Florida has recently surpassed North Carolina to become the third-biggest filmmaking state, but can it hope for better?
Florida Film Commissioner Susan Albershardt heads the 5-year-old Governor's Office of Film and Entertainment. Florida's film industry -- which includes film, television and video production as well as commercial print photography -- is a $4.7-billion business, creating an estimated 40,000 jobs, according to state estimates. The state recently surpassed North Carolina to rank third in production volume behind California and New York, Albershardt says.
Florida Trend: Despite growth in Florida's film and television production industry, the state remains a distant third behind California and New York. Is that the best we can hope for, or can we move up?
Susan Albershardt: I think we can overtake New York for No. 2. That is certainly one of my goals.
Trend: What other states do we compete with?
Albershardt: The surrounding states: Louisiana is a big competitor now because of the incentive package it has. Georgia doesn't have incentives, but it is close to us, and the state is similar enough that it can offer locations that can serve as "doubles" to ours. North Carolina is a big competitor. It has soundstages and a solid industry that's been in place for a while. New Mexico also has a strong incentive program but, of course, the look is very different.
Trend: How do Florida's financial incentives programs compete with those of other states?
Albershardt: Very well. It puts us on a level playing field with some of the other areas. A recent study showed that most producers will not consider a location if an incentive program isn't in place offering at least a 20% return -- meaning a rebate, tax credit or other reimbursement of 20 cents on each dollar spent locally. In the past, Florida was only able to offer a 6.5% sales tax rebate, but now we have both a variety of local incentives and a state program.
Trend: What kinds of incentives are available here?
Albershardt: Some of our local film offices have been very creative at putting together incentive packages. For example, Jacksonville offered $50,000 to the producers of a recent film to offset their travel expenses. The Tampa Film Commission helped land the film The Punisher by securing for them deep, deep discounts on hotel rooms.
Trend: Does the state have an incentive program?
Albershardt: Yes. We now have the Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive, which the Legislature just recently funded with $2.45 million. This will help us compete with other states to bring the big-budget projects here. Under the program, filmmakers will be reimbursed 15% (up to $2 million) on any expenditures with state-qualified companies. But they must spend at least $850,000 to apply, so it's not for small productions. This is really innovative because it's not a tax credit; it is actual money taken out of our general revenue. No one else is doing that. This is creating a lot of buzz about Florida within the industry.
Trend: U.S. production companies are finding that many locations outside the U.S. -- New Zealand, Eastern Europe and, of course, Canada -- can offer substantial cost savings, especially with regards to labor. Has Florida been affected by this trend?
Albershardt: Absolutely. It's called runaway production. We're affected but so too are California, New York and every other state that markets to filmmakers. The trend began several years ago when Canada created a very attractive incentive package to grow its own film industry. If you shoot a film in Canada, the government will give you back between 25% and 40% of what you spend up there. When that happened, Florida took a direct hit, almost overnight. As a result, the U.S. film industry is growing at a rate of 7% annually; Canada's by 12%. New Zealand is another one. And Australia is even more of a competitor now because its government actually co-finances films. It has government-backed production.
Trend: Over the last two decades, Florida's film industry has grown phenomenally, but over the last three years it's been somewhat flat. Is this why?
Albershardt: It's certainly part of it. Sept. 11 hurt, too, when people stopped traveling. The other big effect was the Screen Actors Guild strike in 2000.
Trend: Some studio executives say Florida needs more state-of-the-art soundstages. Is this being addressed?
Albershardt: South Florida could use one; Tampa could too, and have it pay for itself.
Trend: What other infrastructure needs are holding back the industry? Aren't we lagging in post-production facilities?
Albershardt: Yes. It would be nice to grow that part of our industry, but there are two other missing pieces of the puzzle that would help us grow by leaps and bounds. One is locally based distribution companies that would distribute our films and TV series as produced here in Florida. The other is finance companies to finance our products. We're making some progress, mostly with Hispanic programming, but California is still the center for distribution and finance.
Trend: Some critics say Florida's film and TV industry will never fully mature as long as we rely on outsiders who come here to shoot and then retreat to Hollywood. How can we create our own home-grown industry?
Albershardt: That's the most exciting part of this job. We need to begin by getting Florida's students interested in the industry at a younger age. We've just started the Governor's Media Arts Mentoring Initiative. We just did the pilot program in Tallahassee, and we'll roll it out to other high schools in the fall. We also need to help the independent filmmaker in Florida -- the person out there working with, say, a $500,000 budget. And we need to help them both with their craft and their financing needs. As for the craft aspect, we're working with Workforce Florida to initiate a federally funded professional development series. As for financing, we hope to have an incentive program designed specially for the independent filmmaker. We need to grow the industry from the bottom up.
A 2002 STUDY found that 52% of Florida film, TV and video production and commercial print photography took place in southeast Florida, with the bulk of it in Miami Beach and other Miami-Dade locations. Orlando and Tampa jointly held about 35% of the industry in 2002, with the rest scattered across the state.
Source: Governor's Office of Film and Entertainment