Pinellas ready for its filmmaking closeup

CLEARWATER — Jeff Landers knew he was going to die, but he didn't think it would be so soon.

Staring out over Clearwater Harbor, the terminally ill man prayed as his doctor raced about her high-rise condominium at a feverish pace, tending to Landers' three gunshot wounds.

Landers' prayers were answered. With the injection of an experimental drug, Landers, a secret society assassin, was back on his feet within minutes and heading out the door to complete his mission when a director yelled, "Cut!"

After 30 takes, the actors and crew had completed filming the opening scene of Terminal Kill.

The film, shot April 20-27 at locations throughout Pinellas County, is the latest in a string of projects by local filmmakers who are striving to turn Florida, and specifically the St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area, into a hub for movies and television.

From the Pinellas Trail to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport to downtown St. Petersburg's Ponce de Leon Hotel, local filmmakers say Tampa Bay boasts ample cultural and architectural landscaping as well as talent to transform itself into the new "Hollywood East."

"People just don't think of the state as a great location because they picture Miami and the whole South Beach thing," said Terminal Kill producer Tony Armer of Clearwater. "They don't think of all the other great beaches and things here that are just as great to film at.

"We're not hoping," he said. "We are changing that."

They applaud Florida lawmakers for passing a film incentive last year that will offer $242 million in tax credits for productions that film in the state and use local talent.

As of April 1, 122 productions had taken advantage of the program, including the makers of Dolphin Tale, starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. The movie, inspired by the true story of a wounded dolphin rescued off Florida's east coast, filmed from September to December at Pinellas locations including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the real-life dolphin was taken in, Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg and on Satinleaf Avenue in Oldsmar.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore said the Tampa Bay region is consistently tied with Orlando as the second or third production center in Florida, behind the Miami/southeast Florida area.

She said her office last year recorded 157 completed projects in Pinellas County and issued about 200 permits. Those figures don't include projects filmed at private studios.

Filming a television series locally would create a boon for business, she said.

"Each episode employs 100 to 200 people. Some are staying in hotels, some have their own apartment homes, they're all eating at least two meals a day on set," Parramore said, recalling how series like Burn Notice and Miami Vice boosted Florida's economy.

"You figure every eight days you've got an episode coming, so you're on location for five or six months. So you can imagine the economic impact."

Grant Wood, asset manager at Water's Edge Condominiums in downtown Clearwater, agreed. He jumped at the chance to support local filmmaking by lending a 12th-floor waterfront unit to Terminal Kill producers last weekend. Residents smiled as they stopped to watch a scene being filmed in the elevator, he said.

The action thriller — created by actor Dale Pople, written by Star Wars novelist Matthew Stover and executive produced by Florida native Jennifer Valenti — delves into the lives of terminally ill people recruited by a secret agency to protect the American way of life.

Armer, executive director of the Sunscreen Film Festival, said several television networks are interested in turning the film into an hourlong television pilot.

"It creates an atmosphere of excitement" for residents, Wood said. "And it gives us great exposure. It creates a unique selling point that Water's Edge is a very sought-after community. And, oh by the way, we had a filming here. It's a different marketing or promotional tool that we can also use."

Even some local non-actors have been unwittingly drawn into the excitement.

Indian Rocks Beach resident Chris Dawson lent his terrier mix, Ranger, for several scenes of Crazy, a sci-fi comedy filmed in March throughout Pinellas County.

Crazy co-writers and co-producers Tom Thompson of Clearwater and Scott Reus of Indian Rocks Beach (who also directed Terminal Kill) persuaded Reus' 13th Avenue neighbors to let them dig holes in a yard, borrow a car and otherwise create a ruckus.

The production transforms the 2012 Mayan calendar prophecy of the world's end into a comedy about people becoming obsessed with whatever they're doing at the time.

The footage will run as webisodes, but the goal is to get picked up by a broadcast network. Dawson is excited to see whether his and his wife's cameo appearances make the final cut.

"I had one line," said the 54-year-old Dawson, a retired painter and self-described ham. "It was a blast. And more than anything, what made me want to participate was the passion they exuded."

Armer said Terminal Kill cost just under $100,000 to produce, so it just missed the threshold to qualify for a tax incentive.

But with about 25 cast members, about 30 crew members and about 15 extras putting in seven 16-hour days, "We really wouldn't have been able to afford to film things locally if local businesses and local government hadn't been so helpful."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.



Fast facts | By the numbers

$231 million: Florida film tax credits between July 2010 and April 2011

122: Number of projects granted Florida film tax credits

109,953: Projected number of jobs these projects are expected to generate

11: Number of Tampa Bay area projects that have received tax credits (includes Pinellas, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties)

Source: Florida Governor's Office of Film and Entertainment

Local production

At the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, where a Terminal Kill scene was shot Wednesday, spokeswoman Michele Routh said the airport has been used over the years to depict a Chicago airport, LAX and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. In the last month alone, she said, scenes for student films, the Discovery Channel's "Life on a Wire," and "Germany's Next Top Model" were filmed at the airport. And Home Shopping Network frequently shoots luggage-related infomercials.

Pinellas ready for its filmmaking closeup 04/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2011 5:18pm]

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