In an un-reality show locally, Sarasota and Manatee counties are both shelling out precious public resources with the hope of attracting Hollywood filmmakers. The attempt to lure major Hollywood productions, or even minor ones or commercials, to Sarasota or Manatee defies reality. But then, that is so much of movie-making — fiction.
What is it that draws local officials — and they are doing this across the nation — to making spectacles of themselves to try to land a movie production?
Do they get all star-crossed when a big-name movie star comes to town, and they get to meet him? Is it just the simple addiction to giving private companies public money to entice them to come or stay in Sarasota or Manatee counties?
Whatever it is, this push to lure movies and commercials is an unwise use of the public treasury.
Manatee is boasting about its new Manatee County Film Office, something for which County Commission Chairwoman Carol Whitmore pushed hard. The office is a division of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Backers point out proudly that Manatee County is now on the most important Florida map that film producers use when seeking to make a movie in the state — the Governor’s Office of Film & Entertainment website, www.FilminFlorida.com.
So when Steven Spielberg or James Cameron hop online to see where to shoot their next movie — boy, this is just hard to write — Manatee County will be right there, waiting to accept their click on the state office of film website. Well, not exactly. When Spielberg and Cameron click the location resources link, and then the Florida Film Commission’s link, and then scroll down the list, they’ll find 49 other wide-eyed communities in Florida.
Seriously, if Manatee gets a Fruit Loops commercial out of this, it will be amazing.
Sarasota has been even more gaga.
It already has a film office, created a $250,000 film incentive fund in September 2010, gave $1.75 million to Ringling College to create a post-production ability to lure Hollywood filmmakers and gave startup Sanborn Studios a $650,000 startup grant.
Both counties can draw on some state incentives as well.
Not surprisingly, so far not much has come from these efforts, other than Ringling’s increasing stature.
Interestingly, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Tax Foundation — one a liberal think tank and the other a conservative — have studied the issue and found that state and local subsidies for film companies are expensive and provide only small benefits, and those only temporarily.
The entire game of incentives for private companies is a losing sham for taxpayers. It always results in redistributing some tax money to private interests, who clearly are planning an expansion anyway, to get them in a specific city or state. But it does not expand the pie any, such as an overall friendly business climate would.
This is clear in the luring-Hollywood fad. Nationally, movie-making would be the classic zero-sum game. The pie cannot be enlarged with giveaways, just re-divided. And apparently not much of that.
And while every community wants a diverse economy — and every community wants clean, high-paying tech jobs — we cannot have everything. It would be wiser and more prudent to play to our existing strengths, to make the most of what we have — beaches, tourism and, yes, growth.
But it would also behoove us to be the most attractive place for business, which means competitively low taxes and regulations and a solid workforce and infrastructure system. By getting carried away with Hollywood glitz and targeted incentives, we miss the big picture — and opportunity.