Pinellas to star in upcoming film production

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters along with Commission Chair Dave Eggers voted no Jan. 26 to an agreement with ATOL Film LLC for $500,000 to produce a feature film that will be used to promote tourism in the county.

LARGO — Five of seven Pinellas County commissioners said yes Jan. 26 to spending $500,000 to promote tourism in connection with a Hallmark style film, “A Taste of Love.”

Commissioners Dave Eggers and Kathleen Peters voted no.

The Jan. 26 vote was to approve a two-year production agreement with ATOL Film LLC based in St. Petersburg.

Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater, the county’s marketing agency, described the film as a “90-minute commercial showcasing the community.”

He said the marketing value would be millions of dollars with a four to one return on investment with new money being pumped into the local economy.

Commissioner Karen Seel asked if footage from the move could be used to produce the county’s own marketing to which Hayes said yes. He said it could be used in any way to show off the destination including promoting Pinellas as a filmmaking destination.

According to the agreement, the production company (ATOL) will own 100% of all rights, title and interest in the promotion program, which is what the $500,000 pays for, including the copyright of the promotion program and all footage shot in connection with the program.

All footage will belong to the production company and it may be repurposed in any way. The county will have a non-exclusive, royalty free license in perpetuity to the deliverables and will have the right to use them for tourism promotion purposes, subject to timing restrictions and approvals on use of at least 20 still photographs.

In addition, the county will benefit from residual revenues from the film’s domestic and international sales. How much that might be will depend on the film’s popularity, said Film Commissioner Tony Armer. VSPC estimates that the advertising value for promoting the destination will be more than $2 million.

“A Taste of Love” is based off an approved screenplay written by Michael Brown and Conrad de La Torres. It will be a family-friendly Hallmark style film that will exclusively promote and market the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area.

The county’s film commission can suggest changes necessary to the script, story, locations, dialogue, characters, final edit and any and all elements of the promotion program.

The production company will highlight beaches, arts, culinary, waterfronts and at least one of the area’s unique downtowns. At least two locations will be mentioned specifically by name. The film will include at least 20 “beauty shots” of the area and city signage showing St. Petersburg, Clearwater and at least two other local city names or attractions will be featured.

Peters asked if the agreement with the production company included a guarantee that local workers would be used except the lead actors. She also expressed concern that the county would be financing all the films production costs.

“I have a problem with that,” she said. “I don’t see us doing 100%.”

Armer said the rationale for the county paying the cost is that the production is actually a 90-minute commercial. He talked about the variety of platforms the film might be viewed on from Hallmark to Lifetime or maybe a lesser known channel.

Filmmaking destination

During the Jan. 26 meeting Armer announced that Hollywood-based “MovieMaker” magazine had added St. Petersburg-Clearwater to its list of the top 25 best places to live and work as a filmmaker.

The county has been growing as a filmmaking destination in recent years. In 2019, Armer reported that the film commission had issued 250 permits, the highest number ever.

Fifteen feature films used county locations in 2019 with budgets ranging from $25,000 to $2 million. Six received incentives, ranging from $5,000-$200,000, nearly expending the commission’s $500,000 budget.

Feature films generated nearly $7.8 million in direct expenditures, 391 local hires and 3,648 room nights at local lodging establishments. VSPC also received marketing resources, such as testimonial videos, production stills, social media promotion and its logo in credits valued at more than $13 million.

Feature films using county locations in 2019, included Hallmark Channel’s True Love Blooms and Love in the Sun.

Filming of commercials, reality TV, docudramas and digital campaigns add to the Film Commission’s success, he said. More than $2.5 million was spent of filming commercials for companies, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy and Publix.

More than $2.7 million was spent on reality TV and docudramas, such as HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt, and more than $500,000 on photo shoots and digital content.

The 27-year history of the Film Commission, 1993-2019, includes 250 productions, 2,284 local hires, 8,556 hotel room nights and $13.8 million spent locally.

At least four productions budgeted around $2 million had been scheduled in 2020, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a bit of a damper on the production schedule.

The film commission focuses on feature films of $2 million or under and aggressively promotes and utilizes the local incentive program, he said. For more information on local incentives, visit https://www.filmstpeteclearwater.com/local-incentives.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s PInellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.