TAMPA — The local movie industry welcomed news Wednesday that the film “The Infiltrator,” based on a story from Tampa, will shoot scenes here and star Emmy Award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.
Local production is set to begin in February 2015 on a film with an estimated budget of $47.5 million.
Still, the news left many who are involved in bringing productions to Tampa asking, “What if?”
The bulk of the film apparently will be shot in England, which offers government incentives of up to 25 percent and is home to production company Good Films. The company was on the verge of shooting most of the film in Tampa when state incentives dried up during the spring session of the Florida Legislature.
“The Infiltrator” is based on a book by Tampa Bay resident and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Robert Mazur and tells his true story of posing as a Tampa businessman to help bring down an international financial institution that laundered tens of millions of dollars for Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Dale Gordon, the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media commissioner, announced soon after the legislative session that she would work with county and city leaders to find ways to offset tax incentive money states and countries could offer Good Films.
Gordon succeeded in landing a piece of the film anyway.
The city of Tampa will cover the costs of off-duty police patrol and street closures, Port Tampa Bay will provide office space and the University of Tampa’s film production program will place students in hands-on support roles.
These in-kind services add up to around $100,000.
This is in addition to a $250,000 local incentive approved in March by the Hillsborough County Commission. The incentives are performance-based, subject to the creation of a minimum number of room nights and jobs
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“Unquestionably, I could not be any more pleased with the leadership of Dale Gordon and with the results that have occurred,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. “We are already setting records for the economic impact commercial productions are having here. This film just adds to her success.”
In August, commercial productions spent $4 million in the Hillsborough County, eight times what was normally spent by the industry in that month.
In 2012, before Hagan succeeded in helping re-establish a local film office, a Hillsborough County report showed the county gets 9 percent of the film production in Florida compared with Miami’s 57 percent and Orlando’s 31 percent.
“This is great news about ‘The Infiltrator,’” said Gus Corbella, chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council, lead advisory body to Florida leaders on entertainment issues. “This is a major film production with a big budget that will hire Florida talents and that will have a ripple effect to many local businesses during the shoot.”
It could have been bigger, industry leaders say.
Tampa will be used for exterior scenes needed to tie the film to the city, Gordon said, plus a few interior scenes.
Most interior scenes and other exteriors will be filmed in England.
“There will still be a significant economic impact on our area but it will be less that it could have been,” said Gordon. “Hopefully our state Legislature realizes this and it inspires them to pass legislation that provides new tax credits so we can keep this momentum going.”
The economic impact will be far less than the $20 million Gordon estimated in 2013 when it appeared Tampa would host much of the production.
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The state had allocated $296 million in film tax incentives for 2012-2016 but all that money was spent just a year into the four-year cycle. In Florida, television and film productions are eligible for reimbursement of up to 30 percent of the money it spends in state.
Good Films was in line to receive a $4.3 million tax credit from the state if lawmakers had renewed the incentives.
Film Florida, a trade commission that represents the interests of the state film industry, lobbied them unsuccessfully to approve a new incentive plan ranging from $50 million to $200 million a year.
Mazur, the former DEA agent, will be played by actor Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame. Brad Furman, who made the movie “The Lincoln Lawyer,” will direct.
Mazur welcomed news of the production plans and the casting of Cranston.
“I am excited that this is finally getting off the ground,” Mazur said. “This is surreal.”
Cranston has worked steadily as an actor since the 1980s and had a starring role in the Fox series “Malcolm In The Middle” from 2000-2006. But it was his portrayal of Walter White in “Breaking Bad” that turned him into a pop culture icon.
The show about a high school chemistry teacher who makes meth to secure his family’s future after he is diagnosed with cancer has been lauded as one of the best television series of all time, landing Cranston four consecutive Emmy awards.
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“The Infiltrator” will represent Tampa’s biggest movie role since the John Travolta film “The Punisher” in 2003.
Pinellas County, meantime, is showcased in films such as “Dolphin Tale” and its sequel, and “Spring Breakers.”
“Dolphin Tale” and “Spring Breakers” received tax credits while they were still available and “Dolphin Tale 2” was made possible through a special $5 million incentive approved by the Legislature.
A 2012 study by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business estimated the economic impact of “Dolphin Tale” would reach $5 billion.
“The fact that Hillsborough County remained competitive without state tax credits to offer says a lot about its leadership and its appeal as a location,” said Corbella of Florida Film. “Imagine what an area like that could do if it had tax credits.”
Corbella said “The Infiltrator” could be the catalyst to win incentive funding from the next Legislature. Committee meetings begin in January, the regular session opens in March — right as filming is under way.
“It will provide us proof of the impact a film production can have on an economy,” Corbella said.
With more incentives, Tampa stands a better chance of landing another big budget film based on a local story — the best-selling Dennis Lehane book “Live By Night,” about rum running in Ybor City during the 1920s and 1930s.
Once headed for Savannah, Georgia, the production has been stalled by the busy schedule of Ben Affleck, who will direct and star. Other cast members are Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.
“We have a lot of momentum right now,” Hillsborough Commissioner Hagan said. “Our future is bright for the film and digital medium in Hillsborough County.”