TAMPA — While state lawmakers consider pumping more money into Florida's penniless motion picture incentive system, Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending $300,000 Wednesday to lure two movie productions here.
Whether the movies actually come will probably depend on what happens in Tallahassee.
The bulk of the county money — $250,000 — is earmarked for The Infiltrator, based on the true story of a U.S. Customs agent who spent years working undercover as a Tampa-based money launderer investigating Pablo Escobar's cocaine cartel and the banks that helped drug suppliers and smugglers hide money.
There are no actors attached to the project yet, according to Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, but the movie's producers will decide within the next 45 days whether they will film in the area.
"This is … a true story that did actually take place in our market," she told commissioners Wednesday. "It would be somewhat of a loss for us to not be able to tell our own story."
Commissioner Ken Hagan, who proposed the Infiltrator expense, called it "an extraordinary opportunity … to land a major film that will showcase Tampa."
"The exposure for Tampa will be immeasurable," Hagan said.
After Hagan finished his sales pitch, Commissioner Al Higginbotham asked for $50,000 to go to the makers of Saat Hindustani, a Bollywood movie also considering filming in Tampa. The film is about seven Indian college students studying abroad.
"It's not an Animal House-type film," said Higginbotham, who helped recruit the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, also known as the "Bollywood Oscars," which will be held in Tampa in April.
Any county money that goes to either movie would be paid in cash, post production, after the filmmakers provide documentation showing they reached economic goals, such as hiring a certain number of locals or spending a set amount of money on local vendors, according to Ron Barton, Hillsborough's economic development director. Barton's staff would negotiate economic goals with the filmmakers, he said.
The Infiltrators is expected to have a budget of about $50 million, with $20 million to be spent locally, and has been pre-approved by Florida's Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program for more than $4 million in tax credits, according to Gordon. But the state program is out of money.
Gordon is hoping legislators approve one of two bills this session that would send either $50 million or $200 million per year to the program. With the $4 million in state tax credits, Gordon said, she'd feel confident The Infiltrator would shoot here.
Commissioners approved the local spending unanimously, although Commissioner Kevin Beckner did complain after hearing Hagan and Gordon use the word "Tampa" several times.
"We have taxpayers beyond the city of Tampa," Beckner said. "My expectation is that we'll have a very distinguished, unique branding opportunity for Hillsborough County."
Gordon said that wouldn't be a problem, as the film's producers are "a very amenable group."
"Whatever it is we want them to do, they will work that into the script," Gordon said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]