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Tampa, As Movie Extra: Puerto Rico’s Double…Hollywood Style On The Isle

Tampa, As Movie Extra: Puerto Rico’s Double


August 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

The brains behind The Punisher's brawn already know and love Tampa.

The city was introduced to the filmmakers Monday, and the feeling seemed mutual.

Artisan Entertainment executive vice president of production Andrew Golov had the Tampa Convention Center news conference audience at "hello.'' Although to be fair, his greeting was followed by a brief rundown of how much of the film's reported $30-million budget will be spent on production in the area.

"That number is just slightly more than $12-million,'' Golov said.

"By film commission estimates, about half of that remains directly in Tampa. As mayor (Pam) Iorio and I discussed (in May), that's about $1-million per month for the next six months going into the economy directly. That has nothing to do with the residual effect of the movie that comes out and the attention Tampa will get.''

Principal photography for The Punisher began Saturday at the AmSouth building at 100 N Tampa St. Production resumes today at 400 N Ashley Plaza - the "beer can building'' - and continues at several Tampa and Pinellas County locations weekdays through October.

With relatives living in Sarasota, Golov is no stranger to the Tampa Bay area. He wanted The Punisher filmed here despite pressure to change the screenplay's locale to Vancouver to save money on exchange rates and tax breaks. Golov praised city and county officials for co-operation that helped "close the gap between what it would have cost to make the film in Canada and here.''

Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh explained why he wrote The Punisher with Tampa in mind. He began with the idea that the film's villain, played by John Travolta, would be laundering money in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I considered New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Houston-Galveston and, of course, Tampa,'' Hensleigh said.

"There's an element of the story that's set in Puerto Rico, and I couldn't double Houston-Galveston or New Orleans as Puerto Rico. But I certainly can double Tampa as Puerto Rico. That really swung the vote in favor of Tampa.''

The scenes involving the murder of FBI agent Frank Castle's family, spurring his vengeful side, will be filmed at Fort De Soto Park and Honeymoon Island in Pinellas County. The rest of the production is scheduled for Tampa, mostly in the Channel District, Ybor City and downtown.

Travolta wasn't at the news conference. He isn't due in town to film his scenes for at least two weeks. Other principal actors, including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Laura Harring and Will Patton, will be "arriving daily from this point on, essentially,'' producer Gale Anne Hurd said.

Thomas Jane, who stars as the Punisher, was at the news conference and acted much looser than his vigilante hero, a Marvel Comics favorite, will appear in the film. He faked surprise when Hurd mentioned that the Punisher doesn't have superpowers and joked that any collectible action figure of him would be nude. Hurd said the production's effect on residents' everyday lives would be "as low-impact as possible,'' and Jane added: "Except for when we're blowing stuff up.''

But the 34-year-old actor is taking the character seriously.

"I really feel like I'm playing a real guy,'' Jane said. "I feel the responsibility to this character as much as I felt the responsibility of bringing Mickey Mantle to life (in 61+), as much as I felt bringing (South African policeman) Andre Stander to life (in Stander), as much as I felt bringing Neal Cassady to life (in The Last Time I Committed Suicide).

"It's a beautiful story about a guy in a unique position. His family is murdered, and he only sees one choice available to him: that's to go after the people who killed his family. He can't lose, because if he gets them, he has avenged, in some small part, the death of his family. If they get him, then he is punished for not being there to save them. That's a beautiful story about atonement and punishment.''

Hensleigh is directing his first film after writing screenplays for box office hits Armageddon and Jumanji, among other films. His first day on the set, Saturday, was disrupted by a loud, lingering thunderstorm that changed plans to shoot outside.

"There are specific weather problems in Florida,'' Hensleigh said. "That is going to be a constant challenge throughout. We'll get over that.

"For me, we're attempting to make a full-blown, huge action picture with all of the Hollywood trappings for probably less money than a picture like this has ever been executed for. That's a bold claim, but I'll stand by it.''

Hurd suggested that The Punisher "is an R-rated film,'' although that decision will be made by the Motion Picture Association of America after the movie is completed.

The news conference concluded with a shower of compliments for local artists and technicians hired for the production.

"There's a wealth of talent here,'' Golov said. "We witnessed Saturday a production team that, from the head of every department right through every production assistant, did not stop for 15 hours, which is pretty amazing.''

Hollywood Style On The Isle


August 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003
St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

Death and despair are taking over the normally peaceful Honeymoon Island in Clearwater as filming continues for the $30-million movie, The Punisher.

The film, starring John Travolta and Thomas Jane, follows an undercover FBI agent-turned-vigilante who administers justice by dispensing his own version of punishment. Most of the movie is being filmed in Tampa, but certain scenes are at Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto Park at the southern tip of Pinellas County.

Some 250 cast and crew are commuting daily to the northernmost shores of the pristine beach for a set re-creating the portion of the movie that takes place in Puerto Rico.

For those who don't read the Marvel Comic book series, this is the part of the story where a mother (actor Samantha Mathis) and her child (actor Marcus Johns) are brutally murdered in their beachfront home.

"This is where the unfortunate event occurs,'' said a water-chugging John Starke, a line producer for the movie. "This is the event that makes the Punisher the Punisher.''

Passers-by wandered up the rocky part of the beach Wednesday, hoping for a glance of John Travolta, who plays a key part in the movie but is not expected to be in the island scenes.

Most had no idea that Dunedin would be the backdrop for a movie expected to pump around $12-million into the bay area's economy.

"This old guy kept saying to me, "You here to see John?' '' said Beverly Schultz while walking the beach with her sister, Ginny, who lives in Dunedin. "We said, "John who?' We were surprised to learn about John Travolta and this movie.''

Ginny Schultz wanted more information about the film.

"We're surprised because nothing exciting happens in Dunedin,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the camera crew squeezed onto the back portion of bathhouse No. 3 - which now looks nothing like a public restroom.

Instead of the standard pale gray of many state park restrooms, the building is a bright, Miami Beach yellow with a terra cotta-colored roof.

An extra room was added to the bathhouse and painted in those same colors. That new room is the study for the beach home of Frank Castle, played by Thomas Jane, who, after the murders, becomes the Punisher.

Just after noon on Wednesday, Jane was taking a break on the newly built porch of the bathhouse. Since this is the portion of the movie before his transformation, he was wearing light-colored pants, a white T-shirt and a blue flowing shirt that blew in the beach wind.

Jane leaned over on a bannister, wiping sweat off his brow.

Young girls collected on a rocky part of the property nearby, held back from the movie set by several security guards. When Jane was in view, the girls produced a chorus of "oohs'' and "ahhs.''

The film's still photographer, Gene Page, strolled out past the guards to look at the surf. Page, 41, is a Florida native who went to San Jose Elementary School and Dunedin Junior High. He was a photography intern at the St. Petersburg Times and now lives in Micanopy, near Gainesville.

As still photographer, Page takes regular photographs of the movie while it is being filmed. Those pictures are used for movie posters and promotional materials.

"I've always loved films,'' said Page. "This is so cool because it's fake. You don't have to see real people getting killed.''

A graduate of St. Petersburg Junior College and the University of Florida, Page jumped at the chance to work on The Punisher. He has previously worked on Basic, starring John Travolta, Monster, starring Charlize Theron and a host of other flicks.

Page has memories of Honeymoon Island.

"I used to come here as a Boy Scout and camp,'' Page said.

Part of the $12-million impact of the movie goes to the park itself. The movie's producers paid for a $300 photography permit, plus the $2 to $4 per car it costs to come in and out of the park.

The actors and crew are all staying mostly at hotels in Tampa, but some, like Page, are renting motels on the beach.

The crew has been at the park for at least two weeks now, said park manager Scott Robinson.

It took time to paint the bathhouses and build the set, Robinson said.

The crew is not endangering any animals or destroying any section of the beach, he said.

"We've had staff on scene to make sure they're careful around our natural resources,'' Robinson said.

Honeymoon Island was one of the main reasons the movie's director chose to bring The Punisher to Tampa Bay.

"Our director came down here and drove around looking at all sorts of areas,'' said Amy Johnson, the film's publicist. "Obviously they needed something to fill in for Puerto Rico. If we were shooting in Canada, that would be hard. This was one of the defining reasons for why we chose Tampa.''

- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or

Honeymoon Island will portray Puerto Rico in The Punisher. Thomas Jane will play the Punisher himself. On Wednesday, Jane prepared for a scene on the set, a public bathhouse converted into the beach house of Frank Castle, who morphs into the Punisher after his wife and child are killed. Where was John Travolta? He plays a key part in the movie but is not expected to be in the island scenes.

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