce 400 cable jobs and will require the construction of a 150,000-square-foot studio. "We really believe South Florida is the news and entertainment capital of the world for Latin America," says Univision Networks president Cesar Conde.

Unlike Hollywood, where diversity remains an issue, Miami has no problem integrating Spanish-language and English-language talent. "The vast majority of my staff is Latino," says Chris Sloan, founder of the Miami-based production company 2C Media, which produces Animal Planet's Swamp Wars and Travel Channel's Airport 24/7: Miami, among other cable shows. "NBC invested so aggressively in Telemundo that it really helped bring in top talent from all over the world. The crews cross-pollinate back and forth with English-language productions very easily. Miami has become a sophisticated place and a world city -- not some backwater like it was back in the day."