TAMPA — Producer David Yates brought 11 films to the Tampa Bay area over 12 months.
Those productions hired residents and spent money locally on hotel rooms, food, locations, equipment, wardrobes and props.
But, as much as the Palm Harbor resident and former Clearwater Aquarium CEO enjoyed doing something positive for his home area, those movies shot locally for one reason.
“Incentives,” Yates said. “They would not have been here otherwise.”
Film is an art, but it is also a business.
Five of Yates’ productions qualified for a local production incentive during fiscal year 2022. The others could have their applications approved in fiscal year 2023.
Overall, 17 area productions received nearly $1.5 million in incentive money during fiscal year 2022 in exchange for spending nearly $12 million locally and marketing Tampa Bay.
In Pinellas, 10 projects spent around $6.5 million locally and received more than $1.04 million in county funds, according to numbers provided by the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commission.
And in Hillsborough, seven productions spent nearly $5.3 million locally and received $439,000 in county funds, according to the county’s film commission, known as Film Tampa Bay.
Yates’ productions were the largest beneficiary of the Pinellas program, receiving around $510,000 split between five movies that spent around $2.01 million in the county. Two — “Nightmare PTA Moms” and “Hider in the House” — have aired multiple times on Lifetime, and another, “Lies Beneath the Surface,” on LMN.
The others will have premiere dates and channels announced soon, Yates said.
In Hillsborough, the recently filmed “Spider & Jessie” topped the list. That movie, starring McKenna Grace, Dacre Montgomery and Jesse Williams, received $120,000 in county funds and spent $1.2 million.
The county programs help offset the lack of a state production incentive program.
In Georgia, productions can get as much as 30% of expenditures back from the state without an annual cap. That program has turned Georgia into the Hollywood of the south.
The Tampa Bay programs are much smaller. Hillsborough’s program has an annual budget of $500,000. The Pinellas budget was $1 million last year, but film commissioner Tony Armer said it was raised to $1.7 million for fiscal year 2023.
Neither program will lure blockbusters that expect millions of dollars back, but each has helped turn the area into a hub of independent films, made-for-television movies, reality shows and streaming series.
Still, while the programs are intended to bring productions to the area, neither the Pinellas nor Hillsborough film commissioner call their funds incentives.
“It is a marketing grant,” Hillsborough film commissioner Tyler Martinolich said.
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Armer echoed that.
Counties and states typically lure productions by giving back a percentage of the local spend.
Hillsborough once operated that way, too. But in 2020 switched to the marketing-based program.
“I realized we didn’t have the means to compel a production to provide marketing opportunities off of the old program,” Martinolich said.
The Pinellas program has been marketing-based since 2007, Armer said. He’s tweaked and expanded it since he was hired in 2014.
“Otherwise, there is no incentive for the project to actually promote the area,” Armer said. “Their impact could end with what they spend. If they promote the area, that impact continues.”
Both programs require productions to promote the area to tourists and other filmmakers.
The Pinellas program is based on the local spend. A production receives a list of “tourism promotional deliveries,” Armer said, such as highlighting tourist spots, using the real names of the locales, being a family friendly movie, and providing cast and crew testimonial videos promoting the benefits of filming in the county.
Each of those things provides a production a percentage of their local spend, capped at 30%.
In Hillsborough, some goals have certain “assessed values,” Martinolich said.
Ten positive social media posts about the county have an assessed value of up to $20,000 and two five-minute cast and crew testimonials that promote Hillsborough as a tourism and production destination have an assessed value of up to $175,000. A production cannot receive more than $250,000.
The assessed values depend on the project’s star power, social media outreach and other factors that Film Tampa Bay uses to score each production’s marketing value, Martinolich said.
“Paper Line,” about a secret fraternity of Black martial artists at a historic Black university, spent $100,000 in Hillsborough and received back $9,000, in part because it had an all-Black cast and crew, Martinolich said.
The short film had a sold out premiere at Tampa Theatre on Juneteenth, an event that received press throughout the state, Martinolich said. “It was a positive message that Hillsborough is an inclusive community. You really can’t put a dollar value on that.”
Which productions received county money?
“South Beach Love” received $250,000 and spent $2,701,132.
“Life’s Rewards” received $250,000 and spent $1.5 million.
“Lean Into Love” received $120,600 and spent $402,005.
“Love’s Playlist” received $117,000 and spent $389,201
“Deadly Suspicion” received $99,408 and spent $397,637.
“Hider in the House” received $98,200 and spent $392,854.
“Nightmare PTA Moms” received $75,000 and spent $430,000.
“Jebus” received $14,700 and spent $147,000
“Pages of My Heart” received $10,000 and spent $100,000.
“Skunk Ape” received $6,000 and spent $60,000.
“Spider & Jessie” received $120,000 and spent $1.1 million.
“The Throwback” received $110,000 and spent $1,204,686
“Secrets of the Zoo” received $95,000 and spent $1,768,155.
“Meet My Abuela” received $85,000 and spent $850,000.
“St. Eustatia” received $10,000 and spent $$100,000.
“Beast Comes at Midnight” received $10,000 and spent $142,813.
“Paper Line” received $9,000 and spent $100,000.