Following Dolphin Tale and a drive-by shoot by an Academy Award-winning director, another high-profile movie production is headed to Pinellas County.
The Times has learned that writer-director Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby) will begin four weeks of filming Sunlight Jr. in Clearwater in mid November. Collyer's screenplay concerns a married couple living in near-poverty in Florida.
The low-budget, independently produced drama is expected to star a pair of Oscar-nominated actors, whose involvement will be confirmed next week.
Attempts to reach Collyer and the actors' agents have been unsuccessful. Collyer's representative at the Gersh Agency confirmed Thursday that his client will be filming Sunlight Jr. in Clearwater.
"She sure is," Abram Nalibotsky said from his office in Beverly Hills, Cal. "I'm not sure what (the producers are) ready to disclose or not disclose. But, yeah, it's going to shoot in Clearwater."
Nalibotsky's other clients include directors John Landis (The Blues Brothers), Chuck Russell (The Mask) and Victor Salva (Powder).
The production budget for Sunlight Jr. is thus far unknown, as producers generally keep such numbers under wraps. An undisclosed portion of financing for Sunshine Jr. comes from a grant Collyer's screenplay earned in 2009 from Cinereach, a New York nonprofit foundation supporting independent filmmakers.
Sunlight Jr. is the name of a convenience store where "Melissa" works the graveyard shift, barely making ends meet. Her husband "Richie" is unemployed, mostly spending his days drunk and socializing with other down-and-out residents of a seedy motel. Melissa and Richie's future prospects grow even dimmer when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant.
Collyer is best known for her 2006 release Sherrybaby, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a paroled convict and recovering heroin addict. Gyllenhaal's performance earned a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic actress. Collyer received a Directors Guild of America nomination in 2001 for the documentary Nuyorican Dream, chronicling a troubled Puerto Rican family in New York.
Both films made their U.S. debuts at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Production of Sunlight Jr. arrives in Tampa Bay in the wake of the current box office hit Dolphin Tale, based on the true story of Winter the dolphin and primarily filmed at her Clearwater Marine Aquarium home. That $37 million production has grossed more than $65 million at U.S. box offices, and is currently expanding worldwide.
Earlier this month Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) brought his latest project Magic Mike to Tampa Bay for a week of production. Magic Mike stars Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, inspired by Tatum's experiences as a male exotic dancer after graduating from Tampa Catholic High School. That film is set for release on June 29, 2012.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore said Thursday that the area's recent surge in major filmmaking is a shot in the arm for Florida's economy. Dolphin Tale pumped nearly $17 million into state coffers during two months of production. Numbers for Magic Mike's financial impact haven't been released but will be much smaller due to the shorter filming period in Florida.
"It's jobs, and it's publicity," Parramore said. "The kinds of jobs that are created with a movie are highly skilled jobs, and generally well-paid. … When you have a film come in you're both hiring local people, as well as renting hotel rooms for people you have to bring in; heads and beds, meaning the dollars spent for everybody who's here every day.
"I'm also very happy to see a variety of stories, a variety of directors and their respective styles. I'm happy to see a variety of local places used as (filming) locations. Sometimes they use our famous beaches, but we know we have so much more."
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.
Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect a correction to the name of the movie.