County filmmaking rebate program wins another $213,402, with new Commissioner Moran voting, ‘No’

Board hears that the program has led to about $3.5 million in direct spending in the county since the program was established in 2010

Jeff Maultsby. Rachel Hackney photo
Jeff Maultsby. Rachel Hackney photo

With two new elected officials on the board, the Sarasota County Commission split 4-1 on its second vote of Nov. 22, which allocated $213,402 to replenish the county’s Film and Entertainment Industry Rebate Incentive Program to the original amount of $250,000.

(The board’s first vote was unanimous approval of its Consent Agenda items of routine business matters.)

Commissioner Mike Moran — who won the board’s District 1 seat — told his colleagues he could not support the action, calling it “quite ironic” that the issue was on his first agenda.

“Economic diversity and career creation is what I am all about and why I ran for this position,” Moran explained. “It’s extremely important to me that careers are developed, not jobs.”

He had spoken at length on Nov. 18 with Jeff Maultsby, director of business and economic development for the county, Moran continued, and “I feel very encouraged by the direction of his department.” Nonetheless, Moran said, “I’m not comfortable allocating one penny of taxpayer money to go forward on this,” until the funds can be attached to measurable goals.

The second new commissioner sworn in that morning — Nancy Detert of Venice — pointed out, “I’m a big supporter of filmmaking as an indigenous industry and a job creator.” And while she was familiar with “the big picture on film,” having served four terms in the Florida House and two in the Florida Senate, she did seek more details from Maultsby and Jeanne Corcoran, the county’s film commissioner.

Since the county program was established in 2010, Maultsby explained, the county has provided rebates totaling approximately $392,000 to 47 projects.

The county has seen more than $3.5 million in direct spending as a result of the production work, he added, resulting in a return on investment of over 800%.

When Detert asked exactly what the return of investment had been, Maultsby checked with his staff and then replied, “It is, at minimum, $5.50 per dollar invested.”

Commissioner Mike Moran. Rachel Hackney photo
Commissioner Mike Moran. Rachel Hackney photo

The total county funding allocated to the program since 2010 is $641,992, Maultsby reported.

More details, please

During her comments, Corcoran pointed out that the State of Florida established a tax credit film incentive program in 2010 that was expected to continue for five years, but it ran out of money at the end of 2012.

About 300 productions “of all kinds” have conducted shooting in Sarasota County, Corcoran continued. They range from student films costing $700 to $800 apiece “all the way up to multimillion-dollar projects that come into the area … We feel that a great many of them have been attracted to Sarasota County in spite of the dearth of statewide incentives,” thanks to the rebate program the County Commission created.

The filmmakers have to comply with stringent guidelines, she added, if they want to receive rebates. “They do not receive $1 in advance.”

To-date, she said, no project has received more than $38,000 out of the county fund. A $25,000 cap has been established, she told the board.

A memo from Maultsby to the board in advance of the meeting explains that a company can receive more than $25,000 with board approval based on project size, scope and budgetary impact. Thus far, the memo says, only three projects have requested more than the capped amount.

Corcoran noted that five or six days of shooting of the 2013 film Parker starring Jennifer Lopez and Jason Statham in Sarasota County led to expenditures of $500,000, but the production company received a rebate of less than $25,000. “We got to keep the other $475,000, which was a huge return on investment.”

Jeanne Corcoran. Rachel Hackney photo
Jeanne Corcoran. Rachel Hackney photo

Detert then pointed out, “The word ‘incentive’ has fallen from favor. … ‘Rebate’ is different. You’re paying them after they’ve already spent the money.”

“We should call [the county program] a rebate program,” Corcoran concurred. “We do this to attract [projects] into our region, as opposed to our competing regions within Florida that do not have such a program. … It has been quite successful for us.”

After Detert suggested the board consider deleting “Incentive” from the title of the program, Maultsby said he and his staff already have planned to come back before the board on that point. When Chair Alan Maio asked when that would be, Maultsby told him it probably would be February 2017.

Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo then asked for more details about the 47 projects to which Maultsby had alluded. Corcoran told him that they include a number of independent films, as well as commercials and training videos. DuPont’s corporate headquarters in Virginia Beach, Va., has spent $250,000 each on several training films, she pointed out.

The projects cover “a fairly broad spectrum,” she added.

When Caragiulo asked whether she works regularly with people scouting film locations, she responded, “Yes, we do.”

In fact, Corcoran told him, she recently had returned from a conference in New York City involving television script production. “We’re very interested in developing more television series,” Corcoran said. After Ringling College of Art + Design completes construction of its digital soundstage and post-production facility, she noted, the county will be able to pursue long-run TV series production, which tends to bring “tens of millions of dollars” into a community over the life of a series.

That 36,870-square-foot facility is expected to be finished in 2017 at a cost of about $10 million.

Maultsby earlier pointed out that the county had invested $1,750,000 into the Ringling project because of its communitywide economic impact potential.

When Maio asked for a motion at the end of the discussion, Detert was the one who made it, with Hines seconding it.

“I look forward to the report in February, to see how these [rebates] are making a difference in bringing films here,” Hines said.