Tim Burton movie unites Tampa Bay's film commissions

Tim Burton's film unites bay area movie agencies.

Published February 19 2015
Updated February 20 2015

Filming begins Saturday around Tampa Bay on director Tim Burton's next feat of movie magic, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Yet attracting the production here is a neat trick itself, making a friendly rivalry between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties disappear.

Both counties' film commissions are joining forces, putting money where their individual interests lay. Each agency will pay $100,000 incentives to the production, after certain requirements are met.

Pinellas County views this as a film and tourism marketing investment; Hillsborough sees a chance to boost infrastructure and employment.

The goals may be different but, for the first time in memory, the two film commissions are solidly and fiscally on the same team.

"I didn't realize there was a big competition," said St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer, hired for the position in 2014. "I thought we were all just one big happy family around here."

Tampa-Hillsborough film commissioner Dale Gordon thought the same, after being hired away from Orlando's agency in 2013.

"When I got here, that was one of the first things brought to my attention," she said, "that there really wasn't a united front in the past. To me, that seemed silly, coming from a regional film commission where we represented four counties.

"When filmmakers come here they don't see city lines or county lines. They just say, 'I want to film in Tampa Bay,' so it just makes perfect sense that we work together."

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is expected to film locally until March 7, when the production will move to its primary locations in the United Kingdom for completion. Twentieth Century Fox has slated a March 4, 2016 release date.

Based on the novel by Ransom Riggs, the story involves an orphan named Jacob (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) and his adventures with supernatural students of the title character, played by Eva Green (Casino Royale).

Riggs was raised in Englewood, and early chapters of his book are set nearby in Sarasota. Tampa Bay will double for its neighbors to the south at the suggestion of Burton, who filmed Edward Scissorhands around Tampa Bay in 1990.

"Even though this will only be two weeks (of local filming), this will be the biggest film ever to shoot in this area, budgetwise," Armer said. "It's special effects-heavy, sort of a Harry Potter-esque feel. The marketing budget for this film will probably be double what the production budget of Dolphin Tale was." (That budget was reportedly $37 million.)

No official budget for Burton's movie has been announced. Armer read an estimate online of $100 million, making his agency's $100,000 incentive a drop in the bucket. What Pinellas County gets in return for its incentive could be worth much more, in attracting tourists and future film and video projects.

"There are 'deliverables' that must be met before they'll receive (any funds)," Armer said. "It's not an up-front grant or cash, by any means."

Those requirements include testimonials on filming in Pinellas County from Burton, his actors and crew, plus authorized use of behind-the-scenes videos and photos. Those will be used in future promotions of the area as a filming destination. In addition, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commission brand will be included in the movie's end credits.

Armer said the $100,000 marketing incentive has been built into his agency's budget since 2007, when it was created by his predecessor, Jennifer Parramore. Several productions got portions in exchange for promotions, including the major productions Dolphin Tale and Magic Mike, and independent works like Grace Is Gone and Misconceptions.

Gordon's agency had its $100,000 incentive approved by the Hillsborough County Commission, seeking an economic boost and temporary job creation for workers skilled in filmmaking crafts, such as set construction and removal that could last several weeks.

"We're not doing a tourism spin on this one like Tony; we're thinking about hotels (and) employment," she said.

Proposed requirements that Burton's production must fulfill include spending at least $2.5 million in Hillsborough County, and opening a production office there. The proposal also hinged on Pinellas County's film commission matching the $100,000 offer.

"This was our way of saying, look, this really is going to be on both sides of the bay, so we both should have some skin in the game," Gordon said. "It doesn't all need to come from my side or his side. Let's split the difference and both gain."

Hillsborough Country previously approved a $250,000 incentive to bring production of The Infiltrator to the area. That true-life crime drama starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is expected to begin local filming in April. Although a portion of The Infiltrator will be filmed in Pinellas County, Armer's commission didn't contribute any incentives for that project.

"Our hand has been forced by the lack of (state-funded) incentives," Gordon said. "Both of these projects would not have come here had we not put something on the table.

"At the end of the day, you're getting for a $200,000 investment about a $5 million local impact, and people are getting to work for two or three months without having to go to Louisiana or Georgia (where state incentives are offered)."

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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