It’s been several years since cameras all but stopped rolling in Florida for major television and film productions. However, unscripted “real” content in the state is booming. From nature-focused “Finding Adventure” to MTV’s “Siesta Key” and even Discovery+ hit “The Queen of Versailles Reigns Again,” audiences are flocking to screens like never before to see “real” Florida stories. . And that could be a very good thing for an industry that has faltered in recent years.
“I always thought Florida would be booming in terms of TV production,” said Mark Long, who in addition to being a reality TV star on shows like “The Challenge” and “Worst Cooks in America” is also producer of “The Challenge: All-Stars,” which is now streaming on Paramount+. “It really never took off the way I thought it would.”
One of the main reasons that scripted shows have struggled to film in Florida is the lack of tax incentives in the state. For example, the recent reboot of “Father of the Bride” takes place in Florida, but only exteriors were filmed in the state, with the rest of the filming taking place in Georgia. Director Gaz Alazraki said that while he doesn’t know “the ins and outs of unions and incentives” when it comes to filming in different states, “they seem to play a big role when producers take decisions”.
While incentives make a huge difference to the bottom line of big budget movies and TV shows, the reality TV medium gives producers a lot more leeway thanks to much lower costs. According to Investopedia, the price of a reality show can be as cheap as $100,000 per episode, a big contrast to the millions of dollars per episode that scripted television takes to produce, making tax incentives less vital to this particular medium.
Outside of mere dollars and cents, Florida has also proven to be quite a breeding ground for unique talents and stories. Netflix had a hit in 2020 with “Tiger King” (which was partially filmed in Florida) and while the follow-up to that series didn’t have the same cultural impact as its predecessor, the streamer found more success in Florida in 2021 with “Selling Tampa,” which soared to the top of the streaming charts late last year and follows an all-female, Black-owned real estate agency.
“It’s basically a huge publicity for the city,” Long said of “Selling Tampa,” adding that not only was the show a huge hit for Netflix, but it also helped raise the profile. of a city that seeks to increase its number of tourists.
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As low-cost reality shows continue to do well across multiple platforms, Long says he hopes Florida realizes its untapped potential as a production hub in the years to come.
“I think once people start seeing these types of shows popping up even more in Florida, maybe it will alert them to look into [shooting] here rather than in Georgia [even without] tax breaks.” Long also added that producers can make up the difference in tax incentives by saving in other ways, “the cost of goods, the cost of renting space, the cost of hiring shooters and soundmen” all being inferior in the Sunshine State.
“You get the same quality of talent, it will just be better financially for the production company to explore Florida,” he said.
In Long’s perfect world, the success of reality content in the state would help politicians see how prioritizing filming incentives could help the local economy and help bring scripted productions back to the state. “Offering tax breaks and waiving some of the fees that [other states] would require would definitely encourage people to come here.
And while big changes have yet to happen, Long says he’s already seeing a boost from the growing slate of reality content in the state.
“I think there’s starting to be a little change,” he said. “I think we’re finally entering an era where it’s definitely reopening.”
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