After Laying Off Film Office, EDC Studies Incentives

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JUN 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic forced all film projects in the region to stop production. As the crisis lingered, the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County also laid off its entire Film and Entertainment Office.

Interim CEO Dave Bullock, who recently agreed to stay in his position into 2021, said the activity stoppage meant a time to study all expenses. Bullock said the rest of the EDC’s seven employees during the pandemic have been focused on an emergency loan program. It became clear, he said, there’s no need for a film commission immediately.

“Film was an area we wanted to relook at,” he said. “The world has changed from the 1990s and 2000s, when it was, let’s try and get a movie production here. The world now is so much more about the digital medium. The whole technology around it and the way it works has advanced.”

The government structure has also shifted around film. The state of Florida years ago spent all funds for a state incentives program, and while lawmakers — including Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters and Venice Rep. James Buchanan last session — have pursued establishing a new program, little progress has been made in Tallahassee. A state Film Commission still exists but facilitating incentives has been relegated largely to local governments.

So the company parted ways with long-time Film Commissioner Jeanne Corcoran and one other employer. Corcoran, he held the job for 13 years, referred all questions to the EDC.

Bullock said he isn’t sure what direction the office will take, but it’s an issue that needs to be studied quickly. The EDC was just asked to look at all incentive programs funded by Sarasota County, including a film rebate program. Bullock told County Commissioners in a Monday memo that he will have a presentation prepared for September to discuss strategy.

As far as film itself goes, Bullock has had conversations with Visit Sarasota County, which works closely with the EDC on incentive funding. He’s also talked with Ringling College of Art & Design, which has partnered closely with the film office developing area infrastructure like soundstages and post-production facilities, many of which are located on the Sarasota school’s campus.

The focus for the EDC moving forward, Bullock said, will be on the development of a broader “creative sector,” one focused not just on artistic film but the creation of content. He notes businesses from live show producer Feld Entertainment to a growing number of virtual technology businesses continues to enjoy success in the region.

“The stuff I used to think of as games is now out in the business world,” he said.

What specific form any incentive program will take in the future, and what the focus of any content division in the EDC may be, remains, as studios say, in development. “If I had all those answers, I wouldn’t be learning,” Bullock said.

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