Longboat Key was ready for its close-up.
Writer/director Michael Maren wrote the island into the script of his independent-film project, “A Short History of Decay.”
It was supposed to be the home of the condominium in which 30-something-year-old hipster/unemployed writer Nathan Fisher moves into to be near his parents after his girlfriend dumps him and his father has a stroke.
There, he and his retired parents would come to a new understanding of one another in what Maren described as “a middle-age coming of age story.”
When the Longboat Observer reported on the film, Maren was raising money and hoped to begin filming in September on Longboat Key and in Sarasota.
In an Aug. 15 blog post titled, “Coming soon,” Maren announced that the film was officially a go, with filming scheduled to begin Oct. 1.
“I couldn’t be happier with the direction this project is taking,” he wrote. “The production team is hard at work here in (emphasis added) … Wilmington, N.C.”
You read that right.
Wilmington — and nearby Wrightsville Beach, where filming is also taking place — aren’t Longboat Key, but they’ll will have to do.
Maren wrote in an email to the Longboat Observer that he wanted to shoot the film on Longboat Key and Sarasota but the cost differential between the locations was “huge.”
“It came down to the availability of crew and the ease of filming,” he wrote. “Everyone in Sarasota was great, and Jeanne (Cocoran, director of the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office) does an incredible job, but after crunching the numbers, we couldn’t justify the difference to the investors. I did reach out to a few people in the Sarasota area to try and raise some money, but there was no response.”
So, what do Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach have that Longboat Key and Sarasota don’t have?
Some of the differences boil down to differences between the states of North Carolina and Florida.
North Carolina had better tax incentives for filming than Florida, Maren said during a phone interview with the Longboat Observer, but that wasn’t the only advantage.
Wilmington is also home to a developed film industry.
“Iron Man 3” and the Jennifer Aniston flick “We’re the Millers” have been filming there throughout the summer.
The local film industry meant that many crew members can be recruited locally, eliminating costs of travel and putting them up in hotels.
It also meant that obtaining necessary permits and permissions were “a snap,” Maren said, whereas he encountered more bureaucracy locally.
Cocoran said that Longboat Key projects are frequently under discussion because of the area’s natural beauty.
But she said that regrouping and reconfiguring are common, especially for independent films.
According to Cocoran, the Key seemed like a perfect fit for a recent project unrelated to “A Short History of Decay.” But the project moved into another area because a key investor wanted it to take place in his community.
“You have to make the jigsaw pieces fit together in the puzzle,” she said.
Maren estimates that the cost differential between Longboat Key/Sarasota and Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington would easily amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars on a film budgeted for $1.3 million.
“Believe me, I’m heartbroken that we won’t be filming in Sarasota … ” Maren said. “But investing is a one-way street. Investors want the best film for the money.”
Maren got the idea for the film in early 2011, while visiting his parents, Bill and Bunny Maren, at the Beachplace unit they have visited for the past 10 years.
He began imagining what it would be like to move back in with his parents, and he started writing.
Maren said that the film will have less of a sense of place because of its North Carolina locale.
It will still be set in Florida. North Carolina has plenty of retirees, but it doesn’t have the recognition as a retirement capital that seems to belong to the Sunshine State.
Maren also hopes to send crews to the Sarasota area for second unit shots — i.e., the secondary shots that don’t involve the film’s action that might require a local film crew of just two or three people.
If those fit in well with the film, he might describe the location as “Sarasota.” Maybe he’ll even refer to Longboat by name, or simply call it “the Key.”
And although North Carolina may have economic incentives and ease, Maren admits that we have an advantage:
“It’s so much prettier over there than it is here,” he wrote in an email. “No comparison.”
Longboat Key vs. Wrightsville Beach
Total housing units: 8,814
Total population: 6,888
Total population, 65 and up: 4,638 (67.33%)
Recent honor: Second-best island travel spot in North America in the Condé Nast Traveler’s 2010 Readers’ Choice Awards
Past film credit: The 1981 teen comedy “Spring Fever” was shot at the now shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. Fame had its price: The cast and crew damaged the furniture inside multiple units.
Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
Total housing units: 2,751
Total population: 2,477
Total population, 65 and up: 351 (14.17%)
Recent honor: One of National Geographic’s 2012 World’s Top 20 Surf Towns
Past film credit: The Cape Cod house from which Julia Roberts’ character made a daring escape in the 1991 thriller, “Sleeping With the Enemy,” is actually on Wrightsville Beach.