Blair Witch Dreaming

OK, you're thinkin', "What the hell? Like there's a movie shoot on every other block in Tampa Bay."

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Well ...

You're half-right. There aren't big budget shoots on every other block. Mega-money Hollywood studios are just starting to notice the Bay area. But there's a healthy independent movie scene getting ready to burst at the scene, er ... seams. Small local companies — including Present Day Productions, Savage Armadillo and Renegade Films — have cropped up. With a camera, a few friends and a fist full of dollars (or not), these intrepid and enterprising men and women hit the streets in the name of fun, creativity, collaboration and, perhaps, money.

On a recent April weekend, I found myself in downtown Tampa amidst a true guerrilla-type movie shoot (read: no permission to be there and no insurance). This particular day a group of friends had gathered to shoot a 4-minute short for a Wizard magazine contest, and seeing as how the entire crew consisted of nine people, there wasn't a whole lot for me to do. I picked up some frosty beverages to keep everyone hydrated on the 85-degree day and settled back to watch the action.

The contest revolves around the theme of superheroes. To that end, three couples gamely portrayed Spider-Man, Black Cat, Dare Devil, Elektra and other characters (think Spandex, vinyl and leather — lots of it). Two guys from the group, obviously secure in their masculinity, even donned short-shorts and crop-tops for a hilarious spoof of a Saturday Night Live "Ambiguously Gay Duo" skit. Ever laughed till your sides ached? Mine nearly split.

Over the course of the past year, I've also acted as "production assistant" on a couple of low (low, low) budget, straight-to-video type shoots. (Which, as you'll discover if you should ever volunteer on such a shoot, means you run to the store for food and drinks, move lights around, raid The Goodwill for used clothes and other such glamorous jobs.)

There's really no glory to be had on a low-budget independent, but a lot of laughs are almost always in the offing. Local productions aren't always easy to find, but they almost always appreciate good volunteers. Once you visit a set or two and prove to be a reliable worker, you'll be surprised how fast and far your name will travel in the local film scene. And who knows? Maybe you'll sign a contract for a percentage of the back end that results in some decent cash. Stranger things have happened. But more often than not, you'll just learn a few things, have some fun and make some good friends. You decide what's more valuable in the long run.

Here are a few local sites to check for volunteer opportunities. If they currently have none, chances are they know someone who does: www.savagearmadillo.com; www.strumhaus.com/presentday; and www.renegadefilms.com. The Florida Film Commission site is at www.filminflorida.com. The following sites list useful information, and employment and networking opportunities for the Florida film scene: www. bluesheet.moviefever.com; www.indieclub .com (national, broken up by region); www.mandy.com/place/ usfl.cfm; and www.flatalent.com.

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