Motion picture industry booming in Pinellas County

Sunny weather and friendly people are making Pinellas County a cinematic hot spot as the film commission celebrates 2019 as its best year ever.

From small town feels to a bustling downtown or scenic beaches, filmmakers are foregoing Hollywood for Pinellas County. St. Pete-Clearwater film commissioner Tony Armer said it was a history-making year.  

“Over 250 projects have been permitted, over 8,000 hotel room nights, over 2,500 people employed and over $13 million spent in the community locally,” said Armer. 

He said they focus on projects that cost $2 million or less to make, bringing in independent filmmakers and the Hallmark Channel.

Earlier this year, two Hallmark movies filmed in Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg, arriving to find crews, actors, set builders and more on tap locally.

“I think what we're doing is we're keeping jobs in the area because a lot of these jobs have left and gone to Georgia,” said Armer. “As the state of Florida got rid of its incentive program and Georgia had grown its program, most of the industry had moved away. But we have a really strong commercial industry which has kept people, and now we have people moving back for all of the film projects that are here as well.”

Pinellas is also attracting high-caliber companies like A24, which made the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.” Armer said the same company is behind the film “Zola,” and it was shot locally and will be shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

“We can go out and say ‘Hey, look at this Sundance film, this awards caliber film that's being shot in the area. You should bring your projects here as well,’” said Armer.

In addition, that’s exactly what Armer is planning to showcase for 2020. 

“Just having one film in the area can have a big impact,” said Armer.

The film commissioner said “Bernie the Dolphin” was filmed in the area, and its sequel “Bernie the Dolphin 2” was also shot in Pinellas County. 

The sequel will have its premiere this Friday night in downtown St. Pete complete with a red carpet for its actors.