South Florida has plans to attract more movie and TV projects

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Left on the cutting room floor after the state stopped giving companies money to film here, South Florida wants producers to know it’s ready for its close-up — and is willing to pay for the spotlight.

Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are gearing up for an epic battle with fierce competition: More than 30 states have incentives as well as similar locales such as the Bahamas.

Broward plans to start a rebate program, similar to the one already in place in Miami-Dade. Palm Beach County subsidizes productions that boost tourism but doesn’t offer a rebate.

Proponents say the money bolsters the local economy. They argue movie companies bring in out-of-town stars who need to stay at hotels; local caterers are hired to provide meals on set; and aspiring actors here are hired to be the extras in movie scenes.

Critics helped end a statewide rebate program in 2016, saying it was a taxpayer-funded handout to Hollywood.

Since then, Florida has fallen off the charts for attracting film crews, said John Lux, the executive director of Film Florida, a statewide not-for-profit entertainment production trade association.

Georgia has replaced Florida for aggressively going after studios, he said, with that state to host more than 75 major film and television projects that are reportedly spending more than $2 billion by mid-2022.

Broward Mayor Steve Geller said the county needs a resurgence to “rebuild where we used to be.” Geller met with musician and producer Emilio Estefan to ask for guidance how to attract studios to come here.

Geller called their meeting “productive” and said Estefan pledged support as the county figures out its strategy. Estefan’s spokeswoman did not respond by email or phone for comment.

One part of Broward’s strategy is to create the position of film commissioner, who would work to attract the studios to film in the county. The job will be added to the county budget — the salary has not been finalized yet — and is expected to be approved by the county commission in September.

The budget will also include $500,000 to create the county’s first rebate program.

If a studio spends between $500,000 and $1 million, they’d get back a $50,000 check. Productions that spend $1 million or more would get back $100,000 for a rebate.

Broward is mimicking Miami-Dade County which offers the same two tiers of rebates.

In Miami-Dade, there are also rules to qualify from what percentage of the cast and crew and vendors must be local.

Miami-Dade, famous for being the set of movies such as “Bad Boys,” Porky’s” and “The Bodyguard,” started its incentive program in 2017 after the state dropped its rebates.

At the time of statewide incentives, an estimated $500 million was being spent within the county, said Sandy Lighterman, the Film and Entertainment Commissioner for Miami-Dade. Now it’s closer to $150 million, she said.

“We needed something to stop the bleed, we were losing crew,” she said. “It does not take the place of a state incentive, but it absolutely helps.”

Palm Beach County’s Film & Television Commission doesn’t offer a traditional rebate like Broward’s proposal, but it will help pay for the production of TV shows, such as those shown on PBS that offer glimpses into sports, restaurants and culture and help boost tourism. The dollar amount is based on the reach of the TV show, and not what the production company spends here, said Michelle Hillery, the deputy film commissioner.

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Still, she said, it’s a struggle.

“Florida is one of only 17 states — and the only state in the Southeast — that does not offer any type of incentive to attract high impact/feature film type projects,” she said. “Most local incentives, whether rebates or tax incentives, are not able to offer enough that would put us in a competitive position with other states that offer such programs.”

Lux, of of Film Florida, said many Florida counties and cities have their own rebate and incentive programs to varying degrees, including the city of Jacksonville, and counties of Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“Florida is losing hundreds of millions every year because we don’t have a statewide program,” he said.

He said he’ll be cheering Broward on as it tries to figure it out.

“We believe in order to win you need to compete,” he said. Having a local film commission is “vital. Having a local program gets you in a lot more conversations. You must be present to win. If Broward doesn’t get a local film commission up and running, they are losing business every day.”

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