Film rebate cap raised for production of documentary about golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez

Director of Sarasota County Film Commission explains to County Commission the details of process staff uses to determine reimbursements

Jeanne Corcoran. File photo

After praising the director of the Sarasota County Film Commission on Nov. 14, the County Commission unanimously approved a filmmaker’s request to raise the cap for his potential county rebate from $25,000 to $80,000.

Jeff Maultsby, director of the county’s Office of Business and Economic Development, explained that shooting for the Bullfighter on the Green production originally was scheduled to take place in Puerto Rico. However, because of the devastating impact Hurricane Maria had on that island, Maultsby continued, the production team members “looked for another site; they landed on us, potentially.” The county’s film incentive rebate program was the primary reason, Maultsby pointed out.

On Sept. 27, county staff received email correspondence from the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office that included a letter from Roberto Alcazar, founder and principal of EO Integration LLC, a Nov. 14 staff memo said. Maultsby and his staff learned that Alcazar wanted to begin shooting in Sarasota County in December, contingent upon approval of the request regarding the rebate cap, the memo added.

Alcazar is a native of Madrid, his biography says.

The film focuses on the life of Chi Chi Rodriguez, an internationally known member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, the memo continued. “This feature documentary focuses on his accomplishments, his struggles and vision, humility, effort and dedication to his family, sport and the love of golf,” the memo said.

His budget is anticipated to be less than $1 million,” Alcazar wrote in an Oct. 10 letter to the County Commission, “but every dollar matters in making the best quality project possible.”

The film also will feature actor Frankie Muniz, “who will accompany Chi Chi throughout a golf game,” during which they will talk about Rodriguez’s life and achievements, the staff memo adds. Muniz will narrate the film, as well, the memo pointed out.

Muniz is best known for his role in the TV series Malcolm in the Middle.

In his letter, Alcazar wrote that he “wants to spend as much of the budget [for the film] on Sarasota County-based people, places and businesses.” As a result he had asked for the rebate cap to be raised to $80,000.

Chi Chi Rodriguez. Image from Twitter

“[W]e want to support the local film employment base and contribute our fair share to the economy of this community — especially since you are being so generous in welcoming us here,” Alcazar told the commissioners in the letter.

Staff recommended the board approve the request.

When Commissioner Alan Maio asked about the types of expenses the county’s film rebate program will not reimburse, Maultsby replied that the purchases of alcoholic beverages and tobacco are not covered. Furthermore, no film rated above “R” can get any rebates, he said.

Then Commissioner Nancy Detert asked if Corcoran, the film commission director, could step to the podium.

Getting to the heart of the issue

“The word ‘incentive’ has bollixed up this industry for years, and we finally are calling it what it is: a rebate,” Detert pointed out.

At the end of a movie she watched the previous evening, Detert continued, she saw a note in the credits that said, “Paid for by Canadian tax credits.”

Then Detert asked Corcoran to discuss the Alcazar request.

Frankie Muniz. Image from Pinterest

Corcoran explained that any payment Sarasota County would make to Alcazar would be based strictly on performance. The film production company has to spend money in categories allowed under the rebate program, she continued. Afterward, it has to submit an application for the rebate, showing all the payments it has made, and it has to produce itemized receipts, Corcoran said. Her staff undertakes a preliminary review of the paperwork to ensure that all the necessary information has been provided, she continued. “Then [the material] goes to [the staff members of the county’s Office of Financial Management],” Corcoran said, “and they do an audit on it, and, in the end, whatever percentage of qualified spending the county approves” would be paid to the production company.

No one ever gets back more than 20% of the total spent in the private sector, she pointed out; a film company can get up to 20% in rebates on spending related to governmental entities, such as renting county facilities.

Referring to businesses where a film crew claims it has spent money, Corcoran said, “We check their business licenses and we check their street addresses.” Furthermore, she noted, if a film company seeks a rebate for a certain type of expense in another county, it cannot seek that same rebate in Sarasota County.

How much would Alcazar have to spend to get the full $80,000, Detert asked.

“A minimum of $400,000,” Corcoran replied. However, if Alcazar spent $500,000, she said, he could get no more than $80,000, if the commission approved the higher cap.

“I think you just do a fantastic job,” Commissioner Michael Moran told Corcoran. While he has been critical of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County’s lack of “clear, measurable, focused goals” for the spending of economic incentive funds, he said, his criticism never has been directed at her or her office.

“You have a very specific mission that’s measurable,” Moran told Corcoran. “That’s all I’ve ever asked.”

Moran made the motion to increase the cap for the Alcazar production, and Commissioner Maio seconded it.