‘Moonlight’s’ Success May Not Be Enough to Help Bring Filming Back to Florida

Moonlight Movie Florada Location
Courtesy of David Bornfriend

The best-picture Oscar win by “Moonlight,” which was shot on location in Miami, has put Florida film and TV production back in the spotlight, but the news is not all good.

With its beaches and warm weather, Florida has attracted high-profile projects over the decades, from the iconic ’80s TV series “Miami Vice” to big-budget actioners like “True Lies.” But ever since the sunset of the state’s tax incentive in 2015, its production business has hit hard times.

“Even though our state legislators believe that productions will come here because we’re so beautiful and we’ve got so much to offer, that’s clearly not the case,” says Graham Winick, film and event production manager for Miami Beach.

Miami Beach’s key production indicators (permits, shooting days, hotel-room nights, and dollars spent) are all down 40%-50% from the height of the incentive-fueled production boom of 2012 and 2013, according to Winick. Across Biscayne Bay in the city of Miami, production spending plummeted from $366 million in 2011 to $175 million
in 2015.

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With HBO’s “Ballers” reportedly moving from Miami to California for its third season, the most significant Florida shoots on the books are portions of FX’s “Versace: American Crime Story” and the ABC pilot “Las Reinas.”

Nonetheless, Florida-based location manager Leah Sokolowsky is optimistic about the future of local production in the wake of “Moonlight,” which earned Oscar nominations for five Florida State University alumni, including writer-director Barry Jenkins.

“It shows that when a story is told with authenticity, it resonates on a different level,” says Sokolowsky. “That’s not just the authenticity of the story and the characters; it’s also the authenticity of the place. And that’s something that can’t be replaced.”

But due to the lack of competitive incentives, productions are going elsewhere. Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night” and the Octavia Spencer-starrer “Gifted” both shot Florida-set scenes in Georgia, taking advantage of the state’s 30% tax credit.

In fact, it was competition from incentive-rich states like Georgia and Louisiana that persuaded the Florida legislature to enact a 20% base tax credit in 2010, with additional 5% increases for shooting in the off-season (June 1-Nov. 30) and for family-friendly productions — a potential total of 30%. The gambit worked, helping attract such series as “Bloodline” (Netflix) and “Magic City” (Starz) and features including “Rock of Ages,” “Pain & Gain,” “Step Up Revolution,” and portions of “Iron Man 3.”

Over five years, the incentive generated more than $1.25 billion in production expenditures in Florida and created more than 117,000 jobs in the state, according to the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment. But to the Republican-led state legislature, the more notable figure was the $296 million the program paid out to productions.

Winick believes there’s popular support for reviving the incentive in the legislature. “But leadership has a way of stopping bills from getting to the floor,” he says. “And the leadership is not interested in supporting this industry.”

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  1. John reed says:

    It’s because we have a lack luster Governor backward thinking politicos working in our Capitol. At one time, Florida was the movie making Capitol of the South. Film makers now have had to shot in Georgia, building sets to look like Ybor City, Tampa. How sad the lost to our state due to dumb governing.

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