VIDEO: Young, Sutherlin Reach for Stratosphere

Erica Sutherlin and Victor Young
Erica Sutherlin and Victor Young

Remember when clouds were just puffy white things in the sky that kids could imagine as animals? In this age of iCloud hacks, WikiLeaks and NSA spying scandals, the cloud suddenly has a darker shade to it. And in a new film shot primarily in Sarasota County, the stormy potential inside turns up cinematic suspense. Stratosphere, a Media and Management Global production being released in 2015, hopes to capture the paranoia surrounding the cloud today, and the film just may provide the local film community with a significant silver lining.

Stratosphere, a Victor Young production directed by Erica Sutherlin, follows to story of Reid Crawford, a federal contractor who creates a database to capture information on every person in America but then becomes the target of a crime boss himself. The film, which was just celebrated with a wrap party in Tampa, now is in post-production. “We’re just starting to realize this vision,” Sutherlin said. “It’s coming together and I’m excited.”

The film, co-written by Young and Sutherlin, was originally envisioned as a tech-based story. Young said he and Sutherlin originally sat down to write a script as long ago as 2011 and saw a thriller coming together about a man trying to save his family, but it lacked stakes. “Honestly, I just didn’t feel it,” he said. “In my mind, the loss just wasn’t significant enough.” The script was set aside for months, and then the Stratosphere element came in, and that’s when the script felt right to Young.

While the filmmakers still want to hold much of the plot close, a trailer released last month hints at the key suspense. You see the character Crawford discussing gambling debts, and elsewhere talking about the Stratosphere project he is working on for the federal government. How those two plots converge gets hinted at as an underworld debt collector shows up and rhetorically asks “man, why you always think its about the money?”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/105680711″>stratosphere trailer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user17195597″>Innovative Films</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Of course, those in the film community with particular interest in on-screen diversity will notice something else in the trailer. Nearly every character included in the reel is portrayed by an actor of color. Sutherlin said that shows a commitment she and Young had from the start to make this a film that provided a platform for minority actors. “Not just black actors,” she stressed, “but minorities across the board.” And that opportunity is provided not through some Waiting to Exhale for the Best Man who Got Her Groove Back romantic comedy retread, but in an action flick and a story with a decidedly broad appeal. Sutherlin stressed she had no problem with the prevalence of emotional dramas showcasing minority leads, but she did not want to make “your typical black film.”

And locally, it also provided a significant production for people throughout the Tampa Bay area to find work. The film was somewhat of a coup for the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office as well. While it started shooting in Tampa, about 85 percent of footage was ultimately shot in Sarasota in large part to the greater ease in getting permits, Young said. Production largely moved here when Young realized the local film commission served as a one-stop shop for all filming needs while the infrastructure in Tampa Bay proved an eternal run-around. “The film commission was easy to work with,” he said. “That allowed us to get focused on creating the artistic property instead of just making us uncomfortable.”

So where does this paranoid thriller go from here? Young said he is already in talks with two potential distributors but is determined to put the film out for a small theatrical release regardless of what bites the movie gets. Even a small run in theaters will boost the demand for the film through DVD release of video-on-demand outlets. “The beautiful thing is the film was shot at a price point that is attractive to your Hulu or Netflix,” he said. And while this film is a feature, Young also sees potential for the same subject to go episodic in a limited series format. The basic Stratosphere concept, he said, simply has a lot of places narratively in which it can go. “It’s such a large premise and such a large story,” he said. “There is just so much you can do with Stratosphere that you can’t do it all in one feature film.”

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