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Monday, Dec 17, 2018
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Hillsborough County may offer cash to lure Escobar movie

TAMPA — A Hollywood movie pitch with a Tampa plot and Tampa locations may skip the city after all because state government isn’t offering the producers the tax incentives they want soon enough.

Local leaders are stepping in to see if they can fill the gap.

Representatives of the feature film “The Infiltrator” were in Tampa recently and “they fell in love with the area,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

The film is based on the book “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel,” which was written by Robert Mazur of Tampa.

It is the real-life story of Mazur’s two-year investigation as an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration posing as a Tampa-based businessman. The case helped bring down a major international financial institution that had laundered tens of millions of dollars for Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug dealer.

In December, a representative from DDA Public Relations told the Tribune that production company Good Films intended to begin production in Tampa in March.

But on Tuesday, DDA informed the Tribune via email, “The Good Films’ production team confirmed that in the short term the project is on hold.”

The holdup, according to Gordon, is Florida’s tax incentive for film productions.

The state allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012-16 but all the money was spent just a year into the four-year cycle. Such incentives are used to lure major motion pictures away from Hollywood.

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Florida’s film incentive is 30 percent of what a production spends in-state, with an $8 million cap. “The Infiltrator” has a tentative budget of $47.5 million. How much would be spent in Florida is unknown.

Film Florida, the trade commission that represents the interests of the state film industry, will push for changes in Florida’s film tax incentives when the Legislature meets this spring. The commission is seeking an allocation of $200 million a year through 2020.

The 2014 Regular Legislative Session will convene March 4.

Gordon said producers of “The Infiltrator” need to know how much in incentives to expect before the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment date in April or May or they “could go elsewhere.”

To keep the production from leaving town, Hillsborough County will consider stepping in with local incentives, County Commissioner Ken Hagan said today.

“It is critically important we show a local commitment to the project in an incentive manner,” Hagan told the Tribune.

The topic came up at today’s county commission meeting and a specific dollar amount will be discussed later, he said.

The movie sequel “Dolphin Tale 2” faced a similar dilemma last year. Producers wanted to film in Clearwater but tax credit money was an obstacle.

So backers persuaded the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on $5 million in state money for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The aquarium turned over the money to producer Alcon Entertainment.

DDA Public Relations said vie email that Good Films is working “closely with local leaders to find a solution – they remain passionate about filming in Tampa.”

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Hagan said he would press the state to approve the new incentives.

He also wants the County Commission to offer its own incentives to lure future productions.

If all that comes to pass, Tampa may still be able to snag Oscar winner Ben Affleck’s forthcoming film “Live By Night,” based on the best-selling novel by part time St. Petersburg resident Dennis Lehane about rum-running in Ybor during the 1920s and ‘30s.

Producers appeared to take the first steps toward filming “Live By Night” in Savannah, Ga.

Brad Furman will be directing “The Infiltrator” and Affleck starred in Furman’s last film, “Runner Runner.”

Gordon did not know whether that relationship could affect Affleck’s decision to film in Tampa.

Though no other Hollywood movies have reached out to Gordon, Rhea Kapoor, the daughter of Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor, is in discussions with Gordon’s office to produce her next movie here in March or April.

And two Hollywood projects with ties to Tampa have been announced.

“Not Without Hope,” based on the best-selling memoir by Tampa resident Nick Schuyler, lone survivor of a 2009 accident that left three friends dead in the Gulf of Mexico, has secured Dwayne Johnson as lead but no production date or locale has been set.

And Channing Tatum has begun writing “Magic Mike 2,” a sequel to his male stripper movie based and filmed in Tampa.

“Neither film has contacted us yet,” said Gordon. “But we do plan to reach out to them in the near future.

Meantime, she is focused on “The Infiltrator.”

“We’re so close on this one, but ultimately this is a business transaction and the numbers have to add up.”

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