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'Spring Breakers' starring James Franco expected to film in bay area

The third high-profile movie since Dolphin Tale re-energized Tampa Bay's film industry is expected to shoot locally later this month. This one reportedly brings the hippest star yet: Academy Award nominee and Renaissance dude James Franco.

Franco, 33, will star in Spring Breakers, alongside former Disney Channel starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, and Heather Morris of Glee. Don't expect Spring Breakers to be as family-friendly as those acting credits suggest.

Spring Breakers is written and directed by Harmony Korine, who made his mark at age 19 with the screenplay for Kids, a 1995 release that earned an NC-17 rating for its frankness about teenage sexuality and AIDS. Korine later directed the divisive art house oddities Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, and most recently 2009's Trash Humpers, about a group of sociopathic senior citizens.

According to industry trade reports, Spring Breakers is the story of college students who rob a restaurant to finance their Florida vacation. They land in jail but are bailed out by a rapping drug and weapons dealer (Franco), who in return wants them to murder his rival.

Associate producer Jonathan Fong would only confirm Monday that Spring Breakers will be filmed in Florida, awaiting permission from Muse Productions to release further information.

"That's all I have license to say," Fong said from Los Angeles by telephone. "We actually want to say as little as possible, because of the high-profile talent involved."

However, production offices for Spring Breakers recently opened in downtown St. Petersburg, and about 40 homeowners in the Pinellas Point and Driftwood areas received letters detailing what producers seek for location shoots, including a house with an uncaged swimming pool.

Principal photography is expected to commence later this month in St. Pete Beach, continuing through March. Spring Breakers is slated to reach theaters in 2013.

Dolphin Tale was the first feature lured to Tampa Bay by an expanded incentive program offering tax breaks to productions filming in Florida. Inspired by the true-life story of Winter the tailless dolphin, it collected nearly $95 million at box offices worldwide, and pumped nearly half of its reported $37 million budget into Florida coffers.

Last October, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh filmed portions of his strip club comedy Magic Mike, starring Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, in Pinellas County and Ybor City. In December, principal photography wrapped in Clearwater on Laurie Collyer's poverty drama Sunlight Jr., starring Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts. Both films are slated for release in 2012.

Franco has a reputation as one of Hollywood's busiest actors, with four movies currently in post-production including Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.

He also recently filmed scenes as Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner for Lovelace, a biopic of Deep Throat porn star Linda Lovelace. Franco is set to direct and star in the backwoods drama Child of God later this year.

Last year, Franco was nominated for a best actor Oscar for the true-life adventure 127 Hours, and drew criticism for his work hosting the Academy Awards alongside Anne Hathaway.

Meanwhile, Franco indulges in a variety of quirky artistic endeavors including writing short stories — the compilation Palo Alto: Stories by Franco was published in 2010 — and creating multimedia projects such as a dramatic retrospective of the 1970s sitcom Three's Company. His documentary Saturday Night, chronicling the preparation of a Saturday Night Live episode, played at 2010's Sarasota Film Festival. Franco also did a 52-episode arc on the soap opera General Hospital, that he described as "performance art."

Gomez, 19, starred in the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place and Hannah Montana but may be best known for dating pop sensation Justin Bieber. Hudgens, 23, earned fame in Disney's High School Musical franchise, and currently stars with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Morris, 25, will get her biggest movie role since her ditzy role as Brittany Pierce on Glee made her a star.

Staff writer Katherine Snow Smith contributed to this report. Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

About the film

According to industry trade reports, Spring Breakers is the story of college students who rob a restaurant to finance their Florida vacation. Principal photography is expected to start this month in St. Pete Beach, continuing through March. Spring Breakers is slated to reach theaters in 2013.

'Spring Breakers' starring James Franco expected to film in bay area 02/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 8:44pm]

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