BIG OR SMALL, BREVARD LOOKS TO REEL IN SCREEN TIME
“That doesn’t mean we’re not still going after movies, but the best value is episodic television production,” said Jennifer Pennypacker, president of Film Florida, a nonprofit association. “The incentive is to create jobs, and television creates the best opportunity.”
Film commissioners statewide have embarked on a unified effort to market scene-stealing landscapes, picture-worthy amenities and the oceanic waves and climate of the Sunshine State to the film industry. So far, that effort is paying off, including in Brevard, where the Kennedy Space Center has served as the backdrop for big-budget space-related movies, while other parts of the county have hosted television and movie productions and film documentaries.
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” for instance, filmed here in October 2010, pumped an estimated $10 million to $12 million into the Brevard County economy, said Space Coast Film Commissioner Bonnie King. Those dollars were spent on hotel stays, for food ordered at area restaurants and in paychecks received by local labor used during filming.
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King and other film commissioners tout a tax credit plan approved last year by the state Legislature for boosting Florida’s film industry appeal.
The program provides $254 million in transferable tax credits over five years. Production companies are eligible to receive tax credits for 20 percent of the money they spend in Florida. An extra 5 percent credit is available for family-friendly projects and another 5 percent for projects filmed during hurricane season.
Credits are available for movies and TV shows, documentaries, digital media projects, commercials and music videos. Film industry insiders say the credits are vital to helping Florida stay competitive with other states that offer generous incentive programs.
Those tax credits can be used in two ways, both of which benefit Florida business. Companies based in the state can use the credit to lower their state corporate taxes. Out-of-state companies that film here can sell the credits back to Florida companies. That allows the film companies to recoup some of their expenses and the buyers get the tax breaks at a discounted price. For instance, a film company that earned $100,000 in credits could sell those credits to a Florida company for $75,000. That company, in turn, could apply the entire $100,000 toward its corporate tax bill.
“The goal here is to shore up our legislative message and push for 2012,” said Liz Morgan, who handles public relations for Film Florida. “We go to Tallahassee and meet with lawmakers to support our incentives and improve our incentives program so we can bring more jobs, more work, more production to our state. And it’s the film industry, so there’s always networking and fun.”
Recent film projects have pumped millions of dollars in revenue to areas such as Jacksonville, which was the location for two John Travolta films, “Lonely Hearts” and “Basic,” and Clearwater, which was the setting for “A Dolphin’s Tale,” about a young dolphin named Winter who loses her tail.
“That paid off amazingly for us,” said Jennifer Parramore, film commissioner for St. Petersburg/Clearwater. “They spent about $18 million in the area, $2 million in hotels alone. But the long-term benefits came after the film premiered. People came to Clearwater in droves to see the Clear-water Marine Aquarium and the real Winter.”
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From that movie alone, Clearwater has reaped enough revenue to make plans for building a new aquarium. It also set up a second exhibit from movie props left behind after the filming wrapped, Parramore said.
Brevard County also has been backdrop for movie blockbusters such as “Armageddon,” “Space Cowboys,” “Contact” and “Apollo 13.” An episode of the A&E Channel show “Hoarders” recently filmed here. Next month, there are plans for a reality show video, King said. Also, in the past year, episodes of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Supernanny” and a yet-unnamed show for the National Geographic network included scenes shot on the Space Coast.
“The Space Coast is great for our beaches, our location to the Orlando area, our surfing niche, wide beaches and the Kennedy Space Center,” King said. But there’s more: “Our swamps, our downtown areas that could be ‘Anywhere USA,’ we can be Ohio or a small town in Wisconsin. Sometimes our palm trees are needed, but many times on film we cannot be Florida, so palm trees would not be good. Our cruise port is a good location as well.”
Part of this week’s networking session focuses on various features communities across the state have to offer potential film productions. If you can’t lure the film yourself, at least do what you can to keep it in Florida, film commissioners said.
Brevard offers a bit of everything, King said.
’“You never know what the story may need,” she said. “Secluded woods to hide a body? We have it! A depressed area where maybe the big drug deal goes down? We have it! Old shopping centers that are a voice from yesterday? We have it! Biker bars? We have it! High-end neighborhoods, or developments where the houses all look alike — a '50s neighborhood? We have it! . . .”
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