Florida's motion picture and television industry took a financial hit when the state's leaner budget went into effect.
As a result, Hollywood may take its lights, cameras and action somewhere else.
The state's landscape, experience and hospitality can still impress producers seeking locations. They also expect deals sweetened with money, such as Florida's Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive program that pays rebates to qualified productions for in-state expenses.
Last fiscal year, the state allocated $25-million for entertainment incentives, shared in varying degrees by 46 movies, television shows, and even the Madden NFL 2009 video game.
The new budget slashes that incentive kitty to $5-million.
That wouldn't cover rebates paid to only three 2008 productions: the HBO movie Recount ($2.3-million), Jennifer Aniston's Miami-based comedy Marley & Me ($1.6-million), and the USA Network's spy series Burn Notice ($1.3-million).
Less money for incentives means fewer in-state productions, which means Florida's film, television and video contractors will lose work, or migrate to states like Georgia and Louisiana with richer incentive programs.
Other industries will feel a ripple pinch. State accountants estimate that each rebate dollar spent was returned seven-fold to Florida businesses, from hotels and restaurants to paid extras. By that logic, Floridians will earn $140-million less than the previous fiscal year.
In a telephone interview, Florida film commissioner Lucia Fishburne said the cuts are drastic but understandable.
"It's the same villain we're all dealing with, personally and with government programs as well," she said. "It's really rough times in terms of the economy.
"When you're looking at priorities from a policymaker's point of view — you're weighing in on economic development programs, but you're also faced with cuts in education and so many other core needs for the state — that's a tough call."
At least, Fishburne said, there's still $5-million: "We all realize that we're in a better place than if we had been zeroed out."
The rebate incentive program began in 2004 with $2.4-million, increasing to $25-million with the fervent support of Don Davis, the late Republican representative from Jacksonville. The number of productions choosing to film in Florida — and deemed eligible for the rebate program — increased accordingly.
Production accountants submit in-state expense reports to Florida's Department of Revenue, which may approve or deny the claims. Percentages of approved expenditures are paid back to producers in the form of rebates.
The base rebate is 15 percent for movies and TV shows; 10 percent for digital video productions. Another 5 percent is rebated if production occurred during hurricane season; maintain wholesome family values, and you get still another 2 percent.
Nobody last year earned that last 2 percent.
Where is the upcoming year's money going?
“Burn Notice will probably take a pretty good chunk of the feature film and TV (funds)," Fishburne said. "High-impact TV is really a solid economic stimulus. It puts a lot of people to work over a long period of time. And it puts Florida in front of the world, almost like a product placement."
St. Petersburg/Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore said the rebate fund cut means Florida will have to sell itself harder in other ways.
"We are still a very good state to make films. We have a pretty good crew base, a very good equipment base, a pretty decent studio infrastructure and we have a good weather situation to fill in the wintertime,'' she said. "A lot of other states don't have those benefits."
But other states do have more attractive incentive programs, including sales tax credits, lending funds for filmmakers and, in Michigan's case, a 40 percent rebate system. Filmmakers may need to send experienced Florida film workers out of state.
"We are more concerned about losing our work force to those other states," Fishburne said. "This is a mobile industry. If productions don't come here, they may go where the work is. That was happening before we had the incentives.
"But the other thing to remember is that Florida is a balanced-budget state. When the economy comes back — and it will — Florida won't be digging out of a huge $20-billion debt. That's a pretty critical piece to keep in mind as we go forward."
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/ movies.