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Tampa 'hungry' for projects, filmmaker says

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:04 AM

An independent filmmaker, who snagged top awards at the most-recent Gasparilla International Film Festival, will wrap up production this week on "Chu and Blossom," a full-length feature filmed in Tampa.

Producer, writer and actor Ryan O'Nan began considering Tampa as a possible filming location after visiting the area for the film fest, where his movie "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" won Gasparilla's Audience Award and he was named Rising Star.

"At the time, it was a wide-open decision where we would shoot 'Chu and Blossom,'" said O'Nan. "We could go to Texas, Atlanta or Louisiana, anywhere. But when I happened to be at Gasparilla, I just found the community to be so excited by film and kind of hungry for projects.

"And when you're making a low-budget indie film, that kind of passion and that kind of hunger is an absolute essential ingredient."

Wooing movie producers to film projects in the Tampa area has been a goal of Joe Restaino, president of the Gasparilla International Film Festival.

At the fest's filmmaker lunch, O'Nan heard a pitch about bringing more films to Tampa and the state.

"The whole community embraced him (O'Nan), and he became really excited about the energy in Tampa to bring more films here, which has been lacking," Restaino said.

Restaino's efforts have been bolstered by a Florida incentive program designed to lure production companies, making them eligible to receive tax credits for 20 percent of the money they spend in the state.

The program also offers 5 percent for family friendly projects and another 5 percent for projects filmed during hurricane season.

"He was looking to make 'Blossom' in Pennsylvania, but he stayed an extra day after GIFF and I took him around to locations that fit with the script," Restaino said. "Then after driving the directors (Gavin Kelly and Charles Chu) around for a week, a few months went by and they got things lined up to come out here."

O'Nan touts the state incentive program and says he believes a county or city incentive, similar to one that Sarasota offers, might lure even more film productions to the area.

"Chu and Blossom," a comedy about a Korean exchange student who befriends a local misfit and how the two push past their fears to find their place in the world, stars O'Nan, Chu and Caitlin Stasey.

The film, scheduled to be released next year, also features a roster of veteran Hollywood stars such as Alan Cumming, Annie Potts, Chris Marquette, Mercedes Ruehl, Melanie Lynskey and Richard Kind.

Restaino said the production, which included Hillsborough High School among its many film locations, impacted many Tampa-area businesses while here, including hotels and catering firms, and it used local film crews.

"It's a win for everyone," said Restaino.

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