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Local filmmaking no closed set 

In springtime, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of ... wide-angle lenses? At least three film shoots have been conducted on local soil in the past month, all of them independently organized. At press time, writer/director Jonathan Figg was overseeing final photography on his long-awaited feature, The Brothers `The Green Room, March 8`; Todd Thompson and Balinda De Santis of Stars North Films were wrapping a quickie short, The Chad Effect; and creative jack-of-all-trades Bob DeRosa was learning to breathe again after lensing his entire 90-minute comedy, Gifted, in a punishing 14 days. Not since the Zapruder film went to Fotomat has so much on-the-fly camerawork inspired such fervent hope.

The Stars North project was a one-week flurry of activity that took in location work at the Walt Disney World Swan hotel, AMC's Pleasure Island 24 multiplex and the Florida Mall. When I visited the mall Sunday morning, early-bird materialists were gawking at a mysterious, possibly Middle Eastern entourage that kept disappearing into the restrooms, followed every time by a director with a digital camera. Watching from the sidelines, co-producers Thompson and De Santis explained what we were witnessing: a fateful bathroom break in which a vacationing princess (Karen McCalmon, a regular with the Celebration Players) would be kidnapped by a band of redneck extortionists (led by Sak Comedy Lab performer Megan Whyte).

The Chad Effect, I was told, is a political satire that sets the aforementioned act of international ill will against the real-world backdrop of last November's election imbroglio. How the two intertwine, I won't say; every film is entitled to its secrets, even a zero-budget, volunteer effort whose running time is predicted as a mere nine or 10 minutes. That's eight or nine less than Stars North's 1999 debut short, The Paper Route, but Chad has the added virtue of being an original story. (De Santis devised its concept.)

Director Roshie Jones -- whose bread and butter is TV commercials -- kept his actors and extras on track Sunday while mall customers went about their window shopping just outside the frame. As a reward for the gratis use of the facility, Stars North had promised not to substantially hinder business. Apparently, no one considered the power cord that lay untaped across the floor an interference. Whatever time that precaution would have eaten up was instead devoted to numerous takes of McCalmon's Princess Elvia and her beret-wearing bodyguards (from the fictitious nation of Mulvany) striding toward the facilities.

The princess, I noticed, was several shades lighter of skin than any of her supposed countrymen. (Is this something that can be fixed in post?) But the illusion was complete for two young shoppers who wondered aloud if they were in the presence of real royalty. Those girls need to keep visiting the mall until they learn to spot costume jewelry at 20 paces.

German of an idea

Thompson and De Santis say that completing "The Chad Effect" should strengthen their developing contacts at Sony Pictures -- it's a videotaped resume entry, as it were. It's also a way to keep working while they continue to seek funding for Shooting Blanks, the feature-length comedy they've been trying to get off the ground for a year or so. They're now in talks with an Italian-German firm to pony up the money, which explains the fresh casting of "the Tom Cruise of Germany" in a lead role.

Could it be ... Hasselhoff? No worries. It's Til Schweiger, a Teutonic heartthrob whose credits include "SLC Punk!" and the forthcoming Stallone vehicle Driven. Schweiger is hardly box-office in the States, but Thompson and De Santis say that his European cachet was confirmed by their recent trip to Epcot, wherein the speaking of his name inspired adoring squeals from braces-and-bratwurst types.

What about Bob?

Bob DeRosa is becoming the Joe Mankiewicz of Stars North: He penned the script for "Shooting Blanks," and one of his playlets, King Pathetic Creep, was shot by Thompson as yet another short last December. (It's being edited simultaneously with "The Chad Effect.") But DeRosa was in the director's chair last month when his romantic comedy "Gifted" was committed to digital video. With the aid of co-producer Greg Piecora and director of photography Craig Richards, DeRosa captured 20 hours' worth of footage at more than 20 area locations.

I dropped in on the crew one afternoon at Sapphire, finding them tired but productive in the midst of a shoot that counted 7 a.m. calls among its dubious charms. Star Mandy Moss was in character as a clairvoyant who can see the romantic destinies of everyone but herself. There were plenty of minds to read: More than 40 performers were put through 100-plus costume changes during the two-week production.

"It turned out incredible," says DeRosa, who hopes to have "Gifted" ready for viewing by early summer. "I had no idea how many locations I had in the script. `But` the community was all too happy to help out."

Any ideas for a follow-up? "Six naked people in one room." And so to bed ...

Ride on

Last Thursday's Orlando Bike Week Custom Bike Show & Biker Party was a welcome addition to the downtown landscape. Packing Wall Street Plaza with leather and hogs put a serious spike in that corridor's Disney-fication; also, the sight of actual Budweiser being vended in Heritage Square allayed my fears that making the family-friendly Orange County Regional History Center the hub of this year's Orlando International Fringe Festival would spell doom for the event's cherished beer tent. Theater's fun and all, but get rid of that watering hole and we might as well be in church. ... The Sunday, March 18, gathering of the Playwrights' Round Table at Theatre Downtown will have a bittersweet tenor. On the program is a staged reading of The Art of Seduction, a French farce by Craig Alpaugh. An original member of the Round Table and the former manager of Tampa's Gorilla Theatre, Alpaugh passed away last November. ... Two key events on the University of Central Florida's schedule of "Broken Speech Poetry Slams" `The Green Room, March 1` have been moved off campus. The March 27 "Dead Poets Slam" and the April 10 "Tag-Team Slam" will be held at the Barnes & Noble on East Colonial Drive, which is co-sponsoring the bouts and awarding $30 gift certificates to the winners. B&N asks that participants make their recitations suitable for family ears. That's a tough break for whoever signed up to represent Jim Morrison at the "Dead Poets Slam." Mother ... I want to READ TO YOU!

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