As a proud Florida native, TV writer Clifton Campbell knows there's no way he can make a Georgia bog look like an Everglades swamp.
But he's concerned that's a choice he may have to make, if the A&E network picks up the pilot of a new TV series he has set in the Tampa Bay area, called Sugarloaf.
Fox Television Studios is filming about half the pilot episode around the Tampa Bay area beginning today. The proposed series tells the story of a Chicago cop who moves to the Sunshine State to play golf and winds up working as a troubleshooter for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (Sugarloaf is the fictional local suburb where the hero lives.)
But they're filming the other half of Sugarloaf's pilot in an Atlanta studio because Georgia offers a wide array of tax breaks and rebates.
According to producers, Sugarloaf's production could save twice as much by filming in Georgia, with a total budget that could reach $5 million. Local film commission officials say that could cut the revenue the Tampa Bay area sees from the project by up to 60 percent.
"I've always loved the area, and I think the west coast of Florida has never been filmed the right way," said Campbell, Sugarloaf's executive producer and writer, talking over his cell phone while scouting locations at the University of Tampa. "You have several ecologies here that you just don't see anywhere else. … The look is unique."
A Hialeah native who attended Florida State University, Campbell hopes to develop Sugarloaf as a series shot entirely in the Tampa Bay area. It's a serious possibility, in part because Fox Television Studios already produces another successful TV series filmed entirely in Florida: Miami-based Burn Notice.
According to the Miami Herald, Burn Notice reported employing a full-time staff of 110 people and spending $25 million in Florida over its first two seasons. Which gives local officials lots of incentive to lure Sugarloaf and try duplicating those numbers locally.
"This is where they want to be … (but) it comes down to a matter of finances," said Lesley Guthrie of the Tampa Bay Film Commission in Hillsborough County, who is trying to assemble a package of local incentives to make production here more cost-effective. For the pilot, producers plan to film exterior scenes here and interior scenes in Georgia.
This isn't Campbell's first attempt to bring a TV series to the Tampa Bay area. A writer and producer whose credits include Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Crossing Jordan and Profiler, he worked in Florida on the science fiction show seaQuest DSV and tried to set another pilot, called Pirates, in the area.
He has high hopes for Sugarloaf, which features Australian TV star Matt Passmore and offers a chance to explore the wide range of odd crimes that seem to happen only in Florida. A&E is scheduled to decide on the program's fate in February.
"My joke was that, if I was going to kill someone, I would dump the body in (the Everglades) for sure," he said, laughing. "That certainly has been a selling point for bringing the series here."