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Florida winter can’t cool down Tampa Bay’s film scene

The fourth of a production company’s slate of 10 local films wrapped principal photography this week.
Director of Photography Thomas Hennessy, left, works on filming a scene with actresses Sarah Malfara, playing Brook, and Brianna Cohen, playing Gwen, at right, for the movie "Lean Into Love" at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
Director of Photography Thomas Hennessy, left, works on filming a scene with actresses Sarah Malfara, playing Brook, and Brianna Cohen, playing Gwen, at right, for the movie "Lean Into Love" at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 3

LARGO — Former Clearwater Aquarium CEO David Yates and his Los Angeles production partner, Danny Roth, are nearly halfway to their goal of shooting 10 films in the Tampa Bay area by the end of the year.

This week, they wrapped principal photography on Lean Into Love.

It is their fourth film, and their first with warm weather beach scenes.

So, of course, Yates said, “it was our first movie shot in cold weather.”

The scenes were filmed during the last week of January, when temperatures dipped to the 20s during the evenings and mornings.

Actress Brianna Cohen, playing Gwen, prepares for the filming of a scene for the movie "Lean Into Love" on Tuesday at the Wedding Garden at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
Actress Brianna Cohen, playing Gwen, prepares for the filming of a scene for the movie "Lean Into Love" on Tuesday at the Wedding Garden at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Still, said Pinellas film commissioner Tony Armer, much of the country was colder or blanketed in snow. That they could film on a beach at all is among the reasons why the Tampa Bay area is becoming a destination for independent and made-for-television movies.

“November through February is a great time to shoot here,” he said. “It’s not super hot ... it can be sunny and 65 and that’s cold.”

Well, it was colder than that during the January beach scenes, actor Jonathan Stoddard said, laughing, as he took a break from shooting at Florida Botanical Gardens on the warm first day of February.

“That was invigorating,” he said. “More than half of the shoots that we’ve done have been sunrises ... some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I’ve ever seen. And you get up early and it’s freezing ... it’s that kind of cold that pierces to your core.”

Actor Jonathan Stoddard, who plays Nate Martin in the movie "Lean Into Love," attends a media interview during a break in filming at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
Actor Jonathan Stoddard, who plays Nate Martin in the movie "Lean Into Love," attends a media interview during a break in filming at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Lean Into Love stars Stoddard as a free spirit trying to help a friend’s sister learn that there is more to life than work.

“Of course, sparks ignite between the two,” director Brittany Underwood said. “And they both teach each other a little bit of how to enjoy life in different ways than they’re used to.”

Stoddard quipped that “acting emotionally to fall in love, that’s fun. But pretending that it’s not cold or windy” when it was supposed to be warm in the scene was difficult.But then by the afternoon, you’re like, ‘Give me those Speedos’ ... I just want to hang out” because the weather warmed up.

As an Orlando native, Lean Into Love star Ansley Gordon said she is well-versed on the Florida winters that can call for heat in the morning and air conditioning in the afternoon.

“I brought my big Ugg boots and my giant jacket,” she said. “And when I was leaving L.A., my husband was like, ‘Isn’t that overkill? You’re going to Florida.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, I will need it in the morning and the night.’ ”

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Director Brittany Underwood attends a media interview during a break in filming for the movie "Lean Into Love" at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
Director Brittany Underwood attends a media interview during a break in filming for the movie "Lean Into Love" at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Still, Underwood outed Gordon as needing more assistance to fight the chill.

“I brought Ansley my personal bathrobe that is so warm and fuzzy,” she said. “But they’re very talented. They’re professional, and that’s also just part of the game.”

For Stoddard, this was the second of Yates and Roth’s slate of films in which he starred.

He was previously in DOA at the PTA, about a PTA leader who goes to all lengths to stay in power.

Yates and Roth have also already wrapped Deadly Suspicion, about a kayak shop owner keeping her eye on a suspicious neighbor, and What Lies Behind the Walls, about a disturbed man who secretly lives in a room hidden behind the wall of a woman’s apartment.

The production team for the movie "Lean Into Love" congregate in the Wedding Garden on Tuesday during a break in filming at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
The production team for the movie "Lean Into Love" congregate in the Wedding Garden on Tuesday during a break in filming at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Eight of the 10 films, including the four that have been shot, will premiere on television on either the Hallmark, Lifetime or ION channels. Two will seek theatrical release.

When those are complete, Roth hopes to make more movies in the Tampa Bay area, possibly as a full-time resident. “We’re looking at real estate,” he said.

The recent chill only added to his desire to move here.

“I grew up in Cleveland,” he said. “I relish the cold. I like seasons. I get disoriented when I live in L.A. I prefer the East Coast, where we actually have seasons.”

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