TAMPA BAY, Fla- — Florida lawmakers want to help the state rebound by making it the Hollywood of the South, a title currently held by Georgia. After a failed rebate program about a decade ago, there's renewed bipartisan support to revive and revamp it.
“The impact that would have on a small business, it could be the difference between them thriving or them starving," Tim Moore said.
When the pandemic hit, Moore had to shift the way Diamond View Studios did business. 80% of his clients were out of town.
"We had to find a way to do business differently and opening up this new studio allowed that," he said.
Now, Moore hopes people come down to the sunshine state to take advantage of his studio’s cutting-edge technology. But making the case for producers to spend big bucks here is getting tougher.
They look at us and essentially say, 'Why would we come to Florida when we can go to your neighbors all around you and get a better value for the dollar,'" Film Florida Executive Director John Lux said.
Film Florida estimates the state lost out on more than 1.3 billion dollars, prior to the pandemic. In the Bay Area, Sarasota County lost the most with $77 million dollars.
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“We’ve got to pass this so we can stop seeing this Georgia peach sign after every show that’s pushed out," Sen. Joe Gruters said.
Sen. Gruters represents Sarasota and sponsored Senate Bill 704 to re-start a rebate program for projects produced in Florida. Unlike the bill that incentivized productions between 2010 and 2016, this one has a smaller rebate cap. Instead of $8 million, it's at $2 million. This new program would be merit-based. A committee would review a project's spending, ensuring 70% of the budget is spent in Florida and 60% of cast and crew hired are Floridians.
"I have to do a better job of even convincing my Republican colleagues that it’s worth it," Sen. Gruters said.
St. Pete Clearwater Film Commissioner Tony Armer told ABC Action News in 2019, projects spent $14 million with them, during the pandemic it dropped to $3.5 million. And instead of getting contracts with studios willing to spend upwards of $20 million, they're signing smaller productions with budgets
of $2 million.
Lux said the film industry thrives because of small businesses and working with other industries — like hospitality. Lux cited a survey from Visit Florida where 22.7% of domestic visitors came to Florida because of something they saw on film or TV.
"They're going to spend $150,000 a day in the local economy. And that money is going directly in the pockets of individuals and small businesses, which is what has been hurt most in the pandemic," Lux said.
"We really need a handshake with Tallahassee to help build this industry to what it could be," Moore said.
Currently, both SB 704 and HB 757 are stuck in committees. The legislative session ends at the end of April.
Critics of the bill like the group Americans for Prosperity say this is a handout to Hollywood elites and doesn't help Floridians.