Early Scenes of Punisher Movie Filmed on Honeymoon Isle

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.

"This is where the unfortunate event (Castle's family murdered) occurs," said a water-chuggin
DUNEDIN -- Death and despair are taking over the normally peaceful Honeymoon Island 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 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."
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St. Petersburg Times


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