The State Of The Tampa
By Tampa Bay Film Director C. A. Passinault
The Tampa indie film scene
has had a short history compared to films scenes in other regions of the
United States. Before the 1990's, in fact, it is a bit murky.
Most Tampa filmmakers before 1990 used video cameras to make indie films.
Not much is known about those films, however, because there were few indie
films being made here in Tampa Bay, and few film festivals.
In the 1990's, Tampa indie filmmakers made indie films on camcorders and
higher end television DV. I know of some who shot films on 3/4 tape using
television cameras, and I know this because I often helped make those
films. Some of the films were screened on public access, and many creative
filmmaking could be found in those places. This said, Tampa indie film
did not have much of a presence, and there still were not a lot of film
festivals. What film festivals that there were seemed to exist to market
the Tampa Bay area as a location for Hollywood and outside interests.
In the late 1990's, digital video began to come into the picture. With
quality DV camera such as the Canon XL-1, a 3 chip camera which used digital
videotape, indie filmmaking became more accessible, and indie filmmaking
in Tampa Bay began to take off.
A Tampa film scene, of sorts, began to take shape.
Some of the first notable indie films made in the Tampa Bay area were
high profile feature films made my high profile, but relatively new, filmmakers.
By 2001, there were at least three feature films in the works in the Tampa
indie film scene.
The first film was The Web Of Darkness, a feature horror film by Rick
Danford and his indie film company, Renegade Films. The Web Of Darkness
starred Tom Savini and Brink Stevens, two B movie icons. The Web Of Darkness
was a vampire film about vampires who met through a vampire web site.
The second film was Unearthed, by Craig Kovach and his indie film production
company Pheremone Films. It involved alien artifacts discovered in downtown
Tampa, extra terrestrials, and a pair of police officers (I’m not
an expert on this film, as I have not seen it, although I did talk to
Craig a while back and requested a screener).
The third film was Reverence, which was my first feature film project,
done by my indie film production company Dream Nine Studios. Reverence
was originally titled Bloody Mary, until I found out that Danford and
Renegade Films were shooting a short with the same name. So, I lost the
Bloody Mary premise, redid the story, and renamed it Reverence.
Some of the films went well, others did not. The Web Of Darkness cost
over $35,000.00 to make, and it spent years in post production limbo (it
was finally released by Danford’s Enigma Films in 2009). Unearthed
cost a lot more, from what I understand. I’ve heard that it cost
over $300,000.00 (someone please correct me if this is incorrect). It
was finished, and turned out to be a solid film, but, to date, I do not
believe that it sold and obtained distribution (neither did The Web Of
Darkness, although it is being self-published online. Unearthed also did
this briefly, but was yanked off of Amazon, and it is no longer available).
Of the big three, only one film didn’t see production. That film
We conducted five auditions for Reverence, and cast pretty much the entire
project (there were sixteen principles and the film would have had a running
time of over two hours). The script was completed, and rehearsals were
set to begin (we did have one read-through with most of the cast; I’ll
have to convert that to digital and post it). The problem with Reverence
was that we had very little money to pull it off with, and no equipment.
We were entirely dependent upon subcontracted production teams to pull
off the film. Of course, the actors were all fine with the deferred pay,
but the production teams ultimately wanted money for equipment that they
needed, and at least one of them wanted to be paid in equipment. Reverence
would have cost at least $35,000.00 to make, and mot of that was equipment
expenses. Had we had that kind of money to buy the equipment to begin
with, we wouldn’t have needed to subcontract a production team,
and paying them in equipment after the production was completed would
have left us back at square one, because we wouldn’t have had the
equipment to do more films. This said, we needed the production teams
for their equipment, and not to run the equipment, because my staff already
knew how to do production work.
Ultimately, Reverence was cancelled. The time and the money that I put
into the indie film project put a huge financial strain on my other companies,
and it almost bankrupt me (I will say that all of the actors who were
cast were among the best in Florida, and I would recommend all of them
to any indie filmmaker). It would be almost a decade before I’d
be in the position to attempt filmmaking again (today, in 2009, the equipment
to make a film like Reverence is inexpensive, and the film could be made
for 10% of the original estimate. This opens up huge potential for filmmaking
in Tampa, and I anticipate a large number of indie films to be made by
a new generation of filmmakers from 2010 to 2020. This could be the decade
where Tampa filmmaking finally takes off and gets on the map). Of course,
by the time that I was ready to try again, the business plan that I had
for filmmaking was different, too, as putting all of the proverbial eggs
of the filmmaker into a high-risk feature film did not make as sense as
diversifying risk by building a portfolio of short films in a variety
of genres in order to market to investors, and then using the money from
investors for the large feature films, obtaining better equipment in the
process. Had Reverence been produced, I believe, it would not have sold,
and would have gone the way of Unearthed.
In 2002, Chris Woods and his Icon Film Studios made Bleed, which was quite
possibly the best Tampa feature film produced up to that point. Filmmaker
Andy Lalino also shot an ambitious short film, Filthy, on film stock!
Both films were excellent.
With DV prices coming down, more filmmakers joined the Tampa film scene.
Danford and Renegade Films were on a roll, creating a series of film festivals,
The Saints and Sinners film festival series, which became legendary. There
were a total of four Saints and Sinners film festivals.
Danford and I we introduced around the time that I was in preproduction
for Reverence, well before The Saints and Sinners film festivals. We talked
on collaborating, but ultimately had a falling out after two of my actresses
were cast in his short film, The Pledge.
In 2003, when The Saints and Sinners film festivals were at their peak,
I turned to my experience as an event planner and began drawing up plans
for a new type of film festival. Of course, this was the beginning of
years of developing film festivals for me, work which will ultimately
pay off, as my film festivals are some of the most advanced film festivals
In 2004, Paul Guzzo and his brother Pete Guzzo, two filmmakers, were inspired
by The Saints and Sinners film festivals to create a film festival series
of their own. The Saints and Sinners film festivals, although there were
only four of them, were held twice a year. The Guzzo brothers decided
to make their film festival a free monthly film festival, held in Ybor
City. Their film festival, the Coffeehouse Film Review, or CFR, would
show short films from Tampa indie filmmakers, and it was held every month
at a Ybor City Coffeehouse.
After the Coffeehouse Film Review debuted, Nolan Canova and his colleagues
from Crazed Fanboy began to regularly attend every month, reviewing the
films that were shown. The CFR indie film reviews were then published
regularly on Crazed Fanboy (the reviews and CFR coverage is still archived
on that site, and proved to be a valuable resource for Tampa Bay Film’s
research into the history of this film festival series for the preparation
of our official CFR / TFR guide, which will be published here on the Tampa
Film Review Tampa Bay Film site).
The Coffeehouse Film Review had a small, loyal following, and it was a
great time for its core followers, but as a film festival, it had flaws;
flaws which were pointed out in time, and never corrected (for more, check
out our review series on The Tampa Film Review). In late 2005, the Coffeehouse
which served as the venue for The Coffeehouse Film Review, Romeo's Studio
1515 Coffeehouse, closed. Without a venue, Pete and Paul Guzzo began their
search for a new venue.
The CFR was about to change, and enter the highest profile phase of its
In January 2006, The Coffeehouse Film Review moved to a larger venue,
The International Bazaar, which was also in Ybor City. The Coffeehouse
Film Review was re-branded, and it’s though that it was simply because
it no longer used a Coffeehouse as a venue (which makes sense. It would
have been odd to call a film festival The Coffeehouse Film Review if it
were not held in a Coffeehouse, after all). The Coffeehouse Film Review
became The Tampa Film Review, or TFR.
The Tampa Film Review, with a larger venue and more seating, became more
popular, but some of the flaws from its Coffeehouse Film Review days,
limiting its effectiveness as a film festival, but as an indie film event,
it was a fun time for the followers of the event. Throughout 2006, it
grew, and some may argue that it hit its peak in early 2007.
2007 saw some ambitious plans for The Tampa Film Review. An online message
board was established for The Tampa Film Review web site (not this Tampa
Film Review site, which came after The Tampa Film Review came to an end,
and has nothing to do with The Tampa Film Review film festival. We are
not affiliated in any way; the only reason that we have the domain name
that we do is because it is the most relevant for Tampa film reviews.
This said, a massive online message board is in the works for our Tampa
Film Community site, a Tampa Bay Film site, and it should be launched
at the time that the Tampa Bay Film film festivals debut), at one time
obtaining several hundred members. During this time, Tampa Bay Film launched,
and it debuted a cool online film festival. Paul Guzzo announced an online
film festival of his own, which was basically an online film competition.
He also announced a collaboration with other film festivals throughout
the United States, too, submitting top films from the TFR to them, and
vice versa. A glance of the official announcement for this is interesting
(courtesy of CrazedFanBoy.Com):
From Crazed Fanboy / PCR (Pop Culture Review)
356, January 2007:
# The Tampa Film
Review has worked out an exchange with several other film festivals. In
September a panel will select the best film or films that have screened
at this year’s TFRs.
# The selected films will be accepted into and will screen at the following
film fests: Gasparilla Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, Bare
Bones Film Festival, Delray Beach Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival
and Wildwood by the Sea Film Festival.
# Also, every four months the Tampa Film Review is going to exchange films
with the WILDSound Monthly Film Festival in Canada and the Home Brewed
International Film Festival in Australia. This exchange will bring international
exposure to the TFR and to local films and filmmakers.
# We have already begun the exchange program in Canada. In March, the
WILDSound selected the following films from last year’s TFR to show
at their monthly event: Into the Darkness by Joe Davison; Last Night -
John Wolden and Jen Persons; Purgatoria by Andres Yepes; and Farewell
Freida by Emerald Gowers and Tim Griffin.
The Tampa Film Review was growing,
and now had an influx of films from outside of the Tampa Bay area which
would round out the selection of films being played. While there is little
information regarding how successful the film exchange was (only Paul
Guzzo really knows), they had problems with their online film festival
component, and eventually Pete Guzzo abandoned it (if the concept of supplying
filmmakers clips and allowing them to edit short films for a contest had
worked out, it would have been cool).
Throughout 2007, Tampa Bay Film grew, also. The Tampa Bay Film Online
Film Festival, built on embedded video files from Youtube and other online
sources, proved to be easy to maintain and add films to. It quickly amassed
a large selection of interesting, and excellent, films, and its popularity
In January 2008, Tampa Bay Film published a controversial review about
the first two years of The Tampa Film Review. The review criticized the
monthly film festival for its ongoing flaws. Paul Guzzo was not please,
and I was barred from attending The Tampa Film Review.
Throughout 2008, The Tampa Film Review had another problem. Its venue,
The International Bazaar, closed in Ybor. The TFR moved to a Cigar art
gallery for a couple of months, and then was evicted due to some issues
(I’ve heard different stories, from fire codes, to money). It’s
then, in some twist of irony, the original Coffeeshop reopened as an art
gallery, and The Tampa Film Review moved back home.
Alas, it was not to last.
In December 2008, Paul Guzzo made the sad announcement that The Tampa
Film Review was coming to an end. It had its last film festival event
at the Italian Club in Ybor city to a record crowd, which was considered
to be the best Tampa Film Review.
To Be Continued........
The Tampa Film Network story
Tampa Bay Film expands!
Cool new film festivals in
Tampa indie filmmaking approaches
The road to the first Tampa