TAMPA, Fla. (Mar. 10, 2017) The cameras keep rolling for Gulf Atlantic Films (GAF) as they celebrate 20 years in business. Established in 1997, the independent production company aims to keep Tampa Bay in the spotlight as a filming location.
Headquartered in Tampa’s Channelside Arts District, GAF is partnered and housed with the marketing veterans at HCP Associates, a 31-year-old marketing consulting firm. Managing partners, Eric Polins and Sean Coniglio co-founded GAF and serve as executive producers.
Growing up, Coniglio worked on various print, film and television entertainment productions in front of the camera and behind the scenes while in high school and college. After moving to California to pursue his career, he ultimately decided the entertainment industry wasn’t the right path and focused on a career in marketing. For Polins, a former broadcast journalist, it was an easy transition to move behind the camera; his appetite for creativity, writing and art fueled his interest for filmmaking.
Together, their endless passion for film led them to create independent films, feature films, documentaries, commercials and public service announcements.
GAF’s relationships in the film industry range from some of the world’s best cinematographers to numerous Hollywood actors. In 2006, GAF produced one of their first feature films “Descansos,” (Spanish word meaning ‘Place of Rest’) starring Charles Durning and Gary Busey. “Descansos” tells the story of a man who tears down roadside memorials constructed for the victims of fatal car accidents.
“Little did I know that would be a three-year experience full of ups and downs and many valuable lessons. That was my first-time executive producing and realizing I was in charge of not only fundraising, but the direction as well; that was an experience to say the least,” Polins said.
Coniglio and Polins pitched “Descansos” to both HBO and Tribeca Films but an acquisition did not occur. After a trip to the 2006 American Film Market in Los Angeles, a distributor representative did sign the film and it was debuted internationally at The European Film Market (EFM) in Germany. Unfortunately, it did not produce enough interest to garner any large distribution deals.
“Around the same time of our film, The Blair Witch Project had just hit and we had a number of friends in Tampa Bay that knew the filmmakers from central Florida. It gave us great hope we could do the same. However, that was also a wake-up call and we quickly understood the term festival anomaly,” Polins said.
From that experience, Polins wanted to further develop his writing and directing skills. In 2010, he placed second in the industry ad giant Ogilvy’s “World’s Greatest Sales Person” competition. He was the only American finalist out of 18 competing countries. In 2011 and 2012, he wrote and directed two commercials both of which were named national finalists in the American Airlines “Flights, Camera, Action,” film contests.
GAF was also a contestant for their commercial in the last installment of the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl 50 Contest.” Even though it didn’t make the final cut, the spot was awarded a Bronze Telly for excellence in branded content and entertainment within the promotional video category.
As Polins accrued creative notoriety, Coniglio helped shape the Tampa film industry into what it is today. In 2005, a group of professionals from business, finance, film production, media and entertainment formed a committee under the Tampa Bay Film Commission. It led to the creation of the non-profit organization, the Tampa Film Institute. Over the years, the film commission dwindled and funding was cut. Realizing the importance of the economic impact, Coniglio met with Tampa Bay & Co., now known as Visit Tampa Bay, to reignite the film commission.
“In those meetings, I shared the challenges the film industry faced at that time and proposed a study to be conducted to understand the needs of our market and inbound production companies,” Coniglio said. “It was presented to City of Tampa and Hillsborough County officials and they both agreed to support a new organization to assist the industry.”
Coniglio headed the search committee process with local leaders in 2013. After a three-month search, Dale Gordon was selected as the new Film Commissioner. Together, she and Coniglio formed the Film Commission Advisory Board to coordinate with the community who can actively help grow the digital entertainment industry in Tampa and Hillsborough County. From this, the Tampa Hillsborough Film & Digital Media Commission was created.
Coniglio was also one of the founders of Tampa’s signature Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF). Now in its 11th year, the festival has brought in several Hollywood stars, directors, producers and filmmakers. Coincidently, Polins served on the GIFF Board of Directors for five years, is a past President and serves on the advisory board to this day.
GAF debuted one of their documentaries at GIFF 2017 this year. GAF produced a documentary titled, “The Courthouse Dog.” The film tells the story of the first courthouse facility dog staffed in Florida. The dog named Tibet, provides emotional support for the abused, neglected and abandoned children who are facing the dependency court system. Most of the production took place at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa and was recently selected as a winner for the 38th Annual Telly Awards.
From 1997 to now, GAF’s mission continues to put Tampa under the lens and find new ways to share the endless opportunities and exceptional talent the Bay Area has to offer.
“We continue to use talented Tampa Bay area industry professionals for client commercials, viral videos and anything requiring trending digital tactics to enhance client-based marketing efforts,” said Polins. “It’s been a great ride creating something that doesn’t feel like work, and we love doing it right here in Tampa Bay!”