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‘Dolphin Tale’ producer to make four Lifetime movies in Tampa Bay

A fifth feature film starring Cedric the Entertainer and Ashanti will also be made here.
Former Clearwater Marine Aquarium' CEO David Yates is producing five movies in Tampa Bay this year.
Former Clearwater Marine Aquarium' CEO David Yates is producing five movies in Tampa Bay this year. [ Times (2014) ]
Published Oct. 6
Updated Oct. 7

ST. PETERSBURG — Move over Hallmark, make room for Lifetime.

The Tampa Bay area has emerged as a hub for Hallmark romance movies. Three have been shot here since 2019.

Now, the region is set to become a hub for thrillers being made for the Lifetime channel.

One Lifetime movie is already being shot and three more will be made in Pinellas County over the next few months.

Each is being produced by David Yates, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s former CEO who helped create the Dolphin Tale franchise.

Yates is also bringing a fifth film this year, starring Cedric the Entertainer and Ashanti. That one will seek theatrical distribution.

“We’re looking to go back-to-back with these,” Yates said. “We’ll finish one, take two weeks or so to prep, and get into the next one. The goal is to have the four Lifetime films and the feature done by the end of the year.”

Related: Meet the producer bringing Hallmark romance to Tampa Bay movie sets

The Lifetime movie currently being shot is called DOA at the PTA.

According to a press release, it is “a murder mystery fictional story of a power-hungry PTA leader who goes to all lengths to stay in power, only to be found out and discredited in the end.”

Locations include the Clearwater Police Department and St. Petersburg College’s Seminole Campus, Yates said. Filming will wrap next week.

He will release the titles and plots of the remaining Lifetime movies as each begins production.

The feature film seeking theatrical release is titled The Plus One. Yates said it is man who brings an ex-girlfriend to his best friend’s wedding. “The ex is a tornado,” he laughed. “It is a romantic resort comedy.”

It was co-written by Austin Highsmith Garces, who starred as Phoebe in both Dolphin Tale movies.

“We’re still good friends and talk all the time,” said Yates, who left the aquarium in 2020 to pursue film production.

Garces called him in June, Yates said, with the idea to make the movie in Fiji. “I told her forget Fiji, you’re going to Pinellas County.”

Yates said he then sold the movie’s executive producer, Danny Roth, on the area.

“He asked if we could do his next four Lifetime movies here too,” Yates said.

Those films were slated to be made in Oklahoma.

“We are so much prettier than Oklahoma,” St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer said. “That along with our incentive brought them here.”

Each of the Lifetime movies could each receive as much as a $100,000 county incentive, Armer said, and The Plus One could receive around $250,000.