TAMPA — Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor has been in Tampa all week scouting locations for a film that could start production as soon as the city bids farewell to the big bash known as the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards.
The movie, produced by Kapoor's daughter Rhea, is about Indian college students adjusting to life at an American university. The setting is the University of South Florida.
Its local backers hope the venture can help kick-start a Tampa film industry.
“I want to make this a community film, and hopefully it gets done in that way and more come after it,” said Kiran Patel, a Tampa philanthropist with Indian roots who's credited with helping to land the April 24 event, also known as the Bollywood Oscars.
But Tampa — with its warm weather, picturesque locales and willing community — is missing the most important ingredient to capitalize on Bollywood interest: cash.
Florida has no money left in its budget for film production tax incentives, nor will there be any until 2016. An effort is being mounted to refill the pot early during the 2014 session of the state Legislature, which starts March 11.
Meantime, those pushing to grow the industry locally are hoping Tampa won't waste this opportunity.
The Indian film industry spends close to $350 million a year on productions outside of India, and individuals from around the world regularly visit the country to woo producers to their regions, said Andre Timmons, director of the Indian film academy.
Among the 30,000 visitors expected in Tampa for the Bollywood Oscars will be an estimated 800 members of India's film community. Cities that have hosted the awards in the past saw an immediate boom in their film industry, Timmons said.
Bollywood companies logged 263 production days in Singapore, 160 in Toronto and more than 100 in Amsterdam. South Africa hosted the awards in Sun City in 2001 and Johannesburg in 2003, and the regions accumulated between 400 and 500 days of production in that time.
Bollywood spending data wasn't available.
Spending on Hollywood feature films and TV shows averages $225,000 a day while on location, including hotel rooms, rental cars, restaurants, legal and medical services, security, office space and equipment rentals, said Gus Corbella, advisory council chairman with the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment. Corbella's organization is the state economic development office for feature films and television productions.
Film is a creative medium, but it is still a business. And with any business, money talks.
Singapore hosted the Bollywood Oscars in 2004, and the government there agreed to spend $15 million during the next seven years as a co-producer on films.
Florida provides tax incentives of up to 30 percent of the money television and film productions spend in the state, with a cap of $8 million.
The Legislature allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012-16. Every penny had been spent just a year into the four-year cycle.
“We are absolutely worried,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. “We have a unique opportunity to build Tampa's brand as an international film destination but don't have the main thing producers are going to want: tax incentives. Bollywood, like Hollywood, is used to being incentivized.”
As former president of Tampa's Gasparilla International Film Festival, Joe Restaino has firsthand experience in how tax incentives can be the deciding factor in bringing a movie production to the area.
“Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best,” an independent comedy about musical misfits on a road trip to a battle of the bands contest, won Gasparilla's 2012 Audience Choice Award.
The movie's director, Ryan O'Nan, represented the film at the festival.
O'Nan had been set to begin production of his next movie, “Chu & Blossom,” in Pennsylvania, but, Restaino said, “the incentive money was iffy at the time.”
That was all Restaino needed to hear.
“Chu and Blossom” — featuring Melanie Lynskey from “Two and a Half Men,” veteran actress Annie Potts and Alan Cumming from “The Good Wife” — centers on an unlikely brotherhood between a pensive 6-foot-8 Korean exchange student and a performance artist trapped together in small town.
Hillsborough County had backdrops that fit the plot, and Florida had tax incentive money available.
Restaino persuaded O'Nan to forget about Pennsylvania and over the course of one month in summer 2012, “Chu & Blossom” added half a million dollars to the Hillsborough County economy.
“Without the tax incentive, the film would not have shot in this area,” Restaino said.
The film awaits release this year.
Bollywood star Kapoor is well aware of the lack of film incentives yet seems locked into Tampa as a location.
“They are keen on business partnerships in the absence of incentives,” the film commission's Gordon said. “If they feel that a community is willing to be more involved in more ways than writing a check at the end of the day, they are interested in engaging those partnerships.”
Gordon said those partnerships include hospitality, which they've received from philanthropist Patel and others.
“It's about crowd building,” said Timmons, of the Indian film academy. “The moment one movie starts, everybody wants to come film here.”
But Timmons admitted that without incentives, Tampa will be a hard sell.
“I urge the state of Florida to come up with incentives not only for Indian films but any cinema,” he said. “It is necessary.”
Film Florida, which is the trade commission that represents the interests of the state film industry, plans to push the Legislature for changes in its film tax incentives. The commission is seeking an allocation of $200 million a year through 2020.
“We have some momentum in our favor,” said Corbella, with the state film office. “I have heard the governor's administration has taken increased interest in the incentive program as a job creator.”
Film and television production in Florida has generated more than 100,000 jobs during the past three years, paying more than $650 million in wages to Floridians, Corbella said.
With or without future Bollywood films shot here, the Indian Oscars is expected to draw $30 million from organizers and visitors and the 120 or so Indian CEOs — from a number of fields, including health care, finance and education — expected in Tampa for the awards ceremony.
An estimated 800,000 people around the world will watch the Oscars-style awards ceremony, which will be presented at Raymond James Stadium.
“Our viewers go to a destination because they see the stars having a good time there,” said Timmons, of the Indian film academy.
Early indications are that Bollywood stars find Tampa to be a choice destination, as indicated by Kapoor's decision to shoot his next film here.
And during the Bollywood Oscars preview at Tampa Theatre on Jan. 7, starlet Priyanka Chopra marveled at the historic building's architecture.
“I just don't want to leave this place. This theater is absolutely magnificent,” she said. “It's fantastic. This city has a soul, and I can see that soul in this theater.”