Call off the 'Search'

Last fall, a lot of us were brimming with hope for "In Search Of," the myth-probing documentary series that was being produced in Orlando for broadcast on the Fox and USA TV networks. Executive producer Gregg Hale and his partners at Haxan Films had used the runaway success of their "The Blair Witch Project" to the best possible advantage: In securing a local base of operations for their globe-trotting series, they were offering invaluable industry experience (and paid employment) to a vast number of area professionals. As the show kicked into high gear, one observer of the process said that Hale's efforts would have him declared "a saint."

A lot has happened since then. A new millennium began. The White House began subscribing to Guns & Ammo magazine. I quit smoking. And "In Search Of" slipped through Orlando's grasp.

After a prolonged period of confusion, the Haxans have relinquished control of the program. It's now in the hands of a California company named Kaos (shades of "Get Smart!"), which will edit the existing footage into a new format and add its own segments. The Kaos resume, it's said, includes something called "Extreme Hawaii." Uh-oh.

What went wrong? The alleged bugaboo was the irreconcilable difference between Hale and company's creative vision and the networks' desires. Some veterans of the production complain that the networks were vague in relaying what they did want to see. Hale won't go that far ("The cleaner the break, the better" is his policy), but he will say that the push-and-pull over the show continued until "I was no longer comfortable changing it."

Few members of the show's local production team have made the cross-country transition to the Kaos crew, none of them above-the-line workers. To help sort through the voluminous library of tape that has already been shot, the new producers have retained "a couple of people in post, I think," Hale says.

Will the "ISO" debacle make the TV and film industries think twice before planting future seeds in Central Florida soil? Not according to Hale: "I think Orlando has totally proven it can handle every aspect of doing a television show," he says. Still, other sources close to the production charge that our city didn't represent itself well during "ISO's" brief day in the sun, with vendors setting fees for their services that betrayed their view of the program as a long-awaited opportunity to cash in. Why produce a program here if it's no cheaper than working in L.A.?

Hale is currently mulling his next move. He won't have full-time involvement in "Heart of Love," the oddball comedy that's still planned as Haxan's big-screen follow-up to Blair Witch. ("I don't think we need all five of us working on every project," he explains.) Instead, Internet and game ventures share space in his head with script ideas -- mostly for feature films. But he's unwilling to offer details.

"I'm definitely a strong believer in the jinx," Hale says.

Shiver your timbers

Though a cold blanket of fog fell on the downtown streets last Friday, making the tops of buildings disappear into the sky like ghost schooners, the Orange County Regional History Center went ahead anyway with its two-day "Buccaneer Bash." A roving band of costumed historians and dinner-show players arrived to help promote the current Pirates! exhibit of sea-dog artifacts; taken together, they formed the biggest cast of pirates this side of a Napster board meeting. An audience of bused-in charter-school kids seemed to appreciate the outdoor program of songs and skits, but God knows what they made of the upstairs exhibit itself, which is hardly for the innocent. Its main placard announces a panorama of "real treasure, shipwrecks, sea fights and grisly deaths!" -- then makes good on that promise by showing us the rotted skeleton of Captain Kidd hanging in a cage. Remind me again why Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride once seemed to cry out for censure.

Keeping its oar in more serious waters, the History Center is securing a panel of civic leaders and residents to take part in a free "African-American Communities" forum Feb. 28. The session will focus on development issues facing the Parramore, Eatonville and west Winter Park areas -- where treasure is often overlooked and pirates don't always wear eye patches.

Speaking Fringe

When "Pirates!" closes in late April, the OCRHC's Heritage Square may be home to another gathering of costumed adventurers. Negotiations are under way for the square to become Fringe Central, the hotbed of ticket sales, outdoor performances and general mingling that is ground zero for the annual Orlando International Fringe Festival. The idea seems preferable to a return to the Church Street Market, which should be in the midst of renovations while the festival is in full swing. But if the lion's share of Fringe venues is again located west of Orange Avenue, the new HQ will be even less deserving of the title "Fringe Central" than its predecessor. "Fringe Tangential," anyone?

Heart attack

With Valentine's Day about to rear its ugly little head, you're likely looking for somewhere nice to steer your significant rudder. A strong option is Wednesday's Vegas Night II at the Back Booth, a welcome sequel to last December's charming evening of old-school gaming, music and wine tasting. This time, professional dealers will man the roulette, craps and blackjack tables; dulcet tones are again supplied by crazy crooner Captain Z (a.k.a. Marc Zouhar). Don't be turned off by the event's on-paper resemblance to a post-swing snoozer: "Vegas Night" is yet another opportunity for BB chieftains Ryan Marshall, Andrew Gurjian and Pat Fatica to further their rep as toastmasters par excellence.

You'll have to wait a day to take in the romantic comedy "Olive Juice's" debut at the Seminole Towne Center multiplex: Its Valentine's Day screening at the Florida Mall cinema (The Green Room, Dec. 28) is strictly a private affair. But the locally shot indie is a definite for a two-week run at Seminole beginning Thursday, Feb. 15. Today, Sanford; tomorrow, the world!


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