Filming just wrapped for the feature-length Paradise, FL, a movie about a Cortez fisherman dealing with an addiction to pills and a troubled family life, just wrapped production this week. Now filmmakers are looking toward a hefty editing process and bringing the story to viewers.
“We’ve high hopes, as any independent film does,” said writer-producer Tony Stopperan. “Our aim is to hit the film festivals circuit and make a splash. With rich performances, excellent directing, production value realized through superior design and utilization of ‘functioning’ locations, and a strong story we should make waves, waves that belie the relative youthful team at the helm of this picture and the limited budget.”
The film in a sense is a spiritual follow-up to The Lucky 6, a locally-made movie that premiered at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival. The Lucky 6 was notable as a collaboration of forces from Ringling College of Art and Design and from the Asolo Conservatory to create a full-length film using local talent on a tight budget.
Paradise uses many of the same resources, but is built on a for-profit model. Like Lucky 6, the film was shot primarily in the summertime to avoid education commitments for various parties. Stopperan, an Asolo graduate and Ringling employee, was among the forces that brought Lucky 6 together but all parties along the way acknowledged it was a financial challenge to do such a collaboration between the educational institutions every summer.
Paradise relies more heavily on outside investors, many of whom were donors during the production of Lucky 6, and it is supported privately rather than relying on faculty from schools to provide oversight. Students themselves also have greater responsibility in the management of resources. The film also turned to the professional film world to fill key roles.
“The only way to realize that dream was to make sure that we cast the perfect ensemble that could create the world that was written on the page and to create an environment where the actors could produce their best work,” said Nick Morgulis, director. “Without a great script we wouldn’t have been able to team up with Adrienne Stern Casting that provided some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood right on the cusp of breaking out. We gathered the best and brightest young filmmakers from Ringling and gave them an opportunity to showcase their skills and talent to the world. Every actor on the film told me that this was the best set that they had ever worked on. That is a testament to the level of professionalism and talent our amazing crew brought to set everyday.”
Shaun Greenspan, co-founder of TriForce Pictures, got involved through Stopperan and helped in securing locations and help from area businesses. Exteriors for the movie were shot primarily in Cortez while the bulk of interior filming was done in three houses in Sarasota, Greenspan said. “The reason we exist is to help connect local businesses with the film community,” he said. “With this model, we can build up a film community here.”
Local producer Victor Young, a writer and producer for the feature film Stratosphere and other projects, saw promise in the project immediately and helped bring a sense of commercial appeal to the endeavor. “The initial script was very Art House and we discussed making the movie a little more mainstream with an up ending and he made it happen with a re-write that added hope to the story,” Young said. “Tony and I brought several relationships to the table with resources that helped reduce cost significantly as well. The package was strong overall based upon pledged capital, incentive rebates from Sarasota County Film Commission, a good story and a lot of talented people that committed to working on the film.”
The film of course gave strong voice to local actors, casting Asolo alums like Jon-Michael Miller, Gretchen Porro and Brian Nemiroff in lead and feature roles, while also finding parts for current Asolo students like Jordan Sobel, Josh James and Tom Harney. Established actors like Castille Landon (Among Ravens, Workers Comp) and Heather Robb (The House of the Devil, The Spring Standards) also contributed performances.
Most exciting to Greenspan, the work also drew some SAG actors to town. Through Adrienne Stern Casting, the film landed Kristopher Higgins (Devil’s Knot, In Time), Mary Mara (ER, Bound) and Lauren Sweetser (Winter’s Bone, Scraps), according to Stopperan. All of the actors are represented by Hollywood talent agencies, and filmmakers say their presence on this project lends significant credibility to the project. Paradise also has a page up on IMDB.
Of course, while principal photography is done a tremendous amount of work still lays ahead. Morgulis said footage has been regularly shipped up to Andrew Halley, a Ringling alum editing the film in Ohio. Now that shooting is done, Morgulis is planning to fly up and work directly with Halley toward creating a final cut. He also is still in talks with a variety of bands interested in contributing to the soundtrack of the film.
Morgulis is confident the film, like Lucky 6, will screen at next year’s Sarasota Film Festival, but he has set his sights higher than that. The deadline for submitting an entry for the Sundance Film Festival is Sept. 21. The film will also be submitted for consideration abroad at the Cannes Film Festival. And Morgulis is most optimistic about South By Southwest, the Texas fest that in recent year’s has become almost as important as Sundance in showcasing premieres. “South By Southwest in the past has shown some films that are very similar to ours,” he said.
The hope is that tried talent like Mara, and hopefully some positive negotiations with film distributors, will make the movie for attractive to festival programmers.