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Miami's Film & TV Industry Gets Some Help

Law360

Publication
August 07, 2017

Miami and South Florida have always held Hollywood spellbound. From "Moon Over Miami" to "Scarface" to "Miami Vice" to last year's Oscar winner "Moonlight," Miami has a rich tradition of attracting film and television productions to its shores.

In the last few years, however, local producers and the other thousands of industry professionals based here have watched with dismay as production after production has been lured out of South Florida, even though the project has a South Florida theme. HBO's "Ballers" was lured away to California, Netflix's "Bloodline" has stopped production (in part due to the lack of incentives discussed below), and two major projects with Miami roots have chosen to shoot in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico instead.

The reason? It's not any change in Miami's image; the city is still as alluring as ever. No, the simple reason is money.

In today's technological age, a film or television series can be shot just about anywhere. And a setting such as Miami can be recreated in other locations with a few clicks of a computer. So big-time (and small-time) studios and producers increasingly go where the money is — government-funded tax breaks and other incentives that can shave significant costs from already tight budgets.

Florida had a $296 million statewide fund to promote local productions, but the Florida Legislature stopped funding the program and it ran out of money last June. Since then, there has been precious little to convince studios and producers to film locally when other states dangle substantial financial incentives before them.

The Miami-Dade County Commission recently took a small but symbolically significant step to incentivize producers to bring their productions back to the county. In July, the commission approved the Miami-Dade County Television, Film and Entertainment Production Incentive Program. The program will provide rebates of up to $100,000 for projects that meet the following criteria, among others:

  • Showcases Miami-Dade County.
  • The production must spend at least $1 million in Miami-Dade County.
  • Not less than 70 percent of the entire production must be produced in Miami-Dade County.
  • Not less than 80 percent of vendors/contractors utilized on the production must be Miami-Dade County based registered businesses for the days the production is produced in the county.
  • Each production is required to hire not less than 50 Miami-Dade residents as cast and crew for days produced in the county.
  • County residents must be paid, at a minimum, the wage required by the county as if the production was a county service contractor.
  • The production must return at least $10 for every $1 provided by the county as part of the program.
  • The production must hire students or recent graduates from a local college or university, as determined by the mayor

Each project's grant must be approved by the County Commission, and grants will be disbursed after production finishes and all requirements are met.

In passing the resolution approving the program, the commission noted that Miami-Dade currently is home to 200 production companies, 15 soundstages, 15 recording studios, and three Spanish-language production facilities. It also noted that between 2010 and 2016 when the state incentive program was in place, between $160 million to $400 million was expended annually on productions that were permitted through the county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach, resulting in between 20,000 to 35,000 local residents being hired as cast and crew on productions annually.

Miami-Dade hopes to recapture a semblance of that past glory through the incentive program. The county's initiative is commendable although $100,000 is a drop in the bucket on a multimillion-dollar production budget. It also pales in comparison to incentives offered by states such as California, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina. But it's a start.

And it may be part of a growing trend of local governments taking up the slack where the state legislature left off. The city of North Miami followed the county's lead and recently approved an incentive program that reimburses 30 percent of filming costs, up to $50,000, as well as other benefits. The city of Miami Beach earlier adopted an incentive program of its own, and Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Duval, Pinellas and Manatee counties have also. Unfortunately, these programs may be competing with each other by requiring a majority of the production occur within their borders. In an era when productions often cross city and county lines, it may be more fruitful for local governments to join together to pitch their incentives and other advantages, much like producers pitch their projects to the studios.

Still, it would be nice to see major productions such as the third and fourth sequels of the "Bad Boys" franchise return to Miami, where the first two were shot. Local part-time resident Michael Bay is the producer, and a program such as Miami-Dade's may be enough to convince him to return. Let's hope so. Savannah (where many productions have gone) is a wonderful city, but there is only one Miami, and no computer editing suite can change that.

This article is reprinted with permission from Law360.

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