It’s a nearly cloudless day on the north end of Fort De Soto Park and the two leads of an upcoming Hallmark movie prepare to film a scene. They stand by the shore, framed by blue sky, azure water and a large group of seagulls.
The seagulls compete for the attention of the movie crew. A little closer to land -- and the cameras -- are the film’s leads, a young woman in a white ruffled top and dark jeans with high heels, out of place at the beach, and a dark-haired man in blue swim trunks and an aquamarine shirt.
They are Emeraude Toubia and Tom Maden. They play love interests, old flames who reconnect when Toubia’s character, a dating app creator, returns to her hometown to tell her father of her impending engagement. Of course, her new fiance gets pushed to the side when she starts bonding with her former boyfriend.
Tarps and tents flank the set, and there are almost as many cameras as people. Toubia and Maden begin their on-screen conversation before someone yells “cut."
A row of traffic cones lines the walk from the beach pavilion to the shoot. It’s almost like a red carpet.
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The aptly-titled Love in the Sun is the second Hallmark film shot in the Tampa Bay area in the last two months.
True Love Blooms, a Hallmark love story featuring Vinoy Park, First Avenue South and a cameo from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman premiered last weekend after a February shoot.
The producer of both films, Elayne Schmidt, hopes to create even more films in the area in the next year, although she did not offer any definite details Wednesday.
So why film here? There’s the lush landscape and beautiful weather. But there are also incentives.
“Pinellas County and Hillsborough County have been so generous and aggressive in trying to get us here and keep us here,” Schmidt said.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commissioner Tony Armer said he’s focused on bringing in movies that cost a total of $2 million or less, movies that can “make a difference” in an environment like Florida where filming is sparse, he said.
Florida doesn’t offer a statewide incentive program for film productions. So local organizations attract film shoots through their own means.
The commission has $500,000 a year to give to projects filmed locally. After filming, the commission looks at several factors including how much the production spent here and how much exposure the area gets, then decides how much money to give the production.
Armer envisions a world where tourists come here because they have seen the location in Hallmark films. He references the effect Lord of the Rings had on New Zealand and Game of Thrones on Iceland.
Love in the Sun was originally supposed to shoot in Hawaii, but actor Shawn Christian, who plays Toubia’s father, said the experience filming in the Tampa Bay area has been gratifying.
“This has such a local vibe. It has the charm, the sense of community, and the people, the crew, some of the cast members are from here,” Christian said. “It’s fantastic for me as you get to give back to the community and you can see the enthusiasm, the excitement.”
Parts of the film were shot in Safety Harbor, Treasure Island and St. Petersburg. Attentive viewers may spot an office scene in downtown St. Petersburg’s Station House, Schmidt said.
Like Kriseman in True Love Blooms, Safety Harbor mayor Joe Ayoub has a small part in Love in the Sun, according to Schmidt, but not a speaking role.
If Schmidt gets her wish, this won’t be the last Hallmark film shot in the area.
“It isn’t just the money value, that we get the incentive, it’s the love,” Schmidt said. “It’s knowing we’re wanted here and when we have problems, we can call Tony or the mayor and people are going to try to help us as best they can because they want to keep it here.”
Armer echoes that.
“The goal is to get as many of these as possible," he said. “If they keep bringing them, we’ll keep using the business development funds to continue to get them here.”