‘Spring Breakers’ movie turns 10. Here’s how Tampa Bay played a starring role.

From the local inspirations to filming locations around Pinellas County, let’s take a look back.
Spring Breakers, written and directed by Harmony Korine and rated R, was largely filmed in Pinellas County.
Spring Breakers, written and directed by Harmony Korine and rated R, was largely filmed in Pinellas County.
Published March 16

“Spring Breakers,” A24′s neon-soaked beach noir movie, turns 10 this week.

Directed by Harmony Korine and filmed around Pinellas County, the trippy tale released in 2013 takes viewers on a spring break vacation turned dark.

For Floridians, the movie was a big deal. We watched as Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine turned to crime to bankroll a trip to St. Pete Beach. We saw a tattooed and cornrowed James Franco lure the gals further into a seedy world of corruption. And we saw our local world broadcast onscreen, albeit a sleazier version.

“We were all hyped for this movie,” said Tampa Bay Times staffer Christopher Spata, who then wrote for the Tampa Tribune. “It was major news. I still don’t think there has been another on that level, and I don’t know why, seeing as it was a small indie film. I remember there being a Craigslist ad searching for extras, and people like hustling over to the beach to try to get in the movie and also to watch the filming.”

The local inspiration

According to the Times archive, Harmony Korine was inspired by years of collecting spring break photos. Hoping to write on location, he traveled the state looking for the perfect city.

Options he considered, then rejected, included Daytona Beach, Panama City, Miami, Sarasota and the Keys. Then he found Tampa Bay.

The Times’ Ben Montgomery wrote about his discovery in 2013:

There was something dark here, he said, along the edges of the neon strips and beach boulevards. It was the right kind of worn, the right kind of weird. He used the postcard spots, of course, but he also went in search of the off-path places that would never make a travel brochure. Once, at a park in southern St. Petersburg, the suspicious locals even took him for an undercover cop.

He’d drive around and get lost and knock on doors. He said he began to discover a bent version of the American dream.

“It was almost like everyone was trying to become someone else,” he said.

Actors Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine and writer/director Harmony Korine attend the Spring Breakers premiere at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
Actors Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine and writer/director Harmony Korine attend the Spring Breakers premiere at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.

In “Spring Breakers,” Franco’s character shares a likeness with real-life rapper Riff Raff, who later threatened to sue the makers of the film.

But to prepare for the role of Alien, a drug-dealing rapper with a taste for Scarface and Calvin Klein Escape, Franco came to St. Petersburg to spend time with another muse: a 26-year-old St. Pete native named Russ “Dangeruss” Curry.

Actor James Franco and Russ Curry, a.k.a. Dangeruss.
Actor James Franco and Russ Curry, a.k.a. Dangeruss. [ HANDOUT | Courtesy of Dangeruss ]
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Curry told the Tampa Tribune back then: “The movie’s not the story of my life or anything like that. He just wanted to meet someone who was really from the area, just to see how I talked, see how I carry myself. He spent the day with me riding around, talking, filming me, seeing what I did.”

Here’s more on him from Spata in the Tampa Tribune in 2013:

That footage, plus some shot in Los Angeles, became the music video for “Hanging With the Dopeboys,” which Franco directed. In “Spring Breakers,” Alien raps the song with backup from Dangeruss on an MTV-style beach stage.

Dangeruss appears in one other scene, shot at a house in south St. Petersburg with extras from the surrounding neighborhood. He said he pointed out the area to producers who were looking for somewhere “real.”

“We were really in the hood for that one,” Dangeruss says with a laugh. “I had to tell them just to be cool and let everyone know up front what was going on; that they were filming a movie. You know, so nothing crazy would happen. But everyone was cool, they were mostly just excited that a movie was being filmed.”

The filming locations

One of the greatest joys for locals watching the film was recognizing local landmarks. Our spring breakers were shown traveling over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and attending classes at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. They zipped along Corey Avenue on scooters, passing by the marquee of the historic Beach Theatre, and were detained in Gulfport.

In St. Pete Beach, Captain’s Food Store on Gulf Boulevard became Sunshine Food & Gifts, and the signature swirl of the ice cream-shaped Twistee Treat building can be seen. Additional scenes were filmed at John’s Pass, the Gandy Bridge and the Redington Long Pier, which has since been demolished.

The women robbed B&M Country Cooking in Lealman with squirt guns and a sledgehammer. They listened to Alien wax poetic about thug life at a shelter in Lake Maggiore Park, and then watched him beef with Archie, Gucci Mane’s character, at Hollywood Nites strip club in Tampa.

Speaking of Archie: In Pinellas Point, a three-story mansion became the drug lord’s home. Baseball star Gary Sheffield had built the house in the 1990s as a party pad, tricked out with a lagoon pool, three bars, seven bedrooms and 14 air conditioners.

A private waterfront home in Crystal Beach was staged as Alien’s house, and was the setting of two iconic scenes: when Alien sings Britney Spears to the girls, and when he rattles off a list of his favorite possessions.

Some public officials were skeptical about what the film would depict. Take, for example, this excerpt of a 2013 Times story by then-movie critic Steve Persall:

“When I heard the content of the movie, of course I said no way that I would support it or even be involved with it,” said St. Pete Beach Mayor Steve McFarlin, who met with a production representative before filming began. “He did explain that this was going to be the dark side of spring break. I was just not interested in it at all...That movie appeared to me to be just a bunch of thugs. Hopefully the movie does not highlight St. Pete Beach whatsoever, because that’s not representative of us.”

However, at one point the trailer clearly shows marked St. Pete Beach patrol cars, used to transport the arrested students to jail (which is actually Gulfport’s detention facility). St. Pete Beach disbanded its police force in January, turning over enforcement to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Gulfport police Chief Rob Vincent hosted four days of filming at his holding facility, which was unoccupied since the Sheriff’s Office now handles such matters. Vincent refused to allow Korine to identify the location as Gulfport, use his patrol cars or put his employees on screen.

“They seemed to want to portray Gulfport as kind of a shady neighbor to the beach cities, and that’s absolutely not the case,” Vincent said. “We’ve worked very hard to make Gulfport kind of a destination here. I wasn’t going to support anything that challenged that.

“I think the way it’s going to be portrayed in the movie is that the entire (setting) is St. Pete Beach. They party in St. Pete Beach, they commit their crimes in St. Pete Beach (although Treasure Island is also used in those scenes) and then they are arrested in supposedly St. Pete Beach but in fact it’s Gulfport.”

Actor Selena Gomez rides a scooter down Corey Avenue in St. Pete Beach during filming of "Spring Breakers."
Actor Selena Gomez rides a scooter down Corey Avenue in St. Pete Beach during filming of "Spring Breakers."

The impact

To see how filming in town impacted Tampa Bay, here are some figures from the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment:

Reported budget: $5 million

Qualified in-state expenditures: $3,258,781

Temporary jobs created: 561

Total eligible Florida wages paid: $2,085,556

Final tax credit award: $814,695

What did critics think of “Spring Breakers”?

Persall gave the film a B+, saying it was “aggressively artful and unfocused, which would be a problem except it’s also luridly fascinating throughout.”

He went on to say: “Tampa Bay wears fringe nihilism well, including wet-fever dreams of trigger-happy angels floating on cannabis clouds and dusted with cocaine like beignets waiting to be licked clean. Or drug gangstas sporting cornrows and gold-grill teeth, living large and thinking three-ways. Film as a fetish tool, that’s what ‘Spring Breakers’ is all about, y’all.”

Times writer Gabrielle Calise edited a book about Florida for A24, the film company behind “Spring Breakers.” Information from the Times archive was used in this report.