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10 more movies made in Tampa Bay? That’s the plan, producers say.

Eight of the projects will be television movies to be sold to Lifetime, Hallmark or ION.
David Fernandez, second assistant camera, holds a film slate while helping to mark scenes during the production of 'What Lies Behind the Walls' in St. Petersburg.
David Fernandez, second assistant camera, holds a film slate while helping to mark scenes during the production of 'What Lies Behind the Walls' in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 16, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — David Yates turned the Clearwater Aquarium into a tourist attraction when, as its CEO, he helped produce two Dolphin Tale movies.

Now full time in the film industry, he is looking to turn the Tampa Bay area into a hub for made-for-television movies.

In October, Yates announced he was producing four made-for-television thrillers plus a comedy that will seek theatrical release.

But earlier this month, his prolific producing partner, Danny Roth, said he wants to double that number.

By the end of 2022, Roth said, he wants to have shot 10 films throughout the Tampa Bay area, with eight of those being made-for-television movies seeking distribution through a combination of Hallmark, Lifetime and ION channels.

“My goal has been to find a producer who can bring multiple projects to this area,” Yates said. “Danny is the guy who can do that.”

Roth’s IMDB.com resume lists him as producer of 68 movies since 2004. Those include 22 that have premiered on television in the last four years.

Producer Danny Roth, center, speaks with COVID compliance officer Bria Gaskin on set during the filming of 'What Lies Behind the Walls' in St. Petersburg.
Producer Danny Roth, center, speaks with COVID compliance officer Bria Gaskin on set during the filming of 'What Lies Behind the Walls' in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Filming has wrapped on three of their Tampa Bay made-for-television movies, which they said will likely premiere on Lifetime.

Production on two theatrical films begins in early 2022, followed by the remaining five made-for-television movies.

Still, said Yates, “That’s the plan for now. All of these projects are subject to change.”

Roth’s projects come on the heels of another production team shooting three Hallmark movies here since 2019.

Hillsborough and Pinellas can provide a production up to 10 percent back on local expenditures. Hillsborough’s annual incentive budget is $500,000 and Pinellas’ is $1 million.

Such incentives won’t lure blockbusters that expect millions back, Pinellas film commissioner Tony Armer said, but work for made-for-television movies.

“Florida does not have the state incentive that other states use to bring in big budget movies,” he said, “but our local incentives bring in these smaller projects that provide jobs and money to the economy.”

Hillsborough film commissioner Tyler Martinolich said the incentives on both sides of the bay have been attractive for made-for-television productions.

Director of photography Patrick Hubbard, left, prepares his shot while actress Meghan Carrasquillo, playing Molly, background, works to film a scene for the movie 'What Lies Behind the Walls.'
Director of photography Patrick Hubbard, left, prepares his shot while actress Meghan Carrasquillo, playing Molly, background, works to film a scene for the movie 'What Lies Behind the Walls.' [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
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Roth declined to disclose his budgets, but the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commission’s October report available through the Pinellas County website says his first movie, DOA at the PTA, had a budget of $250,000 and spent $190,000 in Pinellas.

If all 10 films have around that budget, they would altogether spend a fraction of what Marvel Studios drops on their blockbuster comic book movies made mostly in an Atlanta studio, where Georgia’s state incentive program provides up to 30 percent back.

Still, said Roth, his 10 movies mean steady work for local cast and crew.

“If I can do another six or seven here next year and keep 40 people employed on each, that’s work for 10 out of 12 months,” said Roth, a Los Angeles resident living in Pinellas until all the projects are finished.

The only out-of-towners his sets typically employ, Roth said, are two or three actors and three or four crew members.

Yates said each of these films will also help the area by having the stories take place in Tampa Bay.

“I want to focus on movies that promote bringing tourists to the area,” he said.

That’s what Dolphin Tale did.

In 2010, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s attendance was under 200,000 guests per year. Dolphin Tale was released in 2011. In 2012, attendance grew to around 750,000, and it has remained above half a million every year since.

From left: Casting designer Kelsey Garcia, key set costumer Alyssa Roman and stylist Monique McLaughlin primp actress Meghan Carrasquillo, playing Molly, before filming a scene for the movie 'What Lies Behind the Walls.'
From left: Casting designer Kelsey Garcia, key set costumer Alyssa Roman and stylist Monique McLaughlin primp actress Meghan Carrasquillo, playing Molly, before filming a scene for the movie 'What Lies Behind the Walls.' [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Yates and Roth’s three wrapped movies were made in Pinellas.

DOA at the PTA is about a PTA leader who goes to all lengths to stay in power.

Deadly Suspicion has a storyline about a kayak shop owner keeping her eye on a suspicious neighbor.

What Lies Behind the Walls is about a disturbed man who secretly lives in a room hidden behind the wall of a woman’s apartment.

Next to be made is The Plus One. To be shot primarily at a Clearwater resort, it is about a man who brings an ex-girlfriend to his best friend’s wedding. Roth said singer Ashanti is signed on as the star.

They will then head to Hillsborough to make Lab Kids.

It’s a family comedy about some evil person doing bad things to animals,” Roth said.

Yates said details about the other five movies would come later.

“This is good news for this area,” Yates said. “We will be filming a lot here.”

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