The Devil and the details

Two local playwrights aim for the big screen.

The play may be the thing, but movies are where it’s at for Kitefliers Studios.

The budding company just set up shop this past spring in Ybor City, founded by two fixtures of the Tampa Bay theater scene, Neil Gobioff and Shawn Paonessa. Together they’ve authored a number of acclaimed pieces for the local stage, including 2006’s The March of the Kitefliers, from which this nascent endeavor takes its name.

The company’s currently in pre-production on a short film called The Bedford Devil, which has been scripted by Gobioff and Paonessa based on one of their one-act comedies. The Kitefliers Studios website describes it as a comedy/mystery about three teens trying to take credit for being a small town’s serial killer. A crew made up entirely of Tampa Bay artists, including Paonessa as director, is set to start shooting Oct. 27, with two five-day weeks of filming planned.

Once it’s complete, Gobioff and Paonessa intend to submit Bedford Devil to the film festival circuit and use it as a kind of calling card for producers and investors. Already, Kitefliers has earned some bona fides through its associate producer credit on SILENCE!, a well-reviewed Off-Broadway musical parody of The Silence of the Lambs.

Other planned projects include the documentary Ensemble and All Night Saloon, a website catch-all for sketch comedy, articles, podcasts and anything else that doesn’t require a full production budget. Hot Nights for the War Wives of Ithaka, the play that Ensemble follows, is still being cast, and Kitefliers has plans to move into fundraising for that effort after Bedford Devil has wrapped up.

Gobioff and Paonessa talked about the challenges of Bedford Devil, dealing with the business side of an artistic passion, and why they’re optimistic about Kitefliers’ long-term success.

CL: Is there a moment that you can point to where you decided to form Kitefliers Studios? What was the inspiration that said, “This has to be a reality?”

Neil Gobioff: Our endgame has always been movies. When we write for theater, we visualize things very cinematically and then scale it back for theater. We tried to make things happen for us in the theater and garner interest down that path, but it wasn’t working as well as we wanted. We got tired of waiting for something to happen to us and decided to make it happen for us.

Describe the emotions surrounding Bedford Devil as you try to make it a film — Anxiousness? Excitement? Pride?

NG: All of the above. We’ve been working towards this since we started the company earlier this year. We’ve put a lot of time into molding the script into the screenplay format but had a relatively short time to assemble everything and get it together. Luckily, things have fallen into place pretty well.

How difficult has it been to transition this work from play to screenplay?

Shawn Paonessa: In theater, everything is dialogue-based; in film, everything is visual-based. In the play, the three main characters tell their stories in flashbacks about the killings. All that had to be converted into scenes without making it a two-hour film. Then it was figuring out the best way to paint the picture with less words. One of the things we ask is, “Does this help progress the story or the characters, or is this just in there for a joke?”

Have you used storyboards for this process?

SP: Ana Bruno, who teaches graphic design at the International Academy of Design & Technology, has worked on the storyboards for the film. She has a good idea of getting things practically; she’s good at giving us options. When we got our first storyboards, I went, “Oh my god, we’re making a movie!”

On your website, you talk about bringing in artists skilled at what they do — filmmakers, actors, writers. What would you say Kitefliers offers to help foster the synergy needed from such an assembly of talent?

NG: When we get people who are good at what they do, that creates the synergy that is necessary. When our camera people found out that we planned on rehearsing the actors [for Bedford Devil], they were excited. They knew it was going to save a lot of time and headaches.

You also mention that other producers have a hard time getting the right talent in front of the camera. Why do you think that is, and what will make Kitefliers more successful?

NG: I think what will make us more successful is our theater background. Many small independent films (ones not backed by major studios) suffer because they settle for the people that are immediately available. Sometimes it’s friends and family, and sometimes it’s people who are trying to get into film but lack experience. With our connections to the theater community, we are looking at actors that may not have a long film resumes, but they’ve been in 10, 20, 30 theater productions.

Shawn has a charming video at to help raise contributions for the film — how did that piece come together?

NG: We weren’t converting the views at our page on IndieGoGo into money, and we started to look at why. This video was our answer. This video gives people a hint at our humor and what they can expect from us with regards to the project they’re funding. We were going to be in the studio to talk with some people about working on the film, and we took the opportunity to shoot the video. The whole thing was about 36 hours from conception to being posted online.

You’d set a deadline of Oct. 25 for the initial securing of funds in order to start shooting. As I ask this question, you’re a little over 10 percent of your goal of $15K. How optimistic are you that you can reach your goal, and if you come up short, how will that affect the filming schedule?

NG: I’m “cautiously optimistic.” I saw a statistic recently that 55 percent of crowdfunding projects don’t reach their goal. This is one of the reasons we chose to go with IndieGoGo. Unlike Kickstarter [another online funding platform], IndieGoGo isn’t all or nothing. If you don’t reach your goal, they take a larger cut.

The funding won’t affect the schedule at all. We may have to cut some corners we’d rather not cut, but we’re going to make it happen regardless. This is also only the pre-production round of funding. I’m more optimistic that when we move into a post-production round we’ll garner even more support because we’ll actually have clips and a trailer to show people.

Has this process of starting a film studio been harder than you’d anticipated?

NG: The business side of things has been more frustrating, but one of us is there to usually talk the other one off the ledge. The business side is never as fun as the creative side.
SP: in some ways yes and in some ways no. It’s a lot more fun than we thought it would be.
Beyond Bedford Devil and the documentary and website, what else do you have on the horizon?
NG: We have three or four feature ideas, plays that we want converted, and then we keep coming up with new ideas. I told Shawn about an idea I had for a feature and that led to an idea for a short.
SP: It’s one of those things where creativity breeds creativity. There’s a saying that the first painting is always the hardest, but once it’s done, you have three more paintings waiting to be made. We have more ideas than I can count off top of my head.

Read more about upcoming projects at Go to to see Shawn and Neil’s solicitation video, a couple of Ana Bruno’s storyboards and information on contributing to the production.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.