St. Pete-Clearwater Film Commission enjoys record year

Pinellas County is a movie star.

Drawn by the weather, scenery, and local financial incentives, filmmakers flock to the area to shoot Hallmark romances like “Love in the Sun” and psychological thrillers like “I Saw a Man With Yellow Eyes” with Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr.

The numbers show just how well the area is doing on both the big and small screen. The fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was the most successful to date in the 27-year history of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission.

The area was the site for 250 total productions, including seven films, with 2,284 local hires as crew and other positions. In total, the productions pumped $13.8 million into the local economy and generated 8,556 hotel room nights, Film Commissioner Tony Armer says.

Filmmaker Tosca Musk, the sister of Tesla’s Elon Musk, shot her movie “A Brother’s Honor Here.” Hallmark filmed two movies with plans to return for more.

Independent film production and distribution company A24, which was behind Academy Award-winner Moonlight and previously selected St. Pete for the over-the-top “Spring Breakers,” returned for “Zola,” which is based on the story of a stripper who chronicled a debaucherous road trip to Florida on Twitter.

The record year continued recent momentum. The last five years are also the most successful five-year span in the Film Commission’s history, with 1,075 total productions, 9,781 local hires, 28,112 hotel nights and $37 million spent locally.

“It’s the culmination of a combination of strategies over a five-year period because films can be in development for five, 10, 15 years,” says Armer who started at the Film Commission five years ago. Our local incentive program, me traveling to different film festivals around the country, and the world pitching this area to filmmakers and bringing filmmakers to our local film festivals all came together this last fiscal year.”

While the weather and settings such as Safety Harbor, which “Love in the Sun” showcased, Tarpon Springs, the beaches and St. Petersburg are a draw, Armer says the local financial incentives, which provide filmmakers a 10 percent rebate on what they spend locally, are an integral tool.

“A lot of it is the business climate we have created,” he says. “The local incentive program is vitally important. None of the projects would come without the incentive we are offering. Being able to have no permit fees to film, good rates for film crews, all of those factors make it attractive to a feature film production.”

Traveling to spread the word about the area is another piece of the puzzle, Armer says.

The big thing is they have to know we exist in the first place,” he says. “Many times, when I travel around and say St. Petersburg-Clearwater Florida, I get blank stares. Or ‘I thought St. Petersburg was in Russia.’ Or, ‘I know Orlando and Miami, but I don’t know where you guys are at.’ We have to educate people that this area exists and we have a strong industry here.”

For more information follow this link: St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather and the wealth of outdoor festivals.
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