George Romero, son of ‘Living Dead’ creator, wants to build a Tampa film studio

Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times
·3 min read

TAMPA — The late George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead zombie series is credited with mainstreaming the horror movie genre.

His son, George C. Romero, now wants to popularize the Tampa Bay area as a production hub for such films.

“We want to be at the ground level of helping to create an industry that creates jobs,” said Romero, a Kentucky resident with 19 producer and 14 director credits on his IMDB resume.

Romero is part of a team of filmmakers under the company Briefcase Pictures that wants to build a movie studio in the Tampa area via a public-private partnership with Hillsborough County.

A study funded last year by the Hillsborough County film commission office said the area needs a “large-scale” film studio to grow the industry.

The county is now considering bringing one here by partnering in some way with a production company.

The county has yet to issue the request for proposal but could so do this month.

Meanwhile, Briefcase Pictures is seeking to raise $30 million through private investors to fund brick and mortar production facilities in Tampa and Lexington, Kentucky, plus an initial slate of five films that could begin shooting later this year.

They declined to elaborate on how much of the $30 million would be earmarked for each studio and film but said the movies would primarily be horror and thrillers with seven-figure budgets.

“A $1 million film could create 100 to 150 jobs for a short period of time,” Romero said.

Briefcase Pictures also includes Tampa businessman Todd Oifer, New York-based Diga Studio – founded by MTV’s former president of programming Tony DiSanto – and Massachusetts-based Heavy Metal magazine, which since the 1970s has published comics, graphic novels and short stories focused on the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres.

Kentucky is a preferred location for a studio because that is where Romero has established The Veterans’ Compound, a non-profit that trains military veterans for careers in the production industry.

The Tampa area is the other because it is emerging as a hub for independent film, Oifer said. “There is a lot going on here. There is a big push for creating a large studio presence in the Tampa Bay area and there is a really big push to bring a lot of the film industry this way.”

Briefcase Pictures is the second company to publicly state they intend to respond to the county’s search for public-private partnership. The other is Semkhor Productions that previously built the 36,000 square foot Ringling College Studio Labs in Sarasota through a partnership with Ringling College.

The ideal studio, says the county study, would be around 60,000 square feet and close enough to Tampa International Airport to provide “convenient access for travel, but not so close that the sound of the airport inhibits production.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan previously said he wants the studio to have a film school or educational component, perhaps in a partnership with Hillsborough Community College, the University of South Florida or the University of Tampa.

He also said the 70-acre county owned “MOSI location is the best from a synergy standpoint and a location standpoint.” The County Commission has set aside $2 million from the county’s BP Oil Spill Settlement funds for a possible studio project there.

“We’re open to all kinds of discussions about partnerships,” Romero said. “We’re not looking to come in and be like so many other people who say they are here to make movies but then want everyone to get out of their way. We’re looking to be as collaborative as we can.”