You Paid For It: Pinellas return on investment from French Riviera trips remains a mystery

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s been months since Pinellas Film Commissioner Tony Armer alerted us the British were coming here to spend $1 million on an independent feature called “Dead Ringer.” 

Armer called it the first sign that his annual two week trips to promote Pinellas in a trade show at the Cannes Film Festival is paying off.

“You’re starting to see the fruits of those labors,” Armer said Monday.

Dead Ringer’s producer, Amar Adatia, spent five days in September shooting at various Pinellas locations with the promise of collecting $100,000 in incentive money from the bed tax if he spent $1 million. Adatia assured us back then he was ready to do just that.

“Definitely, without a doubt. We got a private jet yesterday, we’ve got yachts, everything this part of Florida can offer, we managed to get,” Adatia said.

But more than two months later, Pinellas County hasn’t received a single receipt proving that Adatia spent much of anything on the Pinellas economy during his stay here.

On “media day” back on Sept. 20, we were invited to observe Adatia’s small crew in action.

They used a single camera rented from a vendor in Orlando to shoot a beach scene without the aid of lights, production trucks, caterers, cast trailers or any of the other amenities normally associated with feature film productions.

Some of the local crew members told us they were volunteers and so did the local actors.

Two of the three local paid crew members on the beach that day didn’t live in Pinellas. Armer insists the crew did use lights on at least one of the other production days.

“They had a variety of things,” Armer said. “Every productions is different. I know you’re asking so you can say ‘where’s the money spent?’ But we won’t know that until they submit their requests.”

Before Adatia and his crew arrived here, Armer and his boss Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Executive Director David Downing helped negotiate an incentive deal funded with bed tax dollars. In a staff analysis Downing sent to Pinellas County Administrators, he described a $1 million film production with an advertising value of $1.17 million and an overall economic impact of $5 million—an impressive return for the county’s $100,000 cash incentive.

Armer concedes the Dead Ringer project may not live up to the pre-production spending hype, but insists it’s the first indication that his annual tax-funded pilgrimages to the French Riviera, $1280,000 worth so far, are a worthy investment.

“Well again, we’re going to have to wait for the reimbursement request,” Armer said. “As it is right now we’ve not spent any money but they’ve come and shot.”

Armer says if Adatia does fall short on his promised cash outlay, taxpayers won’t lose out.

“If for some reason they didn’t spend a million dollars, they don’t get the money.”

As for the overall economic impact—Armer tells us that’s based on five times whatever the filmmakers spend. The trouble is that taxpayers can’t gauge the multipliers or the return on investment for Armer’s annual trips to the Riviera, until the filmmakers turn in their receipts. So far, it adds up to zero.

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