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Landing a stand-in role

Fort De Soto looks good playing Panama on Fox's Prison Break.

By ERIC DEGGANS Times TV/Media Critic
Published September 28, 2007

Dominic Purcell, center, and Danay Garcia, in skirt, prepare for a scene Thursday from Prison Break at Fort De Soto Park.
[Atoyia Deans | Times]
[Atoyia Deans | Times]
Dan Jackson, reloads film in the camera between takes being shot Thursday at Fort De Soto Park.

For filmmakers, few locations in America compare with St. Petersburg beaches on television. Clear blue skies, clean white sands and deep waters offer a dreamy setting. But that beauty often comes at a price.

Just ask the crew from Fox TV's action drama Prison Break, who spent Thursday using a stretch of beach at Fort De Soto Park as a stand-in for the Panama shoreline, filming key scenes featuring stars Dominic Purcell and Danay Garcia.

The bright sun, so picturesque on film, was baking the cast and crew. Clouds of sand fleas, appearing from nowhere, feasted on all the exposed flesh, dotting Garcia's toned legs with a series of angry red bumps.

And while the production was rushing to beat an advancing cloud cover, noise from passing motorboats and airplanes forced abrupt halts to some scenes.

Still, producer Garry Brown had little but praise for the area's value to the series, which also filmed at Fort De Soto for two days last month and expects to return in November.

"We needed to find a place where jungle foliage went up to white sand, which came up to clear water, and that's hard to find," said Brown, who scouted beaches throughout Florida before settling on a corner of Fort De Soto's grounds. "The local crew are fantastic, like we've been working together for years. ... Everybody's welcomed us with open arms."

With a work force of less than 80 people on site - half drawn from the local film community - Brown estimated the production could bring up to $200,000 to the area's economy. Such location filming is a luxury many series indulge only occasionally; even programs set in Florida such as CBS's Cane and Showtime's Dexter film most of their scenes in Los Angeles, making occasional trips to the Sunshine State.

The show's third season centers on efforts by hero Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) to break out of a Panamanian prison, with an old juvenile-detention center and former meatpacking plant near Dallas standing in for a fictional jail essentially run by the inmates.

Brown was reluctant to share details about scenes filmed Thursday, wary of spoiling plot lines for fans. Purcell, who plays Scofield's brother, acted out an uneasy partnership with Garcia's character, including a moment with a drawn weapon.

As cameramen worked out the complicated choreography needed to film one scene, Purcell was more concerned about press accounts noting Prison Break's Sept. 17 return scored 2-million fewer viewers than 2006's premiere.

"The press doesn't understand ratings," said Purcell, who comes off in person nearly as intense as the former death row inmate he plays on screen.

"We've got a core audience which just doesn't go away," he added, an Australian lilt coloring his voice. "And there's research showing all serialized dramas lose audience in the third season. Don't get me on about numbers. ... I can talk about this stuff all day."

Returning to finish filming a beach scene, his closely shaved pate shining with perspiration, Purcell encouraged Garcia through a rocky moment when both actors began flubbing lines a bit, worn down by the heat.

Sometimes, even an afternoon in paradise comes with a bit of hard work.

Eric Deggans can be reached at or (727) 893-8521.

[Last modified September 28, 2007, 02:13:18]

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