The pandemic hurt the local film industry. Can horror help?

A group of scary moviemakers is ready to roll in Tampa once it’s safe.
From left, script supervisor Sabrina Miller, gaffer David Cook and director Dan Myrick look on screen while on the location set of "Black Veil" in downtown Plant City in January, before the pandemic shut down the set.
From left, script supervisor Sabrina Miller, gaffer David Cook and director Dan Myrick look on screen while on the location set of "Black Veil" in downtown Plant City in January, before the pandemic shut down the set. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Sept. 18, 2020|Updated Sept. 21, 2020

TAMPA — Here’s the bad news: As expected, the pandemic has slowed the Tampa Bay area’s rising film industry. And it might not get better for a while.

But there is a bright spot: Productions slated to film in the area in 2020 are patiently waiting for the okay to begin safely rolling cameras again.

In typical 2020 fashion, those leading that charge could be described as a doom squad. They are a dream team of horror filmmakers, including those responsible for The Final Destination and Underworld franchises, looking to turn this area into their production hub.

“We are ready to hit the ground running,” said Dan Myrick, best known for directing The Blair Witch Project. He filmed one episode of his Black Veil web series in Hillsborough County before the spread of COVID-19 shut down his set. He assembled the doom squad.

“We have more episodes ready to go. We are hoping for fall or winter but that depends on if it is safe.”

Related: Tampa Bay film industry wonders when it will recover from the coronavirus shutdown

The same goes for the feature film Nothing Like the Sun starring Michael Keaton, the movie’s local producer Elayne Schmidt said. If not for COVID-19, they would have wrapped production already.

“They still have every intention of making the film here,” she said. “But it is hard to say when.”

Hillsborough County film commissioner Tyler Martinolich has tabulated his office’s numbers for fiscal year 2019.

“It’s ugly,” he said. “This year we did $5 million even. That is 62 percent lower than last year."

Across the bridge, Pinellas County film commissioner Tony Armer has not yet finalized his numbers but predicts they will be equally bad.

“I’d estimate we lost out on $5 million,” Armer said.

Related: Tampa Bay filmmakers use Zoom to make a coronavirus-safe movie

While the Tampa Bay area has never been a regular destination for Hollywood blockbusters, the pandemic hit just as it was becoming one for films with seven-figure budgets.

Hallmark shot two such films here in 2019 and was expected to use this area as a backdrop for as many as another six to eight with a tropical setting.

After missing out on the spring filming season, Hallmark looked to summer. But Schmidt, who is also Hallmark’s local producer, said the coronavirus numbers spike throughout Florida made them pause again. “So, we’re still waiting. They would like to come back. But we won’t know for sure until we open up.”

Related: Filmmakers get creative to work during the pandemic

Martinolich wonders if Hallmark might decide to plant its warm-weather movie flagpole in other states.

“We may have missed our window for potential future Hallmark films and other projects," he said. “Features and TV series, in particular, have exact timelines.”

For a man who specializes in movies about doom and gloom, Myrick remains upbeat.

“We have no shortage of ideas or projects. We’d like to shoot them in the area,” Myrick said, “once everything is back to normal.”

He opened a studio in Ybor City last year and recruited industry friends to use it as their hub.

They include Jeffrey Reddick and Danny McBride, who created the Final Destination and Underworld franchises, respectively, and Tom McLoughlin, whose directing and screenwriting credits include Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

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“To be able to go somewhere and apply what we know in a place like Tampa is a unique opportunity,” McBride said. “We are all chomping at the bit to get back to work.”