Let’s get real. Or, more appropriately, let’s get reel.
As the Florida Legislature looks ahead to a renewed discussion of rebates to the film industry, let’s set aside the rhetoric, forget that a lot of people don’t like the politics of those who run the film industry and start with a few basic points that no amount of spin can change.
Point #1: The film industry (and by that we mean theatrical film, television, streaming and other digital content) does create lucrative, permanent jobs in states that aggressively seek its business. History tells us that – from the very beginning and then over and over. Never forget The Great Train Robbery, generally considered the first “modern,” full-length motion picture, was shot in 1903 in Milltown, N.J., not Hollywood. This isn’t surprising. Thomas Edison was instrumental in developing the early motion picture cameras, and he was a true Jersey Boy.
Yet, the industry migrated to California relatively quickly. Great weather was a factor, to be sure, but cheaper, more abundant land for starters and hospitable local governments were bigger factors. The tax code was simpler then, so the state government initially helped via easy filming permits and labor regulations (California was simpler then, too), but the concept was in place from the beginning: government played a role in helping the film industry.
Today, many states have taken that lesson to heart, starting with our neighbor to the north, Georgia. The Walking Dead may get all the headlines (and ratings), but Georgia’s industry is about more than one show. At any time, there are roughly 40 projects filming there. Those are big-time, year-round jobs – no matter what critics claim. Filming even supports the real estate industry. There’s a Georgia website devoted to submitting property as potential filming locations.
Bottom line: California got the joke and New Jersey basically had to wait until The Sopranos to return to the film spotlight.
Point #2: The film industry does not “need” money. Producers know what their customers want, they supply it across multiple platforms at affordable prices and reap the resultant rewards. The film industry is one that will always be profitable, at least until the zombie apocalypse that is making Georgians so wealthy.
This second point is critical. The film industry will create jobs wherever it sets roots. Permanent studies are sprouting in Georgia, as chronicled in the current issue of The Economist. The industry will plant roots where local officials make it feel welcome and, more importantly, help it make money. It doesn’t need the tax rebates, but it will take them in order to stay as profitable as possible – just the same way businesses throughout Florida take advantage of tax incentives offered by the state and by local governments to help recruit them to our state. Even California, noticing the defection to other states, is offering tax rebates to go along with the easy permitting and spectacular weather.
We’ll also acknowledge a corollary to this point. There will be some projects that film in Florida, even without the rebates. Florida lost ABC’s Astronaut Wives (a series set here and in Texas but filmed in Louisiana) because of rebates, but Netflix’s Emmy nominated Bloodline filmed in the Keys without the rebates. The latter victory may be due in part to the fact that – despite Savannah officials bragging in The Economist that they can replicate Florida there – the reality is that you can’t replicate the Keys anywhere. It’s one of a kind.
Which brings us to Point #3: This is about politics, plain and simple.
Some who oppose rebates are driven by a pure free-market philosophy that holds government should support all industries equally via a stable economy and tax base, sound infrastructure and quality education/worker training programs. Fair enough. The only problem is it’s a theory that works only in a vacuum. A lot of states do that and provide rebates. Guess which states lure the jobs?
There are those, however, who oppose film credits but are fine with tax, labor and environmental regulation incentives for other industries. What’s going on there?
If one cuts past the rhetoric what one usually finds in those instances is that there are plenty of people who just don’t like the politics of the film industry. Again, fair enough. The Constitution thoroughly protects our right to oppose aggressively those with whom we disagree politically. It’s a right we seem to be exercising with increasing frequency and ferocity in recent years.
What should disturb Floridians is that much of the pressure about how we build our state’s economy is coming from outside the state, and it is drowning out the things Floridians should really be considering.
- Even without the rebates, Florida is investing in the film industry and allowing other economies to reap the benefits. We have film schools at our state universities, and also at private universities that receive indirect state support, and those graduates are leaving Florida to work elsewhere. We need to at least acknowledge the inconsistency in such a policy, something that hasn’t really happened so far in the debate.
- The people of Savannah weren’t right about the Keys, but they are right in general. Florida generally can be replicated elsewhere. As we pointed out in an earlier article, two of the greatest films that ever had Florida as a primary setting, Key Largo and Some Like it Hot, were filmed almost entirely in California. Bloodline is the exception, not the rule.
- The film industry supports tourism jobs. There’s a lot of talk about Walking Dead tours popular in Georgia right now. Makes sense; the show is white hot or red hot if you count the blood. But, tourism benefits often outlive the show. There are still multiple companies in Hawaii promoting Lost tours, more than five years after the show ended its run. And, of course, Lord of the Rings-themed tours in New Zealand still abound. Florida has known of the positive benefits of the marriage of film and tourism at least since the 1960s. Walt Disney used his weekly show to start promoting his vision for Disney World. During the same period, Miami Beach officials noted the positive tourist impact that came from the Jackie Gleason Show filming there.
- Most importantly, it’s our future and our debate. People in California, Georgia and Kansas may have the right to try to influence the debate but we have the right, and possibly the duty, to ignore them. As we look to ways to diversify our economy and build our economic future, we should be the ones deciding the jobs we want, and what role our government should play in recruiting them.
That’s what we hope this space will do. We’re going to tell stories about the Florida film industry and what impact it is having on our economy. We’re going to tell stories about how the industry has affected other states. We’re going to tell stories of film workers trained here who are employed here, and those who trained here but left to seek work elsewhere. And, we’re going to explain the real impact of legislative proposals that impact the industry.
Whatever Florida decides, it should be based on facts.
Photo Credit: Top by AMC via screencrush.com.