As part of our Sarasota Film Festival coverage, we wanted to highlight films with local ties, whether the connection was a film's director, producers, actors or setting. Feature film "Paradise, Fl" has all of the above.
Executive producer, screenwriter and FSU/Asolo Conservatory graduate Tony Stopperan teamed up with director and Ringling alum Nick Morgulis and co-producers Victor Young, May Todd and Shaun Greenspan and Edward Fagan, of TriForce Pictures, to bring to life Stopperan's story of two oyster fisherman struggling with addiction, parenthood and making ends meet.
Filmed last summer in Sarasota with six FSU/Asolo Conservatory-trained actors and a crew of 17 Ringling College students and recent graduates, the filmed will enjoy its premiere at 4 p.m. tomorrow at the Sarasota Opera House.
We spoke with director Nick Morgulis about the film, his upcoming projects and the future of Sarasota's film industry.
How does it feel to premiere your film in a city you called home for at least four years?
It feels great to be premiering in the place where this all came together. We had so much community support that made this film possible, and it's great to show off all the hard work we put into this. I'm really proud of this movie. Every step of the way, I was really happy with the experience. We're really happy to be playing at the Sarasota Opera House and that the Sarasota Film Festival is giving us the opportunity to show the movie.
Did you ever expect to be premiering one of your films at the Sarasota Film Festival?
When I was a student at Ringling, I thought it would be awesome to be able to show a movie at the Sarasota Film Festival. It's a prestigious festival, and I'm really happy they got the movie and we're able to show it.
What makes Sarasota a good place to film a movie?
Before I even went to Ringling, I was really amazed with the beautiful scenery and great places to shoot for films. You can't get this if you're shooting somewhere else; it's really unique and beautiful.
I shot a lot of projects here in film school, so I was able to scout the area and know what to look for with this movie. We filmed all over Sarasota, but we shot a lot in Cortez, which is a really kind of preserved small fishing village.
People talk a lot about the struggles of making movies in a smaller town, like Sarasota. What was your approach?
I think from my perspective, I just want to make movies. We have a giant talent pool here, between the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and the students at Ringling, not to mention all the other creative people who live here. The problem a lot of people see is that a lot of these talented people are going to leave and make movies somewhere else.
If we want to make movies in Sarasota, we just have to start doing it. If you're waiting for funding to just happen, or for every scenario to be perfect, it's not going to be the answer. You just have to go out and do it until we can prove that it works.
When a big project comes in from outside, that's good for the economy in the short term, but it's not creating a community or anything sustainable; it's just using Sarasota as a setting. We can jumpstart that community by having a few films come out of here.
What kind of example do you think "Paradise, Fl" can set for other local filmmakers?
I think there are a lot of great filmmakers in the area, and I was lucky enough to team up with a few great producers and show off my vision as a director and Tony Stopperan's talents as a writer and producer, as well as Brandon D. Hyde as a cinematographer. I think we showed that our crew and actors can make a high-quality product with a great story using a cast and crew all available here in Sarasota. You just have to go out and do it.
How has this film furthered your career, and what does it mean for the future of Sarasota's filmmaking industry?
Tony Stopperan and House of John Productions and Victor Young with Media Management Global have started a feature film venture capital fund of $2 million, slated for four projects, and hopefully some of those could happen in Sarasota.
I've started developing a show with a major network; I just pitched it, and it's still in talks. I have a documentary called "Big Daddy Autism." There's an NPR story coming up about it and a few Huffington Post articles. It's the story of a sole-custody dad with a 15-year-old nonverbal son, and it sheds light on a topic a lot of people are talking about now and an inside look at a family of two people who absolutely need each other to survive.
I have two scripts I co-wrote that are being shopped around that I hope to film in Sarasota. That would be great. I'm writing two more that are a little more abstract. I also went on tour with a band called Kongos to shoot a documentary of their world tour, so I'm kind of doing a bunch of things at once.
Working on this film really reaffirmed that this is what I should be doing. I really like working with actors and creating something with other people. I get to explore and discover things about people and myself and use film as way to do it.
What are you most excited for about the premiere this weekend?
I want to share it with a lot of people who supported it and really didn’t even know what they were getting into when decide to help us. Now that we're done, I'm happy to show it to them and everyone who put in the hard work during those seven weeks in 100 degree weather. Thanks to them, we were able to tell this story about two oyster fisherman who have a lot of problems. It's a tragic, beautiful and gritty movie about people doing their best to make it in this world.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
For me, I know a movie is good if I'm still thinking about it afterward. I know people are going to be entertained and a little surprised. I think we told a beautiful story, so hopefully people can go on a ride for hour and half come out on the other side with a new perspective or look around the world with fresh eyes. And I hope it sticks with them.
I'm really proud of everyone who worked on this movie. I'm excited about the future of Sarasota, and I'm positive and hopeful that things are going in the right direction. We have a lot of people in this area working on a lot of great projects, and I think it's time to show what we can do.