‘Infiltrator’ can’t find many locals qualified for film work

By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s next big-budget film begins production April 23 when director Brad Furman yells action on the set of “The Infiltrator,” starring Bryan Cranston.

In return for $250,000 in incentives from Hillsborough County, the production will spend at least $1 million during its eight days of shooting here.

Just don’t expect much of the money to go toward paying local crew members.

The producers haven’t been able to find many people qualified to work on a big-budget set, said Dale Gordon, Tampa-Hillsborough Film and Digital Media commissioner. So they’ll have to spend their money here in other ways.

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, Gordon said: Without a mature film industry here, skilled crew are living and working elsewhere — mainly in places where state incentives tilt the balance.

“To get experience many of our residents have moved to those states with the needed incentives to get big films,” Gordon said. “They have never come back because we don’t have work for them here.”

A bill in the Florida Senate aims to address this by redefining how tax incentives are allocated so lawmakers reluctant to fund films with public money will feel more comfortable with the idea.

SB Bill 1046, sponsored by Venice Republican Nancy Detert, would add a layer of fiscal accountability to the state’s film and television incentive program by, among other things, basing film grants on forecasts of economic impact.

Gordon noted that this method is used already used in providing incentives to other industries.

“The Legislature should be commended with trying to make the film incentive program more conservative by mirroring other industries,” Gordon said.

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The Legislature allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2010-2016, but all the money has been awarded.

A move to replenish the pot, allocating $50 million to $250 million per year, died in the 2014 Legislature.

Critics objected, in part, to rules that distribute the money on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Some thought if we were more conservative there would be money left,” Gordon said. “This new legislation focuses on that.”

The proposed legislation has been unanimously approved by one subcommittee and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

How much money to place in the pot would be decided later.

Under the program described in the Senate bill, two annual application periods would be established six months apart.

Each application would be ranked by the Division of Film and Entertainment based on factors including the number of state residents hired, in-state expenditures, duration of filming in the state, length of in-state pre- and post-production, capital investments, and local financial support.

The highest ranked are not automatically allocated funds but this system makes comparisons easier for the state’s Office of Economic Development, which would decide how to divide the money.

The state is not required to dole out all or any of the money each year.

Film proponents say Florida already has among the most conservative programs in the nation.

It pays out 20 percent of what is spent in the state and caps an allocation at $8 million. It also requires that at least half the production’s workforce consist of state residents; spending of at least $625,000 in state; and a double audit to prove expenditures, one by the production and one by the state.

The Senate bill would increase the workforce requirement to at least 60 percent Florida residents and require that television productions spend at least $1 million per episode in the state. The film production minimum remains at $625,000.

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“It is commendable to structure a program that, beyond attracting quality programs, won’t be out of control,” said Chris Ranung, founder of Congress of Motion Picture Associations, or COMPASS. The group represents those who work in film and television and those small businesses that support them.

“While other states are looking critically at their incentive plans, Florida continues to restructure its program so that it makes even better business sense,” Ranung said.

Louisiana has one of the most aggressive film and television incentive programs in the country, doling out as much as $250 million a year to lure Hollywood.

But some in Louisiana want to mimic Florida by capping annual spending and the amount provided to each film and establishing a stricter auditing program to show how much is being spent in the state and how many residents are being hired.

“Florida is ahead of the curve,” Ranung said. “Other states look to Florida for how to run its program.”

Under the proposed Senate bill, a production that cannot wait six months to make a new application can apply for money from an entertainment industry Quick Action Fund.

These allocations require approval from the governor and the Legislative Budget Commission.

This may be the best hope for Tampa to secure some of the production of “Live By Night,” a film by Ben Affleck based on a book by Dennis Lehane about Prohibition-era rum running in Ybor City. Production is set to begin later this year, by some reports as early as July.

The Legislature would not approve incentives until May.

Film commissioner Gordon remains optimistic that “Live By Night” producers prefer authentic Ybor City locales and that the film would receive money from a Quick Action Fund.

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A House version of the film incentives bill, HB 0451, has been introduced by Orlando Republican Mike Miller and has passed the House Finance Tax Committee.

The bill now goes to the House Economic Affairs Committee.

It includes some of the Senate bill’s language such as increasing the minimum state workforce requirement and an annual allocation split into two application period, but not the Quick Action Fund or the impact projection.

“It will all come together in the end,” Gordon said. “We all want the same thing – to add to Florida’s economy through productions:

Furman, director of “The Infiltrator,” has said he would have scheduled 90 percent of his 46 shooting days in the Tampa area if state tax incentives had been available.

Gordon said that many shooting days could have added up to $20 million to the local economy.

The movie is based on the true story of a DEA agent posing as a Tampa businessman to bust a financial institution laundering millions of dollars for Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar

Now, many scenes that might have shot in Tampa are being filmed in London, home to the movie’s production company, Good Films, and where government incentives reach as high as 25 percent.

The last time a big budget film spent considerable time in Tampa — “The Punisher” in 2003.

Since then, major productions have only come to Tampa for a few shooting days.

Most recently Tim Burton split two weeks between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

“I have spoken to former residents who work in film production in other states who want to come back here,” said film commissioner Gordon. “But they need consistent work. Without it, our most talented will continue to move out of the area.”


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