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Leonardo DiCaprio is producing Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff for TV in Tampa

Actor Jake McDorman, who plays the role of Alan Shepard, practices his lines outside of the Floridan Palace Hotel  for the National Geographic series “The Right Stuff.” [ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times]
Actor Jake McDorman, who plays the role of Alan Shepard, practices his lines outside of the Floridan Palace Hotel for the National Geographic series “The Right Stuff.” [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published Aug. 1, 2019

TAMPA — Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions became the symbol for the Tampa Bay area's fledgling film industry in 2015. When making the movie Live By Night, the actor's company chose to recreate Ybor City in Georgia rather than shoot in the authentic district.

Four years later, Appian Way actually came to town, becoming part of the area's now-burgeoning film industry. This time, though, Tampa served as the mid-20th century Space Coast, as well as Virginia.

From July 23 to 25, Appian Way used downtown Tampa's Floridan Palace Hotel for scenes for National Geographic's upcoming The Right Stuff, a television series based on Tom Wolfe's 1979 book by the same title that chronicles the United States' first human spaceflight program. Interior scenes at the Floridan take place in Virginia within the context of the pilot episode.

Location scouts also looked at downtown's Union Station train depot and buildings in Ybor and Plant City for potential use in later episodes, said Hillsborough County Film Commissioner Tyler Martinolich.

"I'm hopeful they will be back," he said.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commissioner Tony Armer said the production company has been scouting locations on his side of the bridge, too.

RELATED: Need to film scenes from Brooklyn? Chicago? Canada? Tampa Bay stands in for all of them

According to IMDB.com, the series stars Patrick Adams as John Glenn and James Lafferty as Scott Carpenter. Those roles were portrayed by Ed Harris and Scott Glenn in the 1983 film version of The Right Stuff.

Appian Way is primarily shooting in Cocoa Beach, just south of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and in a sound stage in Orlando, Martinolich said.

"What they don't have in Orlando or Cocoa Beach are free standing buildings that fit the authentic look of the time period," Martinolich said. "The story takes place between 1958 and 1969 so free standing buildings from then would have been built in the 1920s and 1930s."

The Floridan was erected in 1926 and Union Station in 1912. Ybor and Plant City have numerous buildings dating back a century.

Appian Way could have used Ybor for Live By Night, a movie about rum running in the Latin District during the early-20th century. But neither Florida nor Hillsborough had film incentives to offer at that time, whereas Georgia was flush with such cash. The production company chose to replicate Ybor in Brunswick, Ga., 270 miles from the real thing.

Nonprofit Film Florida estimated that this area would have earned $30 million from Live By Night, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

Today, Florida does not offer a state incentive to production companies. But Hillsborough provides up to 10 percent back on what is spent in the county. The program has an annual budget of $500,000.

RELATED: More public money sought to keep eager producers filming in Tampa Bay

Appian Way has not yet applied for an incentive, but Martinolich expects the company to.

Martinolich does not yet know how much money the three days of production infused into the economy but said "the average scripted TV show can spend up to $150,000 per day. With this series being a period drama, which presents added logistical elements and costs, I suspect they spent well north of that average."

He estimates that money was primarily spent on renting the Floridan as a set piece, plus 208 rooms there for the cast and crew. The production also hired 65 locals as extras, three as actors and four for the crew, Martinolich said, but mostly brought workforce from the Space Coast.

The Right Stuff is the latest in a succession of productions to shoot in this area over the past year.

Others include Crawl, in theaters now, two Hallmark movies that have already aired, I Saw a Man With Yellow Eyes starring Katherine Heigl now in post-production and Hank, produced by Final Destination creator Jeffrey Reddick, currently being shot.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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