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Real-life drug tale to be filmed in Tampa

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Tampa will be flush next year with drug cartels, money launderers and violence. At least on the big screen.

Hollywood will once again invade Tampa when the city becomes the central locale for a big-budget film in 2014.

The movie is called “The Infiltrator” and is based on the book “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel,” which was written by Tampa Bay area resident Robert Mazur. The book is the real-life story of Mazur's two-year investigation as a DEA agent posing as a Tampa-based businessman; the case helped bring down a major international financial institution that had laundered tens of millions of dollars for the infamous Escobar.

News that Mazur's book would be made into a movie was announced in June 2012, but it was not until this week that the production company revealed that Tampa would the filming hub.

“We can confirm we will be shooting mainly in Tampa, but also Miami, New York and Paris,” a representative from London's DDA Public Relations said via email on behalf of their client, England-based Good Films, the production company backing “The Infiltrator.”

The company would not say when film crews would be in Tampa but said Good Films intends to begin production in March.

According to DDA, “The Infiltrator” will have a budget of $47.5 million. The director will be Brad Furman.

Lead actors have yet to be announced. Furman's previous films include “The Lincoln Lawyer” starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei and Ryan Phillippe, and “Runner Runner” starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.

Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, confirmed she has been in discussions with Good Films.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the Tampa Bay area,” she said.

“This is fantastic news and I am delighted to hear it,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. “Clearly, re-establishing the Film and Digital Media Commission and having a film commissioner is paying immediate dividends.”

Hagan was instrumental in bringing a fulltime film commissioner back to the county after it was without one for two years. He said Gordon reached out to Mazur and Good Films to sell them on keeping Tampa as the central filming location for the cinematic version of the book.

“In the past we lost out on opportunities like this because we did not have a film presence or infrastructure,” Hagan said.

A county report last year said Hillsborough gets 9 percent of the film production in Florida, compared with Miami's 57 percent and Orlando's 31 percent, both of which have strong and longstanding film commissions.

News of “The Infiltrator” comes on the heels of rumors that Ben Affleck's “Live By Night,” based on Dennis Lehane's best-selling novel of the same name about rum-running in Ybor during the 1920s and '30s, was leaning toward filming in Savannah, Ga., rather than Tampa, where the majority of the book's story occurs.

One factor in favor of Savannah is that Florida is out of tax incentive money for cinematic productions while Georgia is still flush with incentives.

Good Films did not comment on Florida's current lack of film tax incentives.

Film Florida, a trade commission that represents the interests of the state film industry, will lobby the Florida Legislature in March to amend and replenish the state's tax incentive for film.

Florida provides tax incentives of up to 30 percent of the money spent in the state by a film production, with a cap of $8 million. The state allocated $296 million in film incentives for 2012-16, but all the money was spent just a year into the four-year cycle, damaging the state's chances to lure major films.

Florida Film is seeking an allocation of $200 million a year rather than funding every four years. If the Legislature approves the new incentive plan, the money would be available in July.

Gordon said it is possible “The Infiltrator” could qualify those tax incentives even if film crews have completed filming in Tampa by then.

“I have encouraged them to apply,” she said.

Though the production company has announced its intentions to film in Tampa, nothing has been contractually set.

“No one has signed on the dotted line yet,” said Hagan.

Gordon is confident, however, that “The Infiltrator” will be filmed primarily in Tampa as Good Films announced.

“Obviously I cannot promise anything,'' Gordon said. “But the book is based in Tampa so this is obviously the best location for the film.”

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