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Woody Harrelson, Laura Linney movie about Clearwater is filming in South Carolina

The fictional story written and directed by former Clearwater resident Laura Chinn is based on her life and might include the true story of Terri Schiavo.
Woody Harrelson poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Triangle of Sadness" at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France in May.
Woody Harrelson poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Triangle of Sadness" at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France in May. [ (Courtesy of Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP) ]
Published Oct. 11|Updated Oct. 11

CLEARWATER ― Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson are filming a movie in Clearwater.

Well, in a replica of Clearwater.

The fictional plot occurs in Clearwater and might include the true story of Terri Schiavo, the St. Petersburg resident whose irreversible persistent vegetative state sparked a nationally followed legal battle between her husband and parents over whether her feeding tube should be removed.

But the movie, titled “Suncoast,” is using Hollywood magic to re-create Clearwater in Charleston, South Carolina

The movie is there for the state’s production incentive, St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer said. Florida does not have such a program.

Writer and director Laura Chinn grew up in Clearwater, and the fictional story, according to “Deadline,” is inspired by her “own life experience from the early 2000s.”

It “follows a teenager living with her strong-willed mother, who must take her brother to live at a specialized facility. There, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist amid protests surrounding controversial medical cases.”

In 2020, “Suncoast” was included on The Black List, an annual survey of the best scripts not yet produced. According to the list’s plot summary, the brother is in the same hospice as Schiavo, who in real life was in a persistent vegetative state from 1990 until she died in 2005.

Chinn’s brother, who had brain cancer, was in the same hospice as Schiavo.

The Schiavo “family’s very personal story became a media frenzy and our family’s very personal story was being affected by it,” Chinn wrote in her memoir, “Acne.” “We weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the facility lest we sneak a picture of Terri and sell it to the media. Because of this rule, we have no photos of my brother’s last months on earth.”

It’s unclear if the Schiavo story remains part of the movie.

The production will eventually make its way south to Clearwater to shoot exteriors, Armer said. “But that will only be for a day or two. We won’t have any big scenes or stars here.”

Laura Linney arrives at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in September.
Laura Linney arrives at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in September. [ JAE C. HONG | (Courtesy of Jae C. Hong/Invision/AP) ]

The production wanted to make the bulk of the movie in Tampa Bay, according to Armer. “I had a lot of conversations with the producers who kept saying they were going to shoot here. But I knew that would not really happen. We just can’t provide what they need.”

That “need,” he said, is a state incentive to provide millions of dollars back to a production.

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Florida used to have such a program: State lawmakers allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012 to 2016 to reimburse productions up to 30% back on Florida expenditures with a cap of $8 million. But the money was exhausted within a year. The Legislature allowed the program to sunset and has shown little interest in creating a new one.

South Carolina’s production incentive program offers up to 25% back on wages, up to 30% back on qualifying goods and services, and a sales tax exemption.

Pinellas County has its own production incentive program, but the annual budget of $1.7 million with a $250,000 cap per project is more suited for small-budget films. Big-budget productions written for this area but desiring big incentive cash have typically gone elsewhere in recent years, usually Georgia.

Chinn’s comedy series “Florida Girls,” also based on her life, takes place in Clearwater but was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, in 2018.

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