Friday, February 23, 2018
Features and More

Filmmaker dreams of big break, for himself and for Pasco County

Larry Feeney sells his dream on a $20 T-shirt, under a flea market canopy on a sunny New Port Richey weekend.

Few browsers ask what the shirt means by "Pasco Films." The image of a vintage movie camera is a clue.

Like many Floridians, Feeney needs a job doing what he does best. Tough to find in Pasco County, where movies aren't being made during a Florida production boom. This is the county where film commissioner Eric Keaton gets so few inquiries that he also has time to oversee the tourism, sports authority, convention and government television agencies.

The booths selling scented candles and sausages get more attention than Feeney's dream.

"It's humbling to sit out there," Feeney, 46, says later. "Hot, financially disastrous, and there were people who were almost rude about it: 'Why are you even here?' I said, 'Well, because this is what I do.' "

What Feeney does is act, write, direct, whatever it takes to tell stories on a movie, television or computer screen. Pasco Films is his vision of doing that in a region Hollywood has barely touched since Edward Scissorhands a generation ago.

He needs at least $25,000 for the chance to make it happen. The flea market crowd is light on venture capitalists.

"That wasn't the point," Feeney says. "The point is putting yourself out there. Introduce yourself to the community. They'll understand that you're not trying to pick anybody's pocket.

"I'm not The Music Man, you know what I mean?"

Over the past decade, Feeney's Billy Bob Thornton style won him roles playing cops on Law & Order and a robber in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and doubling for Joe Pantoliano on The Sopranos. The 1983 Hudson High School graduate moved back to west Pasco County last year to be near his extended family. He has no intention of returning to New York or LA.

Residual checks are shrinking as time passes. Running a friend's Sarasota bar a couple of nights a week chips in with his wife's paycheck. Feeney has worked in chain restaurants before and will again, if his improbable dream doesn't pan out. He gives it three months, maybe six.

Feeney thinks Pasco Films could turn around his fortunes and others', in a county dealing with a 10.1 percent unemployment rate. A $296 million tax credit incentives program makes Florida a prime destination for Hollywood productions, creating temporary jobs in the process.

In the case of Dolphin Tale, filmed in Pinellas County in 2010, nearly 1,300 Floridians were employed during two months of production, resulting in salaries totaling $7.5 million. (Economic impact results for Spring Breakers, Magic Mike and Sunlight Jr. will be released in September.)

That's just a drop in a dry bucket, but Feeney wonders: Why not Pasco County, and job seekers like him?

"I know plenty of guys who can swing a hammer, building sets," Feeney says. "People who know digital media, editing and acting. You're talking about needing craft services, makeup artists, costume designers. Just look at the list of jobs at the end of every movie. It's a no-brainer."

Armed with facts, figures and optimism, Feeney shares his vision with any booth browsers who will listen. With $25,000 from investors he could produce one of his screenplays under the Pasco Films banner, showing Hollywood what the area offers in locales and talent. He wrote a pilot for an online series, which he originally set in Freehold, N.J., before reworking it for Dade City.

Another $15,000 monthly could start the Pasco Film Center in a rented Odessa warehouse, a hub for learning and sharing filmmaking skills with soundstages for visiting productions.

As the founder and creative force behind Pasco Films and the center, Feeney would draw a modest paycheck, and later a percentage of distribution deals and facility rentals.

"I'm not looking to make Spielberg money," he says. "I'm just looking to pay my rent, put some gas in the car and take my wife to dinner once in a while. Okay, I'm going to have a job of some sort, doing what I do best. But why can't I do it — quote, unquote — for the greater good?"

Nothing Feeney says sounds shady, just rosier than anyone except him can believe right away. His proposal received a polite hearing by the county's economic development board but no promises. Keaton calls Feeney "very creative" and welcomes any efforts to bolster Pasco's economy.

"Some people have dreams and they fail; some people fail to dream," Keaton says. "If he keeps plugging along, he'll know what his limits are."

At the flea market, Feeney focuses on possibilities. Connections that may come in handy are made: a retired actor, a teenager intrigued by an internship offer, a Colorado transplant with experience building sets. There's a short film competition coming, where Feeney is certain Pasco Films will prove its quality.

Only 15 T-shirts are sold, mostly to family members. Feeney isn't deterred. "There's no fallback position, and that's purposeful," he says. "When you don't have a fallback position you work a hell of a lot harder. I'm not going anywhere."

Feeney smiles and corrects himself: "I'm not going anywhere but up."

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

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