Friday, January 19, 2018
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Could Ben Affleck make his next movie in Tampa?

Academy Award winner Ben Affleck is working on a followup to Argo, and it has a distinct connection to Tampa Bay.

Affleck is set to direct and star in Live by Night, working from his screenplay adaptation of Dennis Lehane's crime novel, largely set in Tampa and Ybor City.

Whether Lehane's literary choice of locales leads to Affleck filming Live by Night here is the big question.

The film commission branch of the tourism agency Tampa Bay & Co. is actively marketing Tampa and Ybor City to Live by Night producers as the best locale when filming begins this fall as expected.

Lehane seconded that notion Sunday by sending Affleck photographs of Ybor City landmarks that inspired his Edgar Award-winning book. Affleck made his directing debut in 2007 with an adaptation of another Lehane novel, Gone Baby Gone.

However, there's another factor that producers will weigh before making a decision: how much — if any — money is available from Florida's entertainment industry financial incentive program.

The program offers tax credits to film, television and video games produced in Florida, employing citizens and benefiting businesses.

And it's broke.

All monies designated for the program have been claimed, and the state Legislature recently adjourned without approving additional funds.

The incentives situation hasn't stopped Tampa Bay & Co.'s interim liaison, Krista Soroka, from marketing Tampa and Ybor City locales. Soroka, a former Tampa film commissioner, wouldn't reveal to whom she's sending materials, but confirmed it's for Live by Night.

"We have been working for the last few weeks or so on sending location photos for that production, specifically," Soroka said. "Obviously, with Dennis writing it for our destination, we've been sending photos to show them how that screenplay could come alive if they film it in our community."

Since applications for the incentives program are confidential, it is unknown whether Live by Night has qualified to receive tax credits. Without such assistance, the production companies Pearl Street — owned by Affleck and Matt Damon — and Appian Way could decide to film elsewhere, even if that requires retooling the screenplay for another locale where incentives are available.

"I'll tell you this," St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore said Monday, "nobody goes anywhere (to make a movie) unless there's incentives. They'll shoot in Toronto if they have to."

On the other hand, Affleck has an unusual amount of clout that could make filming without incentives possible. Argo's relatively modest $44.5 million budget established him as an economical world-class filmmaker, and being unjustly overlooked for a best director Oscar nomination made him Hollywood's darling. Affleck co-owns one of Live by Night's production companies and has a lucrative track record with the movie's distributor Warner Bros. through The Town and Argo.

If anyone in Hollywood right now can get a movie made without production incentives, it's Affleck.

Live by Night is the second novel in Lehane's proposed trilogy of historical sagas. The lead character, Joe Coughlin, was introduced as a child in 2008's The Given Day, and rises from being a petty thief in Boston to an Ybor City bootlegger in Live by Night.

Contacted at his Brookline, Mass., home, Lehane said he is unaware of Affleck's production plans. "I know nothing about locations," he said. "I know yesterday that I sent (Affleck) a bunch of pictures of Ybor that I took to inspire the book … like the Cuban Club, the (Don) Vincente (hotel), landmarks that are in the book."

Lehane hopes his input can influence Affleck to film Live by Night where his story occurs.

"Of course, because Ybor is so distinctive," said Lehane, an Eckerd College graduate who also keeps a home in St. Petersburg. "My preference would always be to help the local economy of the place where I'm living, you know?"

Times book editor Colette Bancroft contributed to this report. Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.

   
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