Sun shines, taxes fall, biz rocks

Scout & About: Florida

When work began on the Warner Bros. bigscreen adaptation of the hit 1980s rock musical “Rock of Ages,” with Tom Cruise, there was no doubt that it would film in Los Angeles on and around the Sunset Strip, where the story is set. Then the budgeting process began and, as with virtually every other movie made today, producers were soon scanning the globe, tabulating tax credits and exchanges rates.

After looking at Sydney they considered Louisiana, North Carolina and Michigan before settling on Florida, where last summer they transformed a quarter-mile stretch north of downtown Miami into Reagan-era rock ‘n’ roll Hollywood.

“We needed to reroute traffic, turn a one-way street into a two-way street, repaint lines and put up traffic signs,” says producer Garrett Grant, “and the city was just fantastic, along with the state of Florida, making sure we got everything we needed.”

While Florida had the topography and architecture to convincingly play L.A., what really sealed the deal was the state’s production incentive, which offers a 20% base tax credit on in-state spend, capped at $8 million per production, with additional 5% bumps for shooting in the off-season (June 1-Nov. 30) and “family-friendly” productions, for a potential total of 30%.

Enacted on July 1, 2010, Florida’s five-year program has been wildly successful, attracting such features as this year’s “Dolphin Tale” and the upcoming “Step Up 4”; “The Tooth Fairy 2” and “Parker,” starring Jason Statham; along with a slew of TV series, including ABC’s recently canceled “Charlie’s Angels,” Starz’s “Magic City” and MTV’s “The Inbetweeners.” The latter two are due in 2012.

The influx of projects came just in the nick of time for local film and TV workers who had been underemployed or idle in recent years as productions were siphoned off by Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and other nearby states offering more aggressive incentives.

“I went through my house almost being foreclosed on twice,” says cos tume supervisor Emae Villalobos, a 25-year veteran of the biz. “I was thinking of getting out of the business completely and going into retail.”

Then the incentives kicked in, and Villalobos was immediately flush with work, doing stints on A&E series “The Glades” between gigs on “Dolphin Tale,” “Rock of Ages” and “Step Up 4”

She’s not alone. Pre-incentive, IATSE Local 447 was on the verge of closing shop, according to its business manager Fred Moyse. But, since it went into effect membership has risen 48%.

But there’s a hitch: an amendment to the incentive that went into effect on July 1 mandates that no more than 25% its funds go to “high-impact” television shows. Series approved prior to July 1, including A&E’s “Burn Notice” (in its fifth season), “The Glades” and “Magic City,” are grandfathered in through 2015, should they last that long, but that leaves no room under the cap for any major new series or pilots.

It was an unusual move. Typically, states want to attract as many TV series as possible, because they tend to do more to sustain and grow a state’s production infrastructure than even the biggest mega-budget film. To make this fact clear to legislators, reps from non-profit industry group Film Florida took a group of them on a tour of film and TV sets, including those of “Magic City,” which recreates early ’60s Miami.

“They were blown away by how many people were employed and the amount of construction materials used,” says Sandy Lighterman, film and entertainment industries liaison for Miami-Dade County. “Hopefully, they’ll keep those images in their minds at the next legislative session.”

Meanwhile the state continues to offer other enticements, such as the cosmopolitan scene in Miami beach, replete with classic hotels like the Raleigh, where, according to reports, people watchers recently spotted Brett Ratner, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Nearby Lincoln Road Mall rates as one of the world’s magnet shopping streets, while the thriving local arts scene is exemplified by Art Basel Miami Beach, sister event to Switzerland’s leading contemporary art show.

Sun shines, taxes fall, biz rocks | Studios swim to new locations | Miami rises as production hub for telenovelas

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