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Hillsborough's film incentive has attracted $1.17 million in local spending, audits show

Co-directors and writers Lydelle Jackson, right, and Cezil Reed watch their film crew prepare for a scene on the set of Not Alone, a horror movie being filmed in South Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published May 28, 2018

TAMPA — When Steve Matzkin agreed to serve as executive producer on a movie project titled Not Alone, he set a condition: It had to be made in Tampa.

For starters, the community is a fitting backdrop for the independent horror film about a family who buy a mansion with a curse.

But more importantly, Hillsborough County offers a sweet incentive program — 10 percent back as cash rebates on money spent in the county.

"Incentives mean everything," said Matzkin, who lives in Tampa and has helped produced half a dozen feature films. "Period."

Incentives mean a better bottom line for Hillsborough County, too, according to accounting by the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE Hillsborough will think small rather than give up on film productions

The three local productions that have qualified for the program since its 2015 inception — a film, a television series and a commercial — spent a total of around $1.17 million in Hillsborough while collecting $117,661 in county cash.

More than half, about $630,000, was spent on salaries of cast and crew who live in the county. The figure doesn't count money paid to law enforcement, fire rescue personnel, caterers or other outsourced services working on set.

Other expenditures include around $39,000 on hotels and $25,000 on car rentals in the county.

"That is a good return on our investment," said Tyler Martinolich, interim Hillsborough County film commissioner. "But that is the purpose of it."

Not Alone is still under production and has not yet applied for a rebate.

The county program's annual budget is half a million dollars. To qualify for a piece of it, productions must spend at least $100,000 in Hillsborough.

Nothing spent outside of the county is eligible for the rebate. The funds are allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. If all $500,000 is not used within a budget year, the remaining money is reallocated and does not roll into the following year.

Here are profiles of the three productions that received Hillsborough incentives:

• The biggest economic impact was from the Discovery Channel's Street Science series, showcasing scientific phenomenon through experimentation, which spent $850,000 locally while filming Season One's 10 episodes from May through November 2016, .

• The independent film No Postage Necessary, made in Plant City in July and August 2016, received rebates on $199,071 in local spending. Produced by Two Roads Picture, the film is a comedy-drama about a convicted computer hacker who, while stealing mail in search of cash, falls in love with a war widow.

• California-based Wild Plum, which produced a Home Depot commercial in Hillsborough this past January, spent $127,754 eligible for the local rebates.

Without the incentive program, Street Science would have been shot in Los Angeles or Georgia, said Guy Nickerson, whose Tampa-based Spectrum Productions made the series.

"It wasn't until Hillsborough County came to the table with incentive funding that we were able to convince the network to lock in production and move forward with Tampa," Nickerson said.

Discovery Channel also produced a 14-episode Season Two in Tampa and hopes to qualify for another round of rebates.

Before Not Alone wraps 18 days of production in early-June, it expects to spend $760,000 and employ over 60 county residents among the cast and crew. The production will have to prove its numbers before the county hands over money, said film commissioner Martinolich.

"Our process is strenuous," Martinolich said. "They have to submit all their books, itemized receipts, credit card payments, payroll invoices, proof of cast and crew residency, copies of checks."

The county's County Economic Development Office and the Clerk's Office both look over the numbers and approve the expenses.

An incentive of this size isn't likely to lure big Hollywood productions to the area, Martinolich said. They typically require a state incentive in the millions of dollars and Florida has dropped its prpogram.

"I have only worked in L.A. for two days over the past two years," said Pat Healy, who is starring in Not Alone and has acted in The Post and more than 20 other productions during that period. "Movies go where the incentives go."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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