'Punisher' Movie All Wrapped Up

On Tuesday night, cast and crew of ``The Punisher'' finished their outdoor work on the Kennedy Boulevard bridge near Channelside Drive. On Wednesday, they were to shoot their final interior scenes.
TAMPA - The lights are off, the cameras packed, the action over.

On Tuesday night, cast and crew of ``The Punisher'' finished their outdoor work on the Kennedy Boulevard bridge near Channelside Drive. On Wednesday, they were to shoot their final interior scenes.

After three months in the Tampa area and 52 days of filming, Hollywood visitors and local hosts believe the experience bodes well for the region's future film business.

``Everything was perfect,'' gushed producer Gale Anne Hurd as her last day in town approached. ``I would love to come back here. It has been such a pleasure. The local crews were terrific. And the city council, the mayor, the film commissioner and the convention bureau have all been incredibly helpful.

``Most important,'' she added, ``they all delivered what they promised. As producers, we are often lured to cities but find the terrific talk has no backup.''

For example, says film commissioner Edie Emerald of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, ``They specifically requested one contact for the police department. They wanted one person to take care of street closings and officers for security.'' Some cities make film companies deal with different offices for permits and personnel issues.

``And they wanted the hotel rates we promised to be locked in,'' Emerald said. ``The Marriott Waterside held them for a year. The best suites, too. The film people needed a theater nearby to watch dailies each night, and the Channelside Cinema provided that. The necessary day-to-day stuff is important.''

$12 Million Infusion

The high-profile Hollywood project, made entirely in the Tampa area, is an action-adventure based on a Marvel Comic hero played by Thomas Jane. John Travolta portrays the Punisher's antagonist Howard Saint, adding star power to director/co-writer Jonathan Hensleigh's tale of betrayal and revenge. The film is scheduled for release in April.

The production poured about $12 million into the local economy.

``That's not counting what we spent as individuals,'' Hurd said. ``Things like food, clothes, dry cleaning and visiting local attractions. The $12 million is for hard costs'' such as salaries, hotel rooms and rentals of equipment and space.

The payoffs are already apparent, Emerald said. ``We are getting an amazing number of referrals from Los Angeles,'' she explained. ``This time last year, I had one serious inquiry from a major studio about filming here. Now I have 11, not counting independents.''

And there's no question ``The Punisher'' is a factor, she added. ``We always ask how they heard about us, and they've been saying it was from `The Punisher' people.''

``The city of Tampa is going to look terrific,'' Hurd assured. ``It has everything. The downtown has been underused, I feel. We're going to make it look vibrant, exciting and metropolitan. And we've shot all over the area, from Fort DeSoto beach to different wharf and pier areas. Matt Geiger's house,'' she says, referring to the former NBA player's Pinellas County mansion, ``is impressive by any standard in the world. And yesterday, we shot the Skyway bridge at dawn. I haven't seen the footage yet, but the lab says it is spectacular.''

Hurd wouldn't say where that shot appears, but ``it has a prominent place in the film.''

``Tampa has delivered more than we expected,'' she said, ``and we hope we have not worn out our welcome.''

Drawbridges A Draw

Not a chance, says Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

``It has been an `A' experience as far as I'm concerned,'' Iorio said Wednesday. ``Everything went smoothly. We had no public complaints about closures or inconveniences. They all said this is the most warm, friendly and gracious city they've ever worked in. Of course, we already know that, but they've made films all over.''

The experience was even more memorable for local people who got to work on the movie. Singer J.C. Loader, who appears in a nightclub scene, says it was like being part of ``a well-oiled machine. It was superprofessional, yet very friendly. Everyone was really nice.''

Loader has another insight about why Tampa got the ``Punisher'' gig. ``I asked Jonathan Hensleigh once why he picked Tampa. ... One funny thing he said was, `Do you know how many drawbridges Tampa has? It's perfect for an action movie.' ''

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The Tampa Tribune