Outside of an unassuming house on the North Trail, cars begin to line the street. One after another, they park along the curb and the passengers make their way inside — college students, men in suits and everyone in between soon fill the living room to capacity. The group is comprised of filmmakers, producers and crew for the upcoming feature film, "Paradise, Fl," and their excitement is clear as they go over some last-minute details before the first day of filming.
The film revolves around an oyster fisherman, named Tommy, who moves in with his friend, whose wife attempted suicide, to help take care of their two children. As he settles into his new role, he struggles with demons from his past, as well as current addictions, and he discovers a family he never knew he needed. For executive producer and screenwriter Tony Stopperan, the story hits close to home.
"The bones of the story are basically one that I lived," he says. "I walked into a whole world of drama that wasn't mine. I wanted to find a way to take that story from Washington and tell it here."
In 2011, while still an FSU/Asolo Conservatory student, Stopperan read the story as a short monologue, and it caught the attention of director Nick Morgulis.
"That story really stuck with me," says Morgulis. "I couldn't stop thinking about it. I told him, 'That needs to be a movie, and I need to direct it.'"
So, over the last few years, the two worked together to solidify a script, recruit additional crew and producers and raise funding to begin production. Now, with all the pieces finally in place, the project is officially underway. Filming began Tuesday, July 8, and the film is being produced by Tony Stopperan, Victor Young, May Todd and Shaun Greenspan and Edward Fagan, of TriForce Pictures.
For Stopperan and the rest of the crew, the excitement encompasses more than the film itself — it's about the potential opportunity to expand the industry in Sarasota. Stopperan was also the executive producer of "The Lucky 6," which released earlier this year, but for many of the people involved, it's their first feature film. The crew features a mix of Ringling and FSU/Asolo Conservatory students and graduates, established industry professionals and other young, local professionals.
"So many of our talented local kids leave as soon as they graduate to go to a bigger city," says Shaun Greenspan. "If they had a reason to stay — if there was a community here that could utilize their talents — they'd stay. We want to help create that."
Most important in creating that community, says Stopperan, is fostering a marketable industry in Sarasota. "Paradise, Fl" will operate on a traditional for-profit business model, and although the actor's names are not yet able to be announced, he says it will feature reputable SAG actors, which will bring some additional clout and industry credibility to the project.
"This seemed like the logical next step to continue impacting the local filmmaking landscape," says Stopperan. "Which is why I was so steadfast in making another film after "The Lucky 6." Content is king, and there's always a market for new and original material. If we can cultivate that here, I think we can really change what Sarasota looks like."