Shooting in the dark

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a budding filmmaker who thanked me for not falling in line with "the local press and their candy-coated treatment of Orlando's supposedly ‘blossoming' film industry." He was mightily disillusioned with the status quo, all right; in a follow-up phone call, he referred to the City Beautiful as "a wasteland for big films" and decried our imported power players as a handful of has-beens "liv[ing] off of one success they had in L.A."

Bitter perhaps, but not entirely unfounded in a community that considers Gena Lee Nolin's makeup drawer a palpable sign of success. The favored antidote to that minimainstream mentality -- a thriving independent sector -- is at this point a distant goal. Though The Blair Witch Project motivated just about every Orlandoan and his pet ferret to pick up a digital camera, no distribution overlord is currently standing up in a board meeting and declaring, "There's gold in that tourist trap, Sherman! Go find me 10 more Mouse-jockey vanity projects, because that's our summer 2002 slate!"

Yet the dreaming continues. Another eager lad I know recently told me that his first project -- a short, no less -- would "blow Haxan out of the water." I laughed along with his apparent facetiousness -- until I noticed he wasn't laughing.

He may not have had reality on his speed-dial, but he had two other important qualities: passion and faith. And so do a lot of other people in this town who are going to go right on lensing their own movies, regardless. Yes, the law of averages dictates that most of those films will go nowhere. Not coincidentally, many of them will also stink to the high heavens. So why do I encourage everyone who's thinking of making a film to rush out and do just that? Because the alternative -- doing nothing -- is too close to being our official pastime already.

Here's where some long-in-the-works indie ventures stand at the moment.

Help a "Brother" out

Retitled The Bros. to avoid a clash with last spring's buppie dramedy, The Brothers [The Green Room, March 8], writer/director Jonathan Figg's parody of white hip-hoppery has national buzz going for it. MTV News ran a "first look" segment on the film last month, solely due to the casting of 'N Sync's Joey Fatone in a supporting role. (He plays a liquor-store clerk who gets robbed by the title miscreants.)

Figg is currently doing postproduction at Haxan's downtown offices, taking his time on the pop opus that's been more than two years in the making. He expects the waiting to end with an official premiere sometime in September; in the meantime, he's test-screened a rough cut for invited audiences at Universal Studios, accosting them with detailed survey materials meant to ascertain the film's demographic appeal. But no marketing plan is likely to dilute Figg's vision, which he says mandates "probably the highest word count of ‘motherfucker'" ever put on celluloid.

The film's soundtrack is set to feature acts both national (Self and Dynamite Hack are among those being courted) and local (Nature Kids, Swingerhead and DaFew are definites). Serious theatrical-distribution inquires have come in from Miramax, New Line and Columbia/ TriStar, an interest that Figg attributes to the movie's cameos by the likes of Fatone, Shaquille O'Neal, and rappers Ludacris and Vanilla Ice. (!) Those bit players, he says, are shown in an entirely different light from their public personas.

"People like Shaq are saying things on film you'd never expect them to say."

Like, "I love Orlando?"

"We couldn't get him to go that far," he laughs.

Fill in the "Blanks"

Shooting Blanks, the gangster comedy that has long been the brightest prospect for Stars North Films is still in the fund-raising stage, and its principals have tellingly begun to refer to it as an indefinite pursuit.

"It's just so hard," says co-producer Todd Thompson. "There are periods that are dry as the desert, and then there's four or five leads. The key is persistence."

The feature's ballyhooed creative team -- including director Daniel Hugh Kelly and stars Michael Rapaport, Jennifer Tilly and Seymour Cassel -- is "attached indefinitely" to the undertaking, Thompson claims. But their commitment won't mean a thing if the funding doesn't come through.

"When the money's there, the money's there," he muses. "And if it's not, maybe we'll move on. The next thing we do will be a feature, whether it's "Shooting Blanks" or something else."

A pair of short films have kept Thompson and partner Balinda DeSantis busy. Their kidnap comedy The Chad Effect [The Green Room, March 15], will soon have its public premiere. (August is the target month and Disney Institute the hoped-for venue.) Thompson hasn't decided if the program will also include a screening of "King Pathetic Creep," a quickie he shot last winter and just finished editing. Adapted from a playlet performed in February 2000 at Art's Sake Studios, "Creep" stars Phillip Nolen (from Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's Art) as a dumpy nonentity who enlists a magical genie (Ian Covell) to help him land the sexpot of his dreams (Sarah McElligott).

Essay question: Compare and contrast this scenario to the life of Carlo Ponti. You have 30 minutes.

If Thompson and DeSantis run out of fresh material, they can just show up July 20 at Art's Sake. That's when performances begin of the latest entry in the Play de Luna series, the hotbed of original theater that birthed "Creep." This edition features four one-acts written by Art's Sake students (including alumnus Bob DeRosa, who penned both "Creep" and "Shooting Blanks"). I'd suggest that Play de Luna adopt "Where Tomorrow's Shorts Come From" as its official slogan, but only if Fruit of the Loom's lawyers have no objection.

Dogged pursuit

Approaching two years' worth of advance P.R. -- and likewise strapped for funding -- Paul Jordan's "Mediahoundz" has been the subject of some recent shake-ups. Costar Nikki Knight took a sabbatical from her on-air duties at WXXL-FM (106.7) and headed off to Europe, necessitating her withdrawal from the movie's cast. She was quickly replaced, but Jordan has mounted an extensive rewrite of his broadcasting-biz exposé anyway. When filming finally begins, he'll be eligible for a grant that would entitle him to free postproduction at a "film camp" in Oregon. (Hey, it's better than a fish camp in Wekiva.)

Like Thompson and DeSantis, Jordan served a volunteer stint at the recent Florida Film Festival that doubled as a networking opportunity. And he claims to be approaching 10,000 hits on the film's website. His last public mailing contained this shameless appeal: "Hopefully, our friend Steve Schneider at the Orlando Weekly will mention our website in a future column." Consider it done; now where does this Mouse-jockey mouthpiece go for his candy coating?

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