Film Commissioner reports on county’s best year ever

Hallmark Channel’s Love in the Sun, starring Emeraude Toubia and Tom Maden, aired on Memorial Day 2019. Filming was done in Safety Harbor, Treasure Island and Fort De Soto.

CLEARWATER — In 2019, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater’s Film Commission issued 250 permits, the highest number ever, according to a report presented to the Tourist Development Council on Nov. 20.

Film Commissioner Tony Arner talked about the commission’s core mission and responsibilities, which include marketing and promoting the area for filming activity.

The commission’s three-member staff works with productions to make sure they have the resources they need, including locations, crews and permits.

He said they provide permits for all filming activity within the county. A single permit can take from one to 40 hours to complete. Logistics and project management makes up the bulk of the work, he said.

The most popular locations around Pinellas are the beaches, county parks and downtown St. Petersburg.

Arner said the county’s filming activities are growing, despite Florida being a state that does not offer incentives. Local incentives help attract projects to Pinellas.

The 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.

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.

Arner said at least four productions budgeted around $2 million are scheduled in 2020.

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.

Arner said Pinellas is still an unknown film destination; however, that is changing as the county becomes better known and builds a reputation as a premium filming destination.

Part of his job is to travel to conferences, tradeshows and film festivals to meet with producers and companies, such as Netflix, Lionsgate and Warner Horizon Television. He attributes the record-breaking year to decisions made at those events.

The commission also supports local film festivals, such as Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Gasparilla, Tampa Bay Latin Film Fest, Dunedin Film Festival and Sunshine City Film Festival. He said multiple films generating more than $1 million in local spending had occurred after filmmakers attended a local festival.

“We’re educating people about where we are and who we are,” he said.

Tourism Snapshot

Interim VSPC President and CEO Paul Sacco talked about the September Tourism Economic Snapshot. Rooms sold were up 1.2% for the month, but the average daily rate and revenue available per room were basically flat, he said, showing slight decreases in both categories.

Year-to-date statistics are still positive, showing a 1.7% increase in rooms sold, 3% increase in average daily rate and a 5.1% hike in revenue per available room, which climbed to $117.80.

The big news was record-setting collection of tourist development taxes of more than $62.7 million for the fiscal year, a 5.64% increase over 2018. March topped the chart with collections of $9.57 million.

TDC Chair Karen Seel announced that the new president and CEO, Steve Hayes, would be attending the December meeting.

Sacco thanked the TDC for his opportunity to serve in an interim role. He praised the staff, describing them as “first class.”

“You’re in good hands,” he said. “There is no limit to what they can do for the destination.”

Seel thanked Sacco for his work and said “it was incredible” to see him run two departments. Sacco is director of Solid Waste. He also has a new daughter, she said.

“It’s incredible how much he handled and accomplished on our behalf,” she said.

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