LARGO, Fla. - There's a new wave of movie-making in the Tampa Bay area, with film crews currently shooting scenes at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Pinellas County. At least six more are in the pipeline, but it may take more than good weather to bring blockbuster movies back to Florida.
You may have seen him on soap operas and in Lifetime Movies, but Jonathan Stoddard’s latest acting challenge comes on a windy Pinellas County beach.
"It’s hard, pretending it’s not cold and windy and getting your hair not to move," laughed the actor from San Francisco.
Instead of Hollywood, he’s been spending time working on movies in the Tampa Bay Area. Pinellas County has become a pipeline for made for TV movies. Stoddard is wrapping up the fourth of at least 10 such movies in the pipeline and more are likely on the way.
"Living in LA, you can’t even get in the ocean," says actress Ansley Gordon, "Then coming here, yes, it’s winter, but it’s not as cold as LA in the summer. I love filming here."
The string of local movies provides work for film crew members who live here and those who come in from Orlando and Miami. Local businesses and film locations also benefit. But the new crop of movies is not like the "Dolphin Tale" movies.
Those films, featuring dolphins Winter and Hope, made millions and sparked millions more in tourism dollars. Back then, the state of Florida offered tax incentives to filmmakers. That ended after 2010.
"If no state offered film incentives, Florida would win every time," says David Yates, movie producer and former CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the Dolphin Tales movies were set.
He says producers of major films go to states like Georgia for big tax incentives. Even Live By Night, a movie set in Ybor City was shot in Georgia because of a sweet deal.
Now Florida lawmakers are deciding whether to bring back state tax incentives.
"The primary need we have right now, and the house and senate are in session, is to pass bills that we have on the table for statewide film incentives," says Yates.
Some critics have called movie industry incentives "corporate welfare." The films being shot in Pinellas County get smaller county incentives. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
"It’s just a matter of beating the street and getting out there and letting as many
People know as we can that this is a great area," says Tony Armer, Pinellas County Film Commissioner. Many in the industry say big budget films will only return if state incentives do.
Until then, your favorite made for TV movie might be made in Tampa Bay.
Republican State Senator Joe Gruters of Sarasota is sponsoring a bill that would establish new incentives for movie makers. The bill would require that 70% fo the filming budget be spent in the state of Florida.