For decades, Florida trailed only New York and Hollywood when it came to landing film and television productions, but in recent years, thousands of Floridians employed by the film industry have had to cross state lines to find work.
In a downtown Tampa parking garage, shooting is underway for "No Postage Required", an independent film putting 300 people to work.
“It's challenging to make a movie anywhere. It's even more challenging to make a movie where incentives aren't happening,” said Chaleene Closshey, the film’s producer and lead actress.
A 10 percent incentive from Hillsborough County helped bring the movie to Tampa, but Closshey considered filming elsewhere, since Florida currently has no film incentives.
“We're responsible to our investors to make some kind of return on investment,” said Closshey.
Florida is one of only 16 states that currently has no film industry rebates or tax credits.
“Georgia is cleaning our clocks,” said Film Florida President Kelly Paige.
She says there's a steady stream of film industry employees leaving Florida.
“The mill workers, the craft services, the plumbers, the carpenters…they’re all leaving,” she said.
Georgia's incentives, which can reach 30 percent, persuaded Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio to build a replica of Ybor City in Georgia for their upcoming movie “Live by Night”.
That movie is set primarily in the Tampa area.
It hasn't always been like that.
The state approved $269 Million in film tax credits in 2010.
That was supposed last six years, but the money ran out almost immediately.
One reason is that the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment awarded incentives on a first-come basis, with no consideration of the number of Floridians hired or the merit of the projects.
Some money even went to companies that produced video games and commercials.
Law makers recently tried to renew incentives.
We have over 100-thousand people in the film industry in the state of Florida,” said Florida Sen. Nancy Detert, during a committee hearing last spring.
But those efforts failed, largely because the Koch brothers-backed "Americans for Prosperity" lobbied against incentives, saying they were a handout to Hollywood moguls.
“We remain in opposition primarily to this incentive program as a whole,” said Skyler Zander, Deputy Director for Americans for Prosperity in Florida.
Florida Speaker of the House designate Richard Corcoran opposes incentives and helped to defeat bills calling for more money in committee during the last legislative session.
We reached out to him, but he did not respond.
Proponents say millions invested in Florida films generate billions in returns.
Consider Winter and Hope, the dolphins at the center of “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2”.
“If film incentives wouldn't have been available in Florida, Dolphin Tale wouldn't have ever happened,” said Clearwater Aquarium CEO David Yates, who helped land the films.
Clearwater Aquarium had about 75,000 visitors a year before the first “Dolphin Tale” movie. Last year, there were 800,000 visitors.
“When you take an industry and drop it in your area, you have a mushroom effect on the economy,” said Yates.
“Our movies have created 11,000 jobs in our county. To the average person, many individuals walking around right now, have jobs they don't know were created by the TV and film industry,” said Yates.
After the Netflix series "Bloodline" was released, Islamorada saw a $65 Million impact on tourism in the first nine months.
Industry leaders hope lawmakers approve new ways to keep the movies and tourists coming back.
“Let's come up with something that the state could handle and swallow and that keep our people employed. and keep tourists coming back to see those great stories like Winter the dolphin and Bloodline,” said Paige.
“This is not about glitz and glamor. It's about commerce and the economy,” said Closshey.
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.