As state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, gears up for her last regular session in Tallahassee, she says film will be one of her personal top priorities. But she does plan on taking a different approach this year, one that learns from “past mistakes” and which seeks to encourage filmmakers to headquarter permanently in the Sunshine State. “Film should be an indigenous industry in the state of Florida,” Detert said. “I don’t think you should fly in here and make a movie, get paid and fly back to Los Angeles. We should do more to recruit the film industry as a permanent industry in our state.”
Detert made the remarks to Sarasota City Commissioners Monday night as she briefed them on upcoming issues in the Legislature. The Venice Republican has been one of the state’s most vocal champions for film, but in the last two sessions saw film incentives legislation she sponsored eventually die. Film incentives were last funded by the state in 2010, but state officials have since spent the $296 million set aside for wooing film projects. Detert last year sponsored legislature to restore some funding, but it ultimately was left out of the budget when the session ended abruptly amid a budget battle between the House and Senate.
Along the way, she has made enemies with the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity political committee (see video below), but she remains convinced a bigger film industry in Florida means jobs in a variety of sectors.
She notes the industry has been especially kind to the Sarasota area, where Ringling College of Art and Design just broke ground on a production facility. From familiar film work for actors and camera techs to indirectly supported industries like caterers, florists and a host of other work, a production can spread a substantial amount of wealth in a region. And while the average annual pay for jobs created by companies receiving state incentives runs around $44,000, that figure for the film industry is around $70,000. “It makes perfect sense to me.”
But Detert wants more than incentives. In a “film reform package” she plans to introduce in session this year, she is expected to call for a substantial shift in operations for the Florida Film Commission, moving it out from the Department of Economic Opportunity and instead putting it under the auspices of Enterprise Florida. Among other changes, that would mean relocating the agency to Orlando. “I want to see an empowered film commissioner, and one who has a passion for the industry, who reaches out and brings film into Florida,” Detert says.
Those remarks come a couple weeks after Detert dressed down Florida Film Commissioner Niki Welge at a Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.
And improvement must occur for Florida to maintain a competitive stance. With Georgia actively wooing studios and Atlanta becoming a film center of its own, Florida has lost some embarrassing bids in the past year. Detert noted the Ben Affleck production Live By Night, where filmmakers decided it would be cheaper to rebuild a full set of Ybor City in Georgia than to film in the Tampa community, and the upcoming The Unknowns: Talent is Colorblind, a film about the Fort Pierce-based Florida Highwaymen that will be shot in Savannah. “That’s a Florida story,” she said of the Highwaymen film, “and it should be filmed in Florida.”
Of course, the growing industry in Georgia means more than just successful tax incentives. As film productions like The Hunger Games and television series like The Walking Dead set up shop in Atlanta, a pool of experienced professionals and the availability of high-end facilities and technology encourages further prosperity. In addition to improving teaching facilities for Ringling students, the improvements at the Sarasota art school are expected to boost the local film infrastructure.
“You have conducted a coup in that area,” Detert told Sarasota leaders. “It’s thrilling what Ringling is doing. One of the things Americans are still great at is creativity, and you are ahead of the curve in that area.”
Now, Detert says, the focus should be on making sure film productions don’t simply set up shop for temporary stints. To make incentives work, there may need to be more strings attached, she said. Those could ensure more studios establish here. “Half of them have house here anyway, and like everybody, they want to work where they live,” she said.