Saturday, December 16, 2017
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At film, TV summit, bay area leaders fret over incentives

TAMPA — While the immediate future of Florida's film and television industry is being determined in Tallahassee, a dozen Tampa Bay entertainment leaders met Wednesday to prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.

Or perhaps today, if Florida's legislature votes on their pet issue.

Billed as a summit of film commissioners, producers and festival organizers, talk focused on a pending decision by the state Legislature to replenish Florida's tapped-out tax incentives program, so vital to attracting movie, television, video game and advertising production.

Dale Gordon, director of Tampa-Hillsborough County's film and video commission, believes a decision will be made before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment at midnight Friday, though nothing is certain in the final flurry. She has been part of a concerted lobbying effort on behalf of the program.

"We will know by Friday at 7 p.m. where we stand with our legislative efforts," Gordon said. "We are feeling cautiously optimistic at this point."

One summit participant was David Yates, CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and a producer of Dolphin Tale and its upcoming sequel. Yates returned Wednesday from Tallahassee to share his less-rosy impression of how voting is leaning.

"Last year we got nothing (in terms of added money), in a very positive budget year," Yates said before the summit. "This year we're on the verge of potentially getting nothing. It is a legitimate possibility."

The Florida Film and Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program was created in 2010 and immediately showed results. Dolphin Tale was among the first projects to receive partial reimbursement of production costs spent on Florida actors, crew members and providers of services like lodging and meals. The production earned back $5 million of nearly $17 million pumped into state coffers.

Since then, $296 million allocated for the program has been spent. The resulting lack of incentives has projects like Ben Affleck's Live by Night — based on Dennis Lehane's book largely set in Ybor City — looking elsewhere.

The absence of incentives is stalling pipeline projects like a Tampa-based movie version of Robert Mazur's true-crime book The Infiltrator, and a proposed soundstage to be built at an undetermined Tampa Bay location.

"(The investors) want confidence from me and the market that they're going to have (productions) to put on that (soundstage)," Gordon said. "Everything is just waiting for incentives right now."

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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