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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Now starring in commercials: Hillsborough County

Bar-goers in Tampa will feel right at home with a future Bud Light commercial.

It was shot this month inside Hattricks Tavern, which Tampa Bay Lightning fans know is downtown at 107 S. Franklin St.

By 6 a.m. one Thursday, the production crew was covering the bar’s windows with dark tint to prevent the sun and the gawkers from spoiling a shot. Asked about the plot of the commercial, the crew refused comment.

Dale Gordon, Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media commissioner, was equally coy.

“Unfortunately, I can’t give details of the production due to a request from the client,” Gordon said.

What’s not a secret, though, are the benefits of producing commercials in Hillsborough County, she said.

Typically, summer months are the slowest for the county’s commercial production industry. But commercial productions spent an estimated $4 million in Hillsborough County in August. During the same month in past years, Gordon said, that figure would have been just half a million dollars.

“That is direct spending, not economic impact. That number will be higher,” she said. “There is always a trickle-down effect that adds more money to the total.”

Gordon filled a Hillsborough County film commissioner position in July 2013 that had been empty more than two years.

Since then, the county has hosted 15 to 30 commercial productions a month during what is considered the busy season for commercials — September through December — with total direct spending between $1.5 million and $4 million a month.

In the offseason, the county averaged five to 10 commercials a month and $500,000 to $1 million in direct spending.

Those figures, Gordon insists, will increase in the coming year.

She hosted seven production managers and one location scout from Orlando for two days early in August and gave them a tour of the city as well as a rundown on why filming in the area is easier than ever. She hopes to bring Miami production professionals here next year.

And in October, she will bring her message to advertising firms in New York.

“It’s about expanding our presence throughout the country,” Gordon said. “I want Hillsborough to be a top commercial destination.”

The film commission spent $5,000 in cash and in-kind services to bring the Orlando group here, put them up in hotels and transport them around the county.

It was money well spent, Gordon said.

“I’d do more of these if we had the budget. They are absolutely worth it.”

The Orlando contingency was impressed with what they saw and learned.

Tampa International Airport, they said, is much easier for a production to work with than Orlando International Airport. They will now advise clients who need an airport in their production to come here.

The Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS, is also film friendly, they added, and can be used in a number of ways. The new center operated by the University of South Florida allows for surgical simulations.

“So many stories can be told there,” said Connie Swanson, an Orlando-based production manager. “Obviously medical commercials, but also anything that needs an office look or classrooms. It was amazing.”

Other locations they visited were Port Tampa Bay, the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Theatre, Ybor City, the Waterworks and Hyde Park.

“Tampa and Orlando do not really compete for commercials,” said Orlando-based production manager Norma Sardy. “Orlando offers locations Tampa cannot and vice versa. Now if a commercial needs a location I know that Tampa has, I feel safe sending them.”

In past years, Swanson hesitated to send commercial production clients to Hillsborough County because it had no film commissioner.

“It was painful not to have anyone to call who could help with hotels and permits and things like that,” she said. “It was a deterrent to wanting to do business here.”

That’s why Gordon is planning in-county tours and out-of-state recruiting trips in the coming year.

“I want to reinforce their sense of confidence in the market and remind them of the benefits of filming here.”

Besides diverse locations, she said, Hillsborough County offers the advantage of Florida weather.

“We have the natural strength of being green 365 days a year,” Gordon said. “So even in December and January we look like it’s spring and summer. Any commercial that needs those seasons will choose Florida. Now we need them to choose Hillsborough County.”

The ease with which productions can obtain permits through a streamlined Hillsborough County system should help, Gordon said.

Previously, a production company visited a number of government agencies to acquire necessary filming permits.

For example, filming could cross over a city and county road, and make use of a state building. This would require permits from each government entity.

Under a new ordinance, the film commission office is a one-stop-shop. A production company can file requests for all permits with the film commission office and the office takes care of the legwork.

Tax incentives for productions spending $1 million or more also are working their way through the county commission.

To qualify, a set amount of the production’s spending would need to be done locally. Come tax time, the production would receive some of its money back.

“Hopefully by the time I go to New York in October the county will have the language drafted and approved,” she said. “It will give me another sales pitch.”


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