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Wrestler ‘The Bunny’ just shot a Lifetime movie around Tampa Bay

Area film commissions hope the social media popularity of Laura Dennis and other stars helps promote tourism.
 
AEW professional wrestler Laura Dennis gets her makeup touched up by Cyn Cervantes, key makeup artist, right, before filming a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg.
AEW professional wrestler Laura Dennis gets her makeup touched up by Cyn Cervantes, key makeup artist, right, before filming a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 10, 2022|Updated Nov. 14, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — Professional wrestler and social media influencer Laura Dennis is not only considered a star of “Bad Tenant,” the new Lifetime movie shot in the Tampa Bay area from late October through early November.

The Buffalo, New York, resident is also a star in the local film commissions’ plans to promote the area through film.

“They don’t just want to bring movies here. They want movies that bring people here, and I support that,” said David Yates, who is producing “Bad Tenant,” made in Tampa and St. Petersburg. “People visit places they see on television and in movies. People visit places promoted by social media influencers. We combined the two with this movie.”

Maryana Dvorska, 26, plays Jessica, left, and Veronica Long, 29, plays Luisa during the filming of a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Bayshore Drive NE in St. Petersburg.
Maryana Dvorska, 26, plays Jessica, left, and Veronica Long, 29, plays Luisa during the filming of a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Bayshore Drive NE in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Dennis has more than 300,000 Instagram followers and nearly 200,000 on Twitter.

And, each week, she can add to that while performing as “The Bunny” on one of All Elite Wrestling’s television shows — “AEW Dynamite” at 8 p.m. every Wednesday on TBS and 10 p.m. every Friday on “AEW Rampage” on TNT.

Maryana Dvorska, the lead in the movie about a homeowner renting a room to a seemingly charming music manager who turns out to be a psychotic con man, was already a social media influencer focused on nutrition and health before delving into acting. The Los Angeles resident has more than 425,000 Instagram followers and nearly 370,000 YouTube channel subscribers.

“They are talented actresses,” Yates said. “They also have a large social media following. That’s win-win.”

Each has advertised Tampa Bay through their social media platforms.

“Final week as Jessica coming up … feeling beyond excited, a little homesick, giddy, and very, very lucky all at once #filmtampabay #filmflorida #unlocktampabay,” Dvorska posted on Instagram.

“Having a great time filming in St Pete’s Clearwater #BadTenant #FilmInFlorida,” Dennis, who portrays one of the music manager’s clients, posted on Twitter.

The area film commissions require that productions promote the area through social media if they want a county incentive called a tourism marketing grant. In Hillsborough, cast and crew must do at least 10 total social media posts. In Pinellas, they must provide at least three video testimonials.

“It’s important we structure our program to maximize the potential marketing impact of projects,” said Tyler Martinolich, head of Film Tampa Bay, which is Hillsborough’s commission. “This means finding creative ways to engage with younger generations through social media. That’s best done through influencers and talent who are active on social media.”

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The cast and crew will post more Tampa Bay-centric posts before “Bad Tenant” premieres on a yet-to-determined date.

Fans respond to the messages.

“I’ve had so many people reach out to me on social media saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re in Tampa where I live’ or asking if I like St. Pete,” Dvorska said. “They’re saying they’ve been here and loved it or can’t wait to visit.”

Dennis said she is receiving similar reactions. “Social media gives us a chance to highlight the places that we visit, to let people know to check those places out.”

The production will soon be responsible for adding one resident to the area, although not due to social media.

Another of the movie’s producers, B.L. Fleischer, is house hunting.

“He lives in Oklahoma,” director Peter Foldy said. “He came here to scout locations. Now he wants to live here. The beaches. The Riverwalk. It really is beautiful here.”