Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Movies

Films pump less into Tampa Bay economy, but state incentives still good investment

A-listers Channing Tatum, Selena Gomez and James Franco brought out the paparazzi when they filmed movies in the bay area during the past year.

Yet they didn't bring big bucks to the local economy like one tailless dolphin did in 2010, according to figures released by Florida's Office of Film and Entertainment.

The agency's annual report on its financial incentives program confirms that relatively small budgets for Tatum's striptease hit Magic Mike, Spring Breakers starring Gomez and Franco, and the indie drama Sunlight Jr. limited their financial impact.

Altogether, those three productions spent slightly more than $4.9 million of their budgets on wages for Floridians plus hotels and services around Tampa Bay.

By comparison, Dolphin Tale alone pumped nearly $17 million into local economies. Winter's movie reportedly cost $36 million to produce, more than three times Magic Mike, Spring Breakers and Sunlight Jr. combined.

"You can't have a big studio film every year," St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore said Tuesday. "We haven't, and we probably will not. But I think we'll see them increase.

"The good news is that this area has enjoyed a steady succession of real filmmaking for two or three years now. … Volume matters. Volume is jobs for people who live here, or come from other areas and stay in hotels. Even a micro-budget film is going to pay a very good wage to tradesmen and highly skilled craftsmen."

The silver lining is that Florida issued just more than $1.2 million in tax credits to Magic Mike, Spring Breakers and Sunlight Jr., resulting in a nearly 4-to-1 return on its investment in the state's entertainment industry.

Even if the numbers locally aren't Winter-sized, the incentives program worked statewide as intended when it expanded in 2010 from a negligible budget to $296 million, to be issued as tax credits by July 2016.

The incentives program offers these credits to qualifying movies, television shows, commercials and video games produced in Florida. Over the past fiscal year, the state refunded nearly $119 million to 169 projects. The majority were produced in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region, including the movie musical Rock of Ages, the USA Network hit Burn Notice and the Madden NFL 2013 video game.

In return, those productions generated more than $309 million in temporary wages for nearly 70,000 Florida residents, as crew members, actors and extras. An additional $244 million was paid to vendors, service providers and hotels.

The bottom line: Each dollar spent by the state's incentives plan ended up nearly five-fold in Floridians' pockets and coffers.

Many states offer incentive plans to attract entertainment projects, but Florida's plan is unique, according to the agency's director, Shari Kerrigan.

"The fact that our incentives are Florida-centric is what differentiates us from the competition," Kerrigan said in an email. "Florida's tax credits benefit Florida employees … (including) the requirement that 50 percent of workers on each production must be Florida residents."

But the payoff is less impressive when productions attracted by the incentives program don't have big budgets, as in the case of Magic Mike.

Although Magic Mike is the highest-grossing movie ever filmed around Tampa Bay ($154 million worldwide), it cost only a reported $7 million to produce. Nearly $950,000 of that budget was spent during a mere six days of production in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Just over 400 temporary jobs were created, paying workers a total of $402,154.

Producers for Magic Mike recouped more than $237,000 through the incentive program, effectively reducing its expenses simply by filming here.

Spring Breakers spent more locally during its 30-day shoot: more than $3.2 million, with nearly two-thirds paid to 561 Floridians working on the crew, or as extras in beach party scenes. The tax credit earned by Spring Breakers totaled $814,695, saving nearly a quarter of its budget.

The crime comedy starring Gomez and Franco recently debuted to mixed reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, and is slated for release by Annapurna Pictures early next year.

On the shoestring end of the scale is Sunlight Jr., a gritty drama starring Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts, filmed in Pinellas County last December. Writer-director Laurie Collyer spent less than $707,000 in Pinellas County during a 22-day shoot. No local actors were hired, but 76 crew members and a few dozen extras earned paychecks.

Sunlight Jr. was promoted to distributors at the Cannes Film Festival but so far has failed to reach a deal that would bring it to theaters.

If no such deal materializes, the Florida residents that worked on Sunlight Jr. might be the only ones making money from the movie.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

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