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Survival of the Entertainment Industry in Florida

Survival of the Entertainment Industry in Florida

It’s easy to understand that every person has his or her own agenda. Human beings are naturally selfish- it’s just the nature of the beast. It was necessary in our primitive beginnings to care for ourselves before we could truly care for others, not out of desire but in order to survive. Once we learned to be caregivers we began to understand the importance of cooperation and how to operate as a team. Working with others allowed us to grow and eventually build businesses, governments and nations. Our career-focused evolution is grounded in cooperation, but when selfish plans intertwine with a community that is supposed to function as team, problems arise. Government is a team of elected officials that create policy: it is full of checks and balances that are supposed to ensure fair play and reasonable decision making, yet some issues may never be heard due to individual politicians and each of their personal agendas. When the government determines factors that directly affect our careers and our livelihoods it is no wonder so many hard working people revert to selfish ways and ultimately back to methods of survival to get what they want. Many entertainment industry professionals have embraced their inner Neanderthal and yell to the suits in Tallahassee in the hopes of receiving funding for the entertainment production incentive program. Although they shriek facts of increasing employment, developing industry infrastructure, and bringing tourism and capital to the state, their voices seem to fall on deaf ears year after year.

As a child I was told to follow my heart. If I love what I am doing everyday and I strive to be proficient in my craft then money will follow along with success. The Film and Entertainment industry is where my passion lies and where I decided to build my career. I changed majors, moved from Massachusetts to Florida and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Film to make this dream a reality. An internship at IDEAS was my foot in the door. I became a contractor and was later hired full time working steadily on episodic television, independent films, educational programs, corporate videos and a variety of other jobs that found their way into the IDEAS studio. At that point in time film and entertainment tax incentives were active and being allocated all across the state of Florida. Fast forward to present day where tax credits have been depleted leaving no funds available to attract new productions to our state nor to provide for productions that are still waiting in the incentive line. Other states, including our neighbors Georgia and Louisiana, are reaping the benefits of having entertainment tax incentives and continue to indulge in permanently borrowing actors and crew from Florida’s talent pool. Since being hired in 2010 I have witnessed a decline in work. Jobs have become less frequent, productions refuse to consider Florida a film friendly state, and my friends are uprooting their lives- and their families- and moving in order to find more work. Opportunities are fleeting and workers are reverting to methods of survival in order to stay afloat while a state that used to thrive off the entertainment industry is now losing the basic infrastructure that is required to hold it together.

When individual actions are not enough to see results, people find strength in numbers and unite. Last year the entertainment industry did exactly that and launched a pair of legislative bills designed to replenishing the state’s empty pot of tax incentives. Industry workers were out in full force and even rallied on the steps of the Capitol to draw attention to the cause. I was involved in the organization and implementation of several events and was able to dig deeper into the politics of the situation. My eyes were opened to an imitation world where every politician has friends, enemies, an agenda and an ego (not necessarily in that order). I found myself strapped into the rollercoaster of politics and exploding for joy when we took a step forward… then taking ten steps back and sulking in defeat. I witnessed one legislator speak passionately to a crowd of supporters and then turn and whisper to his colleagues that the bill had no traction and will never get passed. Most never heard stories from the underbelly of the legislature, and those who did didn’t make them public knowledge. We wanted to be positive- to grow- to see past negativity and develop Florida’s economy by bringing back the jobs that fulfill the dreams of so many dedicated individuals. We all knew it was not going to be an easy fight but with an industry that creates employment opportunities and increases overall state revenue, how could we be overlooked? Both bills promised hope- and both failed to pass.

This year those representing our industry tried a different approach and hit the ground running immediately after last session came to a close. The new bills were championed by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Mike Miller- both ready and willing to fight for the survival of the entertainment industry. Our leaders banded together with Visit Florida for Tourism Day and gathered more supporters from the industry as well as the Senate and House. We were able to weave through the world of politics and keep our heads above water while dodging individuals who sought to put down the program due to their own opinion or agenda. We were not scared this time- we were strong. Our energy was focused on discussing facts like the projected $4.1 billion positive impact on the state’s GDP, that the program was expected to create 7,500-12,000 annualized positions and that an average feature film will spend approximately $125,000 per day in the location they are shooting. The bills were heard in three House committees and three Senate committees, passing all with a cumulative vote of 67 to 14. Things were looking up until the House adjourned three days early, leaving unfinished bills and an unresolved budget to be completed during a special session. It was during this special session that we found ourselves in the bill pipeline- then eventually dead in the water. “As the 2015 Legislative Special Session comes to a close, the film, TV and digital media industry is not included in the budget again this year. This marks 3 straight years this program has gone without funding” (Film Florida).

Losing is always a deflating experience. Losing this battle for three years straight while also losing jobs, colleagues, friends and family takes it to a whole new level. Florida’s entertainment industry has been operating as a team- selfishly and selflessly pushing to achieve a goal that would better the community and economy as a whole. We have pleaded to our government to help us but our efforts, no matter how structured or how powerful, continue to be ignored. There is a sense of outrage within our industry. We have played by the rules and it has gotten us nowhere. We are tired and beaten down and many will not return for another fight. We are not on an even playing field with the 35+ states that promote incentives- but we are hard working people. We are a resilient group that will evolve and migrate if necessary. Those who stay in Florida- we will pick up the pieces and carry on. We will fight to bring productions here on our own accord- and when the legislature sees our progress and wants a piece of the action, we will tell them to #EntertainThis.

Rebecca Hodges
Rebecca is a Producer/Director/Editor at IDEAS and her daily tasks consist of managing the tape vault, producing/directing/editing, as well as being the go-to person for the Studio Team.