Local rewards should accompany 'The Punisher'
By STEVE PERSALL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 17, 2003
The Punisher will be chasing bad guys on both sides of Tampa Bay when filming of the $30-million feature film begins in July.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater area film commissioner Jennifer Parramore announced Friday that creators of the live-action Marvel Comics adaptation starring John Travolta and Thomas Jane will film some sequences in Pinellas County.
Tampa film commissioner Edie Emerald announced Tuesday that principal photography will take place in Hillsborough County through October.
Pinellas County locations secured for use include Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs and Honeymoon Island State Park, off Dunedin. Parramore said director and co-writer Jonathan Hensleigh is also considering location shoots in Tarpon Springs' sponge docks district and downtown St. Petersburg.
"This is a great one," said Parramore, who in 12 years on the job has seen several film productions flirt with shooting in the Tampa Bay area, then choose another site.
"A lot of the crew people who are going to make it happen are going to be from this area."
Though it's tough to estimate the economic impact on the region, Parramore's calculations suggest that each production day will cost Artisan Entertainment and Marvel Studios $250,000. Much of that money will go into the pockets of local crew members and businesses such as hotels and restaurants.
The Punisher is the latest Marvel Comics superhero to leap into the movies, after successful adaptations of Spider-Man, X-Men, Blade and Daredevil. The title character, played by Jane, is a former Special Operations soldier and FBI agent who turns vigilante after mobsters kill his family.
Travolta will play Howard Saint, a wealthy community leader whose darker side emerges after his son is murdered.
Parramore and Emerald were allowed to read the screenplay to find suitable locations. Parramore said the causeway leading to the beach at Fred Howard Park will be used for a car chase: "Some shoot-'em-up, bang-bang stuff." Filming on the causeway should last a day or two.
Changing rooms at Honeymoon Island State Park will be decorated to resemble a beach house, possibly with a temporary pier constructed and pyrotechnic special effects planned.
Parramore said Honeymoon Island park ranger Scott Robinson has worked with film productions several times in his career. Robinson's expertise will help preserve the park's environment during production, including turtles during the nesting season, which lasts until October.
"Turtles don't nest up there, for the most part," Parramore said. "The agencies that oversee critters, like the Fish and Wildlife Conservation folks, will be there if they need to be."
Parramore took Hensleigh to lunch in Tarpon Springs during a location scouting visit this year. "Jonathan just liked the look of Tarpon Springs," she said. "I don't know if it'll fit into the script, but he just liked the character, the depth of the area. He was digging the feel."
Downtown St. Petersburg is being considered for a scene that requires a building from which an object will be dropped several floors to the street below.
"The proximity of the street and the building have to be pretty close, and the drop can't be impeded by an awning or anything," Parramore said, noting that location scouts haven't found what they need in downtown Tampa.
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