Steve Tatone’s voice is hoarse.
Blame it on the fact that it’s 7 a.m., and Tatone spent 18 hours of the previous day in a Los Angeles studio mixing his film, “Beautiful Noise,” in Dolby Surround Sound.
And what beautiful noise it was. It gave the 55-year-old writer/director goose bumps. Suddenly, his little independent film seemed bigger. Louder. More polished. Even his unknown cast — far less famous than the celebrities passing through L.A.’s coffee shops in oversized sunglasses — sounded like superstars.
Suddenly the distance between Sarasota and Hollywood seemed shorter. Tatone had bridged it with one, 93-minute musical drama about an aging pop star living in the Myakka woods, a story he conceived more than two years ago while pacing the shores of Siesta Key Beach.
“I tell ya,” Tatone says. “Every time I get away from the film and then watch it again, I get choked up. It’s like I’m seeing it for the first time.”
In less than 48 hours, the filmmaker will board a red-eye flight back to Sarasota, where he’s lived since 1992 with his wife, Linda, a longtime employee at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, to embark on a local media blitz to drum up interest in “Beautiful Noise.”
Not that he needs to scramble.
Filmed last fall entirely in Sarasota and Myakka City, the movie, produced by Tatone’s Midnight Pass Productions, secured a record six screenings at the Sarasota Film Festival — more than any other film selection in SFF’s 13-year history.
The April 9 premiere sold out before it even went on sale.
Tatone’s excitement is palpable even over a long-distance phone call. Like a parent whose child has just graduated from college, the filmmaker’s voice is ignited with delight. The fruit of his labor has been tossed into the world, and it’s ripe with opportunity.
“Everybody is looking for the next ‘Once,’ and we may have it here,” Tatone says, referencing the sweetly understated Irish musical drama that received an Academy Award nomination in 2007 for “Best Original Song.” “As soon as we wrapped principal photography, I immediately wrote a prequel and a sequel to the movie. I knew we had lighting in a bottle.”
Tatone loves that catchphrase: lighting in a bottle. He uses it three times in one hour with the kind of earnest gusto that can’t be faked.
“On the surface, it’s the kind of movie that we’ve all seen before in some variation or another,” Tatone says. “But when things start happening between the characters, when the music kicks in and the movie starts to build, it just reaches a completely different level.”
The story follows Dez, a free-spirited, 20-something singer on a mission to re-record the unreleased album of a former rock icon living an embittered and reclusive life in Myakka City.
Starring Bradenton native Danielle White and veteran Neil Diamond performer Jay White, “Beautiful Noise” has a “Crazy Heart” feel — minus the country swagger.
The title of the movie was directly plucked from the cover of Diamond’s 1976 album, and although Tatone, a self-described “Diamond head,” had originally intended to build his script around the singer’s more obscure tracks, he couldn’t afford to purchase Diamond’s material.
So, instead he asked his cast to provide songs. The resulting soundtrack, says Tatone, “will blow you away.”
Much of the songs were penned by its breakout star, Nashville singer/songwriter Kimber Cleveland, whom Tatone compares to Sheryl Crow.
With the exception of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” which Tatone was stunned to have obtained permission to use, all of “Beautiful Noise’s” music is original.
“Eighty percent of the movie is music, and not one song in there is for fluff,” Tatone says. “Every lyric and every melody was carefully chosen to propel the plot. If people don’t pay attention to the lyrics, they’ll miss the heart of the story.”
Tatone was so happy with the soundtrack, he decided to create a concert tour (“Beautiful Noise Live!”) featuring songs from the movie and starring the film’s cast.
White will headline the first stop on the tour Friday at the Riverview Performing Arts Center.
“All of this promotion is designed for one thing: to acquire distribution,” Tatone says. “Whether a studio gets involved or whether we choose to release it ourselves.”
So, how exactly did a guy who spent the first half of his career working for his family’s chain of car dealerships in Dayton, Ohio, and the second half of his career working as a concert promoter in Florida, write, direct and produce a musical film with unknown actors, singing unknown songs on a shoestring budget?
By not waiting for bountiful funding, perfect timing and Hollywood’s blessing.
“Beautiful Noise” is not his first script.
Five years ago, he wrote a hockey drama about the rise and fall of a Boston Bruins player in the 1970s. The story, which was recently picked up by a major film studio, will go into pre-production this summer in Boston.
As thrilled as Tatone is to see the movie finally gain momentum, (it reportedly has a $25 million price tag and an A-list cast), the experience taught him that it takes time and patience to see a project through what he calls “the Hollywood gristmill.”
“I’m not some kid fresh out of film school,” Tatone says. “I didn’t care if I could raise $1 million or 10 cents. I’m a baby boomer, with a certain level of expertise, who happens to love movies. I think that’s what is making me successful. I don’t care what people have to say about how I’m supposed to do things. That, and I just wrote what was in my heart.”
IF YOU GO
“Beautiful Noise” premieres at 7 and 9:15 p.m. April 9, at the Sarasota Film Festival. Tickets are still available for the April 11, April 12, April 16 and April 17 shows at Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20, in downtown Sarasota. Tickets are available at the Hollywood 20 box office and online at www.sarasotafilmfestival.com. For more information, call 366-6200.
You can catch the stars of “Beautiful Noise” in concert at 8 p.m. Friday, April 1, at the Riverview Performing Arts Center. For tickets, call 387-6360 or visit beautifulnoisethemovie.com.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]
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Tatone takes us to the place where his scripts are born: Siesta Key Beach.