JB Whirtley and the Long Road to ‘Madness’

“I have been a prisoner for about three years,” said filmmaker JB Whirtley, the writer-director speaking from the sound booth where he’s made his home for the past couple weeks, dragging an inflatable mattress into the space and setting up camp as he puts the finishing touches on his long-awaited short film Bullet of Madness, to be screened for the first time August 19 at the ManaSota Films monthly meet-up in Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, where local filmmakers get a spot on the big screen to show their work. Now the nerves set in. “It was hard to make the movie, but it’s probably going to be even harder to watch it,” said Whirtley, tired but in good cheer, “especially with a bunch of strangers.”

A dark comedy starring an unhinged plastic surgeon (played by ManaSota Films founder Mark Troy) tearing through the local criminal element in a mad quest for revenge, Bullet of Madness began in 2013 with an idea, an elaborate trailer and a trip to Canada to meet with Magnet Releasing, a studio haven for the offbeat and bizarre, especially within the world of genre filmmaking. Impressed, Magnet sent Whirtley home to make his short film and meet again after with possible talk of turning Bullet into a feature-length film. Now, three years later, Whirtley’s film clocks in at a cool twenty minutes of slick and demented action, but not without a few bumps in the road, such as switching crews and uprooting the production from Orlando to Bradenton.

“Me and the crew just did not jive,” said Whirtley, regarding the Orlando crew with a stylistic update of the classic ‘creative differences.’ “They were trying to make a different film than I was.” Shifting his focus to Bradenton, Whirtley enlisted the help of local filmmakers such as Trishul Thejasvi, founder of Orensis Films, producer and cinematographer for Bullet, and now a regular collaborator, and John O’Keefe, an actor who stepped into a co-producer role to keep the film moving as crews were assembled and sets rebuilt. On top of that, Whirtley met the demands of his regular job as assistant director for commercial work. “Any time I had a gig, I had to stop to make money,” said Whirtley. “And then when I had money, I had to reopen the production again and start shooting.” Putting the film together in bits and pieces, time ran long. “We shot whatever we could over the course of two years,” said Whirtley.

Film in hand, Whirtley remains in contact with Magnet, where he says relations are “cordial, but I still have other options on the table.” That being said, he doesn’t want to overstate his position. Magnet knows he has something, he says, but they haven’t seen the finished product and anything could happen. “It’s business,” he said. “Nothing’s carved in stone until there’s a contract.”

But even if Magnet passes and Hollywood doesn’t come calling just yet, Whirtley hopes to see the film have an impact on the local scene, inspiring other artists to try more than the usual dramas, more often than not touching on drug addiction and other social ills, which he typically finds unsatisfying and overreaching in their attempts at depth. “Especially for first-time filmmakers,” he said. “I want to push genre filmmaking.” Genre films, the biggest being horror but including science fiction and fantasy, are usually relegated to schlock, but Whirtley sees opportunity in a cinematic tradition more focused on audience enjoyment and engagement than any pretense of high art, an opportunity to invigorate the local film community. “Everyone has their own way of making film and this is just my opinion,” said Whirtley, “but there needs to be more genre films treated with more respect. Filmmakers should try to please themselves and please audiences at the same time.”

Bullet of Madness screens tonight at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas at the ManaSota Films meet-up, which begins at 8:15pm. Also screening will be At a Glance, a short film from Rory Smith about coffee shop conflict; Stephanie Davis and Cindy Krapfel’s Speed Dating; Heading Nowhere, a lengthier and seemingly absurdist short film from Keenan O’Reilly and more. Admission is free, but guests are encouraged to give back to the theater that hosts the community free of charge for the event by treating themselves at the concession stand.

Michael Eisner Headlining Ringling Lecture Series in Sarasota

Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney and former president of Paramount Studios, will speak to Sarasota audiences next year as part of the 2016 Ringling College Town Hall Lecture Series. 

“With his entertainment, business and technology acumen, we felt Michael Eisner was a natural fit,” said Chris Cremer, Town Hall Lecture Series 2016 chairman. “In addition, his insights into the future needs of the entertainment industry are an inspired fit with the mission and goals of the Ringling College of Art and Design and their students.” 

Eisner will speak at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Jan. 19. While passes for next year’s lecture series have already sold out, a limited number of tickets will be distributed after Jan. 11. The series is sponsored by the Ringling College Library Association.

Continue reading Michael Eisner Headlining Ringling Lecture Series in Sarasota

Behind The Blair Witch Project with Director Dan Myrick

Growing up on Longboat Key wouldn’t inspire a dark side in many, but for Dan Myrick, director of The Blair Witch Project, a childhood on the Suncoast led to a life of Hollywood horror. Myrick was among the most anticipated guests of this year’s inaugural Skyway Film Festival and was welcome to all questions of his Sarasota heritage, current projects and success. In a room of eager fans and inspired filmmakers, Myrick described his love for investigative mysteries and mockumentary style as a child. The creek in his backyard served as a setting for a Bigfoot hoax where he attempted to fool all of his friends. He described a certain mischief that fostered his creative genius for what became the The Blair Witch Project. Continue reading Behind The Blair Witch Project with Director Dan Myrick

ManaSota Films Brings San Diego to Lakewood Ranch

A series of short films showcasing some of SoCal’s up-and-coming talents will soon be screened for cinephiles in Southwest Florida. ManaSota Films on Wednesday, June 17, will host its San Diego Special at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas.

While ManaSota get-togethers most often offer the chance to see locally-produced films, organizers say there is value to seeing how other filmmaking communities come together to execute the movie-making process. “Besides the entertainment, it’s beneficial for our film community to be exposed to their peers’ work from other parts of the country,” said Mark Troy, ManaSota Films founder. Continue reading ManaSota Films Brings San Diego to Lakewood Ranch

Sweetin, Chatwin Among Skyway Guests at Inaugural Fest

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Jodie Sweetin with Thomas Ian Nicholas on the set of Walt Before Mickey.

When the Skyway Film Festival opens tonight, Jodie Sweetin (Full House) will be among the talents walking the red carpet, and other actors including Justin Chatwin (War of the Worlds, pictured above) are also expected to make appearances at the inaugural festival in Bradenton. And these appearances are in addition to already announced events featuring The Blair Witch Project director Dan Myrick and Andre Holland (Selma). Check out the festival website for a schedule of events. For a list of expected talent, see below the fold:

Continue reading Sweetin, Chatwin Among Skyway Guests at Inaugural Fest

Your peek behind the scenes of Sarasota, Florida's growing film industry

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