Pasco expanding film production footprint

Pasco County’s tourism office last year rebranded to Experience Florida’s Sports Coast with the idea of becoming a destination for youth and amateur sports.

But, the county doesn’t want to be pigeonholed simply as a playground for various athletics tournaments and festivals.

The county’s tourism department is now expanding its brand portfolio to include film production — aiming to further boost economic development.

From left: ‘Death Cast’ director Bobby Marinelli, Experience Florida’s Sports Coast program manager Consuelo Sanchez, and ‘Death Cast’ producer Melissa McNerney. (Courtesy of Travis Claytor)

The production of “Death Cast,” a feature horror film, showcases the potential for the county to become a filming hotbed.

“Death Cast” is about six young, hopeful actors who are looking to land roles in an experimental horror film.

Roughly 90% of the movie was filmed in Pasco, including Dade City. Filming took place with a 30-member crew within a two-week period in January 2018.

“Death Cast” writer and director Bobby Marinelli pins the picture as “a really unique take on a classic horror story.”

He added: “It’s essentially a horror slasher film, by the numbers, but pulled in like a found footage, reality television-style that we’ve been told that’s it’s not been seen before.”

The independent, low-budget movie is set to be premiered on the film festival circuit this fall. It’s run time is 75 minutes.

The film’s main set piece takes place at a two-story house on Hanlon Terrace in Dade City, which has since transformed into a cattle ranch and wedding venue.

Set on a large property accented with a long, gravel driveway and shadowy tree canopy, the home helped “establish the look and feel of the rest of the movie,” Marinelli said.

An added bonus — the property featured a mother-in-law suite adjacent to the house that became the production office and base camp for most of the film.

A home and property on Hanlon Terrace in Dade City was the main set piece of the independent horror flick ‘Death Cast.’ Production took place across a two-week period in January 2018. The movie is about six young, hopeful actors looking to land roles in an experimental horror film.

“It worked out really well for us,” the director said.

Another central location was Crews Lake Wilderness Park in Shady Hills, offering an “amazing rural landscape” for other scenes, he said.

“It was honestly another keystone to the film,” Marinelli said of the park, “because we needed just this vast-like endless piece of property.”

Marinelli, who grew up in Hudson, was well-acquainted with the county’s landscape beforehand.

The Hudson High graduate studied filmmaking at Florida State University.

Making a movie in his hometown county required less red tape than other counties and states, he said.

The filmmaker cited a streamlined permitting process and accommodating nature from county officials and local residents. He mentioned Crews Lake Park was all but “handed to us on a silver platter” for their use.

“When you shoot in other states, particularly like big production states, there’s a lot of hoops to jump through to have that kind of access to a piece of property like that,” Marinelli explained.

“Other places, if you were shooting something like that, it would be a big task to stop the regular traffic of the park. …These parks in Pasco County, there’s enough of them, and they’re so vast that our footprint doesn’t really inconvenience the operations of the park, and it gives the film the look and feel and accessibility that it needs.”

It’s those types of reviews that Experience Florida’s Sports Coast officials hope to hear more often to help it attract future films.

The agency has its own film commissioner, Gaby LaJeunesse, who assists movie producers and scouts by establishing a link between other cities, county parks, libraries, transportation and private destinations.

Crews Lake Park in Shady Hills was another major set piece for ‘Death Cast.’ The independent, low-budget movie is set to be premiered on the film festival circuit this fall.

The work includes facilitating permits and road closures, and even coordinating with the Pasco School Board, if a project calls for filming in and around a school.

Besides helping to arrange needed accommodations for full-length features, she also assists with short films, student films, documentaries, music videos, and commercials and infomercials.

“The more productions that come to our county, the better opportunity we’re going to be out there and known across the country,” she said.

To help spread the word about its film-friendly mission, the tourism agency is developing a dedicated film page to add to its website.

It will help inform potential filmmakers and film production companies that are considering the area. The page will feature a library of location options, permitting information and so on. The new tab is expected to  go live sometime this year, officials say.

Experience Florida’s Sports Coast officials highlight the economic benefit of film casts and crews staying at local hotels, and eating and shopping locally. Moreover, creating film sets oftentimes requires extensive use of local labor and materials.

LaJeunesse observed, “Everybody benefits from a production in our county.”

Marinelli speaks to that firsthand.

“When a film’s shooting in a one- or two-week period of time, there’s a lot of money spent in that area and a lot of attention brought to it,” he said.

Meanwhile, what makes Pasco attractive for filmmakers could go well beyond easing the production process for film executives.

Beyond being a receptive place to make films, Pasco also offers diverse “coast to country” geography — providing wide-ranging set locations in an hour’s radius. For instance, Anclote Key’s castaway island look is much different than the rural, rolling hills of historic Dade City.

Those variations “speak a lot to Pasco County and what Pasco County has to offer in terms of locations,” said “Death Cast” producer Melissa McNerney.

McNerney, who lives in Tampa, studied acting in New York and has landed small roles in television shows including “The Good Wife,” “All My Children” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

“Filmmaking in Florida doesn’t have to be about stories that take place in the most obvious locations like beaches and areas where there’s palm trees and water, and kind of these really traditional, iconic, recognizable Florida landscapes.

“Our film shows backwoods and areas you might think aren’t even in Florida, and I think there’s a huge opportunity for filmmakers to start writing different stories that take place in lesser-known landscapes, and then challenge themselves to finding unique locations that aren’t necessarily identifiable as Florida, because I think that makes filming here that much more of a creative endeavor,” she said.

For information on “Death Cast” and to watch the trailer, visit DeathCastFilm.com.

Published April 22, 2020

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