As a rule, I have very little patience with government tax incentives and subsidies for business.
The habit of bribing a manufacturer to move to Florida on grounds it creates jobs has been proven, time and again, a fool’s deal. Gifts of buildings, huge tax breaks and public expense to provide what is essentially private infrastructure, makes no sense to me. So how come I am shaking my head over the legislature’s boneheaded failure to cut the tax breaks for the movie and TV production industry?
Right now the movie business is booming in Georgia. Outside of Atlanta a steady stream of movie and TV shows are being shot and people who work in the business are moving there, finding steady work. You can have a scene in Red Square in a blinding snowstorm, but so long as there’s a green screen in Atlanta and computer power at Industrial Light and Magic, the show goes on in Atlanta.
Unlike making shoes or anvils, movies are temporary. The cast is assembled from actors coming from all over the globe. The executive producer who raises the money; the producer who oversees the project; the associate producer who does nuts n’ bolts and crews may live in Toronto, Los Angeles and Aukland, New Zealand. The equipment, all those camera cranes, lights, etc. all rented. Like the story it tells, a movie or TV show is more perceived than real.
When a government encourages movie-making or TV production, large amounts of money are pumped into a community. A production buys everything from Scotch Tape to lunch, hires local people for jobs as extras and those are good paying jobs. In turn, the movie people don’t make many demands. No need for infrastructure, for new roads; no need for sewers (Porta-Johns work fine); local cops get off-duty work doing security. In short, movies generate money for a locality and cost very little to accomodate. It may involve closing a road, perhaps, but that privilege is paid for.
Unlike a bricks and mortar business, a show comes together for a while and then leaves with just some cans of film to show for it. But the money is real enough. For Florida, so inextricably tied to tourism, the glamor of South Beach, Disney World, Universal enjoy that allure largely because they have provided the backdrop for so many movies.
Even here in North Florida we have benefitted from pictures like Ulee’s Gold; Something Wild was shot in Tallahassee and many years ago a B-movie called Country Blue was shot in Havana. A friend of mine, now retired from ESPN, knew all about Havana when I moved here. He had been a crew member on Country Blue.
My point being that we use movies as a store window, as a low-investment/high return business and it’s worth providing a few tax breaks to get the business.
For a while there, Florida understood and the movie business boomed, with Miami Vice, Burn Notice, Doc Hollywood shot in Kissimmee, literally dozens of high profile, high budget pictures all shooting here because the tax structure made it appealing. When the legislature understands and puts the incentives back, showbiz will return, with all the benefits it brings.