Some years ago, the state of Florida represented an oasis for the many film and entertainment industry representatives who made their way over to take advantage of the state’s white-powder beaches and enviable climate. Today, the conditions in Florida for filmmakers are changing, and not necessarily in a good way.
When speaking of the film industry in Florida, Michelle Hillery does so with an evident tone of emotion and conviction. As the president of Film Florida, a non-profit organization that provides a focal point for Florida’s film, television and digital media industry, Hillery is convinced that the Sunshine State and Palm Beach County in particular, have the potential to attract film makers not only from Florida, but also from other neighboring states. However, this prospect for Florida’s role in the entertainment industry, suffered a surprising blow when the new state budget failed to include new monetary designations, not only for the Florida film and entertainment incentive programs, but also compromised the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment advertising budget by forty percent.
While Hillery clarified that the cuts didn’t occur in her home office of Film Florida, but they were instead implemented in the State Film Office which is overseen by Film Commissioner Niki Welge in Tallahassee, she affirms that they are still a cause for concern. She expressed that the cuts in the incentive programs as well as in the advertising budgets that the State Film Office manages, were unexpected and she fails to see how the sever in the assigned funds for the entertainment industry could possibly help in saving the state money. “Not only have our incentives not been replenished for the third year in a row, but then on top of that to see that they had made a forty percent budget cut to Niki’s (Welge) marketing budget, represents the potential closure of our L.A. office that we’ve had for twenty-two years”.
Although Hillery assures that there is still plenty of tax break incentives for people in the entertainment industry to carry out their projects, some independent filmmakers feel that perhaps other states like Georgia, offer more support in the way of overall financial assistance for indie directors, producers, and actors to help them get their projects off the ground. Michael Eldon Lobsinger, an independent film director who Art Film File interviewed last week, stated that he doesn’t really know where the real problem lies. “I don’t know if maybe because this is a place for retirement, people just don’t want it (a film industry) down here and this is such a beautiful state; it should be the Hollywood of the East Coast.” Regarding this aspect, Hillary is all too aware of the reasons why indie filmmakers are flocking to other states, many times re-writing their whole scripts to fit the geographical relocation of their films. “Florida is a film friendly state because of the diversity in locations that make us attractive for filmmakers. However, when it comes down to incentives, we don’t have a program that can benefit small film budgets. People can go very easily to Georgia and they can put a peach at the end of their film, and get another ten percent credit for that.”
Even though these incentives have been diminished, there’s no denying that film and television have provided a fair amount of jobs for Floridians through the years. This infographic provides the number of jobs that the film and entertainment industry have brough to Florida from 2001 to 2014:
The apparent failure of Florida legislators to see the importance of the local film industry and its role in the economy of the state, is undoubtedly affecting Florida’s possibilities to be on top of the list for film destinations. A shame, since friendly weather conditions, ethnic diversity, and jaw dropping beaches make Florida a proverbial paradise for any film or television enterprise. The challenge stands now in making the local politicians understand that granting money to promote competitive incentives and strong advertising campaigns, that get the word out to film studios that Florida is an attractive destination for the film industry, is not only recommended, but more importantly, absolutely essential for the future of film in Florida.
LISTEN TO THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW WITH FILM FLORIDA PRESIDENT MICHELLE HILLERY: