TAMPA — The film industry rivalry between the Tampa Bay area and Savannah, Ga., has been pretty one-sided.
Due to Georgia’s state production incentive and Florida’s lack of one, films written with stories playing out in this area have recreated Tampa Bay backdrops in Savannah and its surrounding area.
Tampa Bay has finally scored a victory.
Justin Long’s new movie Lady of the Manor screened at opening night of the Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival on Thursday.
The story follows a slacker who moves into a Civil War-era Savannah house to provide history tours but is pestered by the ghost of the 180-year-old home’s original owner.
It was filmed entirely in Tampa Bay in early 2020, mimicking the coastal Georgia city by shooting in Historic Hyde Park, Seminole Heights, Ybor City, the University of Tampa and the interior of St. Petersburg’s Pelican Pub bar.
“Our plan was to shoot in Savannah where the movie takes place,” Christian Long, who co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced the movie with his brother, told the Tampa Bay Times prior to the screening at the Tampa Theatre.
But they agreed to consider using Tampa Bay as a Savannah replica because a producer had “connections here,” Christian Long said. “He had infrastructure here ... And then we came down and saw that it doubles” as Savannah.
Others were already aware of that. It’s why movies such as Ben Affleck’s Ybor City mafia movie Live by Night and Gifted starring Chris Evans as a St. Petersburg slacker in a custody battle for his niece were shot in and around Savannah in return for a state incentive of up to 30 percent back of what they spent in Georgia.
“I have a lot of love for Savannah because I used to live there,” Hillsborough County film commissioner Tyler Martinolich said. “But it’s nice to prove that Tampa Bay can be anywhere to anyone. We were able to pull off a flawless Savannah.”
The county provided the filmmakers with a production incentive of $100,000, Martinolich said. Hillsborough’s program offers up to 10 percent back on what is spent in the county.
The production hired area residents for cast and crew.
Locals featured on-screen include Tamara Austin, Mary Leonard and Andi Matheny.
Also making an appearance was resident Castille Landon, who directed Fear of Rain, shot in Tampa Bay and starring Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick, Jr.
They were surrounded by an A-list cast of Long, Ryan Phillippe, Melanie Lynskey, Luis Guzmán and Patrick Duffy.
Still, Justin Long said, they considered Savannah to be an important character, too. Its history and famed ghost tours are what inspired the movie, he said.
“Savannah to us seems so unique and it is,” he told the Times prior to the screening. “But our location guys and producers and art department were so creative in terms of working with the environment here.”