Meeting with state film industry leaders in Orlando Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine renewed his call for a determined push to bring the movie business back to Florida, using it as an example of 21st century enterprises he said Florida is rebuffing.
“What’s amazing to me: this is low-hanging fruit. This is an easy thing to do. To me it’s like passing the ERA Amendment and making history,” Levine said.
But the feedback he was getting from such individuals as Sheena Fowler of the Orlando Film & Television Commission and Michael Jordan of MJJ Entertainment and Filmotechnic USA, was that under Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature over the past eight years the film industry has fled Florida, while other states such as Georgia have become big locations.
“We can’t even get into the conversation,” Fowler said.
“God willing I become governor, we are going to be the conservation,” Levine replied. “I think all of us together, and my relationships and knowledge and the contacts that I have, we will make it so known that Florida is back in the film industry.”
The film industry may be a bit of a niche issue, not addressed much by other candidates for governor, including Democrats Gwen Graham, Chris King, Andrew Gillum, and Jeff Greene, and Republicans Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam. But it’s frequently discussed by Levine, who says he has friends and business associates in the TV and movie production businesses.
On Tuesday he offered it as more than its own industry, and more than just free product placement for Florida tourism. He held it out as a symptom of a state leadership that he said has shown little knowledge or interest in 21st century business.
He belittled Republicans for disparaging the economic policies of states like California and Massachusetts, offering that states like that are flush with the kinds of 21st-century, high-paying, technology-oriented startups and businesses, while Florida, Levine charged, seems to be pursuing all the WalMart, McDonalds and other low-skill, low-wage employers.
“It’s incredible to me…. How do you attract a 21st century economy when you have a 20th century government? We’re living with a mentality, unfortunately, where they just don’t get it,” Levine charged. “We look at these other states… they must be doing something.”
Some of the film officials meeting with him countered that some Republican-led states such as Georgia and Texas also are offering the kinds of incentives necessary to attract robust film business. But they told him that their experience has convinced them that Florida appears to be lost in a philosophical position of not offering incentives, and what they called a flawed return-on-investment equation for the film industry.
South Florida long had a big film and TV production presence. Orlando has its own unique combination, with universities such as Full Sail University and the University of Central Florida offering some of the top film schools in the country, the theme parks attracting huge numbers of actors and other entertainers, and the region’s video game and modeling and simulation industries attracting plenty of talent for computer animation and computer generated images.
But several of those attending Levine’s roundtable either in person or by phone, including Full Sale Digital Cinematography Program Director Bob Truett, said the talent leaves for other states because the film jobs don’t exist in Florida.
“We’re popping out all this talent, but the only thing we’re missing is the business,” agreed John Lux, executive director of Film Florida.