ST. PETERSBURG — Life’s Rewards is neither a television series nor a marketing video.
It’s a hybrid of the two that Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater is hailing as “a brand-new genre of television marketing” by a bed tax-funded tourism organization. “Its entertainment-first content aims to build destination engagement with viewers and spark a desire to travel,” a news release said.
Steve Hayes, CEO of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, told the Tampa Bay Times that “it’s like an informercial, but sexier. It will ignite someone’s passion to visit us. The story is meant to showcase our area.”
Tampa Bay area residents can get a first look at the series at the Sunscreen Film Festival at 7:10 p.m. May 1 at St. Petersburg’s Sundial AMC Theaters. The pandemic will restrict this year’s festival to 50 percent capacity.
Beginning May 10, Life’s Rewards will stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, GoUSA TV and Places.Travel.
The eight 10-15 minute episodes, filmed in January and February and jointly funded by Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater and Visit Florida, follow the exploits of a high-profile wealth manager’s privileged son. He loses everything and is forced to live off the only two assets he has left — his charisma and a cache of hotel points that allow him to stay for six months at the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach.
“The character is stranded at the Don CeSar,” Pinellas film commissioner Tony Armer said, adding with a laugh, “and what a great place to be stranded. The story is built in a way that he is looking for things to do and places to go. That’s how we promote the area. It showcases downtown St. Pete, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, the beaches, all of Pinellas. We really spread the love.”
Dialogue further sells reasons for visiting each place, Armer said.
In the trailer, a hotel employee informs the lead character about what there is to do “away from the Don.”
“Do you like art? Hiking? Museums?” he says as as tourist destinations like the Salvador Dalí Museum appear on screen.
Armer said that Visit Florida promoted the idea for Life’s Rewards to counties throughout the state about a year ago. “We jumped on it full force,” he said, because it was similar to an idea he’d had for years.
According to a 2013 Visit Florida survey, 22 percent of domestic tourists in Florida said something they saw on film or television contributed to their decision to visit the state.
Hayes said that Visit Florida kicked in $275,000 and the Pinellas County Commission approved of another $275,000 for the series budget.
In January, the county commission also approved a $500,000 “enhanced incentive” to produce the feature film A Taste of Love, which Armer describes as a 90-minute Hallmark Channel-like romance movie that doubles as a tourism commercial. Production might start this summer, he said.
Life’s Rewards was produced by Sarasota-based Odyssey the Studio at Miles Partnership, which was chosen by Visit Florida.
The movie will be produced by Tampa’s Digital Caviar, chosen by Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. Digital Caviar will fund the movie’s $500,000 to $800,000 estimated budget and receive the enhanced incentive when the film finds a viewing outlet.
For both the series and the movie, Pinellas’ film commission and tourism organization had say over the script.
“We were involved in every single aspect of the series script,” Armer said. “We gave notes on music, graphics, you name it. Our goal is to show what a great place we are to visit.”