Friday, April 4, 2014

Tampa/Hillsborough Film Commission raises its game

Posted By on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM

click to enlarge Tampa/Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission's Executive Director Dale Gordon shows off her new website
  • Tampa/Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission's Executive Director Dale Gordon shows off her new website
Over the past 15 years, more film and television productions have gone outside of Cailfornia and New York to film their productions, attracted by powerful tax incentives that help bring down the cost of their expensive works.

In recent years, Florida has dropped the ball in that respect. But even when there were more tax incentives in place, Tampa has not been very successful, due to a virtually non-existent infrastructure to lure such productions. But that's no longer the case, as the Tampa/Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission held their coming out party this morning at the Tampa Theatre.

"Over the last few months that we've gotten this up and going, we've accomplished so much, " said Dale Gordon, named last summer as the commission's executive director. Gordon showed off the commission's new website which includes a digital library of more than 200 locations.

But the underlying theme expressed by Gordon, Visit Tampa Bay's Santiago Corrada, Tampa/Hillsborough EDC head Rick Homans, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is that Florida must get into the game in terms of offering competitive tax incentives to visiting productions in order to stay competitive with other Southeastern states like Louisiana and Georgia.

The last tax incentive package for film, television and digital productions in Florida dried up a few years ago, and that's why there is an intense focus during this legislative session to fill that void. A bill in the House would provide $200 million a year up through 2020; the Senate bill would offer $50 million until 2020.

"At this point we're willing to have anything, because right now we don't have anything at all," says Gordon, who previously served in the same capacity in Orlando for eight years. She appeared with her peers in Tallahassee last week to lobby for both of those bills, and will be going back this coming Wednesday to advocate to Hillsborough lawmakers for the economic benefits that will flow to the Bay area if either proposal is approved.

"We know somebody who wants to build a soundstage in the Tampa Bay market," Gordon says. "However, if they don't have an assurance that we're going to get those high-impact projects, then they're not going to come here and invest in the community with a brick-and-mortar project if there's not going to be anything to put on it."

Last month Commissioner Hagan persuaded his colleagues to contribute $250,000 to lure the producers of The Infiltrator, a major Hollywood film production on a Tampa resident's role in bringing down notorious Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Not to be outdone, at the same meeting Commissioner Al Higginbotham convinced his colleagues to kick in another $100,000 for an Indian-based production called Saat Hindustani.

Hagan has been the key local government official in restarting the moribund film commission. He told CL that though he's not a major movie buff, he realized a decade ago the potential economic upside of having such productions filmed locally, and acknowledges that the community lost out on some major works because of a moribund film commission.

"We didn't have the infrastructure, " Hagan admits as to why production's like USA Networks The Glades ended up filming in South Florida instead of the Bay area. "I've been told by several folks in the industry that just having a presence, someone out there, banging the drums, knocking on doors, saying, 'hey, we're open for business. We want your business. We'll put you on the radar.' I don't even think we were listed on the website in Tallahassee as far as local film commissions, so we were just being bypassed simply by not having the infrastructure and someone in place."

Gordon's position is being funded by both the county and the city of Tampa. Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he agreed immediately to kick in Tampa's share after being pitched the idea by Hagan. Buckhorn said that with productions come more jobs, giving the city the ability to retain a young creative class of artists and technicians who have had to go to other states to fulfill their ambitions in the industry, "so what we're doing here is important."

But while the mayor and Dale Gordon admit that Tampa will always be viable as a site to film commercials, they know that their true fate resides over the next few weeks in Tallahassee.

One of the biggest rumored productions to come to town is Live By Night, the screen adaptation of best-selling author Dennis Lehane's 2012 novel, a crime thriller set in Ybor City during the Depression that has optioned by actor-director Ben Affleck. 

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