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Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson’s new movie? A Tampa guy produced it.

Santosh Govindaraju has been executive producer on 11 movies, all of which have received global distribution deals.
Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco at Peacock's ''Meet Cute'' New York premiere on Sept. 20, 2022 in New York City.
Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco at Peacock's ''Meet Cute'' New York premiere on Sept. 20, 2022 in New York City. [ (Starmax/Newscom via ZUMA Press) ]
Published Nov. 4, 2022|Updated Nov. 6, 2022

TAMPA ― The movie “Meet Cute,” starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson, is about a woman who uses a time machine to relive a first date until she gets it right.

If the movie’s executive producer, Santosh Govindaraju, had a time machine, he’d travel to 1997, but not to fix or change anything.

Rather, that’s the year Tampa’s Govindaraju had a brief encounter with a man who persuaded him to not give up on his dream of becoming a filmmaker. He’d like to thank the man.

“I wish I could remember his name so I could find him today,” Govindaraju said. “I owe him a lot.”

Related: Tampa’s Vū Technologies produced a Nicolas Cage movie

Besides “Meet Cute,” now streaming on Peacock, Govindaraju has been executive producer on 10 other movies, including “The Card Counter” starring Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe and “The Hating Game” starring Lucy Hale and Corbin Bernsen.

“All of my films have been released by major distributors in the U.S. and worldwide,” Govindaraju said. “A running joke is that the easiest way to become a millionaire in Hollywood is to start as a billionaire. I’ve avoided that.”

That 1997 meeting is a reason why, he said.

“It was that moment I realized there’s a top-down approach instead of a bottom-up approach, struggling to make it in the industry versus coming in from the top,” said Govindaraju, who also heads the real estate private equity firm Convergent Capital Partners, which has developed more than $1 billion of Tampa Bay real estate, including Aloft Tampa Downtown. “I could use my business experience to make movies.”

Santosh Govindaraju, left, on the set of "The Night Clerk," which he executive-produced.
Santosh Govindaraju, left, on the set of "The Night Clerk," which he executive-produced. [ Courtesy of Santosh Govindaraju ]

The 47-year-old native of India moved to the United States when he was 5 and to Tampa when he was 10.

Initially shy and feeling like an outsider for being an immigrant, Govindaraju discovered his confidence performing monologues in a ninth-grade theater class.

“I developed a passion for storytelling and actually got into the University of Pennsylvania as an English major,” Govindaraju said. “But then I had several mentors ask me what I was going to do with an English major. I didn’t have an answer or a plan. I had thoughts of filmmaking, but at that time I didn’t think there were any options for pursuing it other than waiting tables and doing odd jobs to support yourself while getting a film career off the ground.”

So, he instead double-majored in business and engineering with a minor in theater.

“It was then, on a train ride from Pennsylvania to New York for interviews on Wall Street, that the universe placed me next to a producer,” Govindaraju said.

That producer had always wanted to be in the film business but instead chose the safer route of law school. He helped friends with legal work on film productions and “voila, he got into the film industry as a producer, at the top,” Govindaraju said. “That fateful day was in the back of my mind until I decided to give it a try.”

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For the next decade, he remained focused on real estate, including buying, rehabbing and selling the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa.

Then, in 2016, he completed a 10-week film production course at UCLA and met with Tony Armer, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner.

“I told him that if he is serious about wanting to do this, he needs to just jump into the fire and learn how it works,” Armer said. “And there’s no better way to learn how it works than going to the biggest film market in the world — the Cannes Film Festival.”

Govindaraju went in 2017, as did Armer, who was asked by movie executives there to develop a family-friendly film for Lionsgate.

Armer and others then wrote the story of “Bernie the Dolphin,” about siblings who help a dolphin separated from his family. It shot in Clearwater in 2018 with Govindaraju as the executive producer working to secure financing.

“It was a great first film for him,” Armer said. “We already had distribution, so the film was sold before we even made it.”

A sales agent from that movie then brought Govindaraju onto “The Night Clerk” as an executive producer.

“Hollywood is very well-connected,” Govindaraju said. “Once I worked on one film, others kept coming,” each executive-produced through his Convergent Media company.

Santosh Govindaraju, front, with Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell on the set of "The Hating Game," which he executive-produced.
Santosh Govindaraju, front, with Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell on the set of "The Hating Game," which he executive-produced. [ Courtesy of Santosh Govindaraju ]

His role differs depending on what the project needs.

For Justin Long’s “Lady of the Manor,” shot in Tampa, and “The Card Counter,” “it was mainly a financial play,” Govindaraju said.

For “The Night Clerk,” he also served as a facilitator in the casting process.

“We needed to diversify the cast,” he said. “We needed young people. We needed someone from the older demographic. We needed a Latino” for the movie that ultimately featured Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt and John Leguizamo.

The “Meet Cute” production had stalled before Govindaraju and his team were brought on, he said. “The previous people couldn’t get it done. We negotiated the deals, the budget and everything else so we could get it shot within the windows that Pete Davidson had available.”

Coming up for Govindaraju is “Maggie Moore(s)” starring Jon Hamm and Tina Fey about a desert town police chief faced with the back-to-back murders of two women with the same name.

He also hopes to track down that train ride producer.

“I think his company was called Boneyard Productions,” Govindaraju said. “I believe in spirituality. At the time, I didn’t realize the universe was guiding me.”