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Posts Tagged ‘St. Pete Beach’

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©2016 Scott W. Smith

The Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach, Florida was owned by screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger) until his death in 2013. The theatre first opened in 1940 and France bought it in 2007.

But unlike The New Beverly Cinema (owned by writer/director Quentin Tarantino) in Los Angeles, The Beach Theatre didn’t have a large cinephile fan base to sustain it and it closed on on Nov. 18, 2012. France died five months later at age 51.

There were some legal issues in its closing months and I’m actually not sure who owns it now or if there are any plans to restore it. But it looks like it’s been dormant in the years since France’s death.

If the theater was in St. Petersburg it’d have a chance to be revived, but St. Pete Beach is a largely tourist and retirement community of under 10,000 people. Downtown Tampa is a good 45 minute drive depending on traffic and already has a thriving and beautiful historical movie house (that I featured in a post last year) so it can’t look for help from there.

It’d be great if the Lowe’s Don Cesar Hotel (a 1920s built grand hotel nearby), the city of St. Pete Beach, or a non-profit group in the area purchased the Beach Theatre and somehow found a way to restore the art deco building and have at least one theatre on St. Pete Beach that played movies at least every once in a while.

For now, the Beach Theatre is one more reminder of the ongoing struggle the movie business has between art and commerce. Not too many screenwriters ever get the chance to buy an old movie theatre so at least Michael France got the chance to carry the torch for a few seasons.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #122 (Michael France)
St.Pete Screenwriter (Michael France)
Postcard #86 (Tampa Theatre)
Postcard #87 (St. Pete Beach Sunset)

Scott W. Smith

 

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The most famous film set on the Gulf Coast of Florida is Citizen Kane. The Orson Welles masterpiece many, including the AFI, consider the greatest American film of all time.

“Here, on the deserts of the Gulf Coast, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu’s mountain.”
Citizen Kane written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

And while Citizen Kane was actually shot in Southern California and on Long Island, there are plenty of other films shot on the other west coast—in Florida. And since I took the above photo on St. Pete Beach last weekend I thought I’d focus on a few films shot in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Just a couple of miles north of where I took that photo on Pass-A-Grille sits the historic Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort where just last month The Infiltrator (starring Brian Cranston) shot some scenes.  The same place Robert Altman shot part of HealtH (1980).

Director Ron Howard shot Cocoon (1985) in and around St. Petersburg, Florida.  Steven Soderbergh shot part of Magic Mike (2012) on Treasure Island—starring Channing Tatum who graduated from high school in Tampa. Harmony Korine shot Spring Breakers in several locations in the area.

The pastel neighborhood featured in Edward Scissorhands, starring Johnny Depp, was shot a few miles north of Tampa in Lutz, Florida.  Dolphin Tale starring Morgan Freeman was primarily in and around Clearwater, Florida and  Oceans 11 spent a couple of days shooting at the Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg.

I’m sure there is a much longer list, but those are some of the higher profile productions and/or production people connected with projects shot in the area. If you’re interested in shooting there contact the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission and/or the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

This is a fitting place to mention that in 2007 screenwriter (and St. Pete Beach resident) Mike France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) bought the historic Beach Theatre on St. Pete Beach. It was probably more of a romantic and nostalgic choice than a profit-making business decision and the theatre closed a few months before he died in 2013. But Kudos to France for keeping the art deco theatre—which first opened in 1940—alive a few more years.

And for what it’s worth, I was doing a little research last weekend for a new script I’m writing and on the same day I took that sunset shot I caught the sunrise at Melbourne Beach on Florida’s east coast. Melbourne Beach is where Jim Jarmusch shot part of his classic indie film Stranger Than Paradise (1984)— A must see black and white film shot using only master shots.

Here’s a photo of mine from sunrise at Melbourne Beach. (To inquire about shooting on Florida’s space coast (including Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne) contact the Space Coast Film Commission.)

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P.S. Congrats to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their victory last night against the New York Rangers to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Related posts:
‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
‘State of Cinema’ (Soderbergh)
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)

Scott W. Smith

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“As a script reader, I noticed that every variation of Die Hard had sold. Not all of them got made, but they all sold.”
Michael France (On what led him to write Cliffhanger on spec)

One of the fun things about doing a small niche blog like this is making all kinds of odd connections, which I believe is what creativity is all about. (See the post Where Do Ideas Come From?)

For instance, as I mentioned yesterday I flew out of the Tampa airport and learned that the first commercial flight ever was between St. Pete and Tampa. That led me to learn that screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) was not only born in St. Pete Beach, but lives there today. Not only that, but he owns an old movie theater there which is currently playing the Jason Reitman/George Clooney film Up in the Air that I spent several days blogging about recently. In one of those posts I mentioned that Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel Up in the Air, was once married to and has two kids with the daughter of Thomas McGuane. Well, it turns out that I found an interview with Michael France where he said his favorite book is The Buchwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane.

One big interconnected world.

In an interview with Stax at ING, France was asked, “What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment to date?

“I took this question a couple of different ways. My first response to this is, managing my writing career so that I’m able to live where I want – which is waaaaay out of L.A. – and spend my off hours with my wife and kids on the beach. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, and it allows me to live the way I want to, so…that’s important to me personally. But I think you probably mean artistically, so I’ll take my head out of the beach for a minute. When I was writing Hulk, I wanted to make Bruce Banner an extremely complex, emotionally sealed off character, and to make his relationship with Betty romantic but still tragic. Those dynamics are difficult to make credible even when you’re not bringing in large science fiction ideas – but I tried to make that work in balance with the large scale action scenes that you have to have with Hulk.”
Michael France

To be fair, France did do time in New York & L.A., but a screenwriter “waaaaay out of L.A.”—huh, what an interesting concept. (Of course, to pull that off, it doesn’t hurt to have a few blockbuster films to your name and Marvel’s Stan Lee in your address book.)

Though I’ve never met France, I bet in that funky, creative way our paths have crossed somewhere. We’re the same age so it may have been that Jimmy Buffett concert I went to at the University of Florida campus (where France went to school) in the early 80s (Coconut Telegraph tour if I remember correctly), maybe somewhere in L.A., but most likely it would have been St. Pete Beach where I’ve spent much time visiting over the last 30 years. In fact, I shot part of a commercial there last summer.

One thing is sure, the next time I’m down that way, I’m going to catch a movie at France’s Beach Theater after my regular fried grouper stop at The Hurricane.

Scott W. Smith

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When you think of fly-over country, Tampa Bay is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind. But as far as commercial flights are concerned, that’s the original fly-over territory. It wasn’t until I flew out of the Tampa Airport yesterday that I learned that the first commercial flight back in 1914 was from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

So I thought I’d find a screenwriter from St. Pete and came up with Michael France who was born there in 1962. France graduated from the University of Florida before breaking into the movie business in 1991 when his spec script Cliffhanger was sold. In 1993 it became a hit film starring Sylvester Stallone. He was credited for the story on the James Bond film Goldeneye, as well as co-screenwriter of Hulk and Fantastic Four.

According to IMDB, “Movies made from Michael France’s screenplays have earned well over one billion dollars in worldwide theatrical admissions, and at least another billion dollars in home video revenues.”

France lives in the Pass-a-Grille section on the southern tip of St. Pete Beach and in 2007 he purchased the local Film Paradiso Beach Theatre . (How many screenwriters and filmmakers dream of buying an old theater? France is the only one I know who ever followed that dream to the finish line.) And because I’m a big fan of the film, I should point out the Up in the Air is playing this week at the Beach Theater. On Saturday nights’ they play The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Laurel & Hardy pictures on Saturday mornings. Something for everybody. (Heck, this past Sunday they even held a tribute for the librarian at the St. Pete Library and who passed away in December.)  A community movie theater at its best.

This is the same theater that France’s parents and grandparents took him to movies as a child. Don’t you love happy endings?

Scott W. Smith

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