Bobby Marinelli stopped short en route to the underwater theater. He turned toward the actor who walked beside him.
"Where's your tail?" he asked.
She grabbed it and carried it to the dock between Buccaneer Bay and the theater, where she would play the role of a Weeki Wachee mermaid in an effort to help Marinelli pursue his dream.
Marinelli is a filmmaker who, with a volunteer cast and crew, took three days at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park last month to shoot a four-minute sizzle reel — a trailer for a movie he hasn't made yet.
But by next summer, he says, that could change.
Marinelli, 32, was born and raised in Hudson. During his childhood, Jurassic Park sparked his love for film. His dad bought him the book and made him a promise.
"He said, 'If you finish the book, I'll take you to see the movie,' " Marinelli recalled.
"(On the screen), I saw what I read, and it was better than I could have even imagined it," he said. "That hooked me."
By high school, he carried a camera at all times. He studied telecommunications production as an undergraduate at the University of Florida and has a master's of fine arts in film production from Florida State University.
But "you can't really live in Florida and work as an actor or director in the film industry," Marinelli said — there isn't enough work here to turn it into a career.
So, he left.
He worked as a field producer for TLC's TV series What Not to Wear, which required him to live for a month at a time in cities throughout the United States.
He moved to Atlanta, where he worked in the art departments for feature films The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Last Vegas.
He also lived in New York for a year, where he worked in reality TV production and in Los Angeles for another year, where he worked in art departments for commercials, music videos and a couple of feature films.
Then he worked as a shooter/producer for Warped Roadies, a docu-series on Fuse.
"I was living on a bus and waking up in a different city every day, running around with a camera," he said.
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But he dreamt of a different gig and returned to the Tampa Bay area. He wanted to direct a feature film, and he wanted to do it in Florida.
"Films are not being made here," he said. But "Florida has stories to tell."
Marinelli, who currently lives in St. Petersburg, helped write one.
"A coming-of-age story about a third-generation (Weeki Wachee) mermaid as she outgrows her surroundings," Marinelli said — an independent drama comedy for a broad audience.
He would call it City of Mermaids, and he co-wrote the script for it last year with Matt Devine. But finding a way to produce it would be a challenge.
First, he sent the script to private investors, and it "floated around for about a year," Marinelli said. "We got to the start line with one of them, and they got cold feet."
He needed to prove that he could take money and turn it into a "finished, polished product," he said. So he decided to do something different: a sizzle reel.
"We're not a bunch of kids running around in the woods with a camera and buckets of blood," Marinelli said. "I take film seriously. It's something I've studied. It's something I want to practice. And that's what we're going to demonstrate with this reel."
The reel will be produced by Zorya Films, a Tampa-based production company. Marinelli got permission to film it at Weeki Wachee Springs. He recruited a crew and a cast, which includes Emmy Buckner, who plays "Liv 2" on the Disney Channel's series Liv and Maddie, and Brandon Larracuente, who plays Ben Rayburn on the Netflix series Bloodline.
For the City of Mermaids sizzle reel, Buckner, 25, who lives in Los Angeles, plays the part of Christine, a Weeki Wachee mermaid.
"Bobby sent me this tail," she said between shoots at Weeki Wachee. "I've been practicing in pools, getting a lot of funny looks. But you do what you've got to do."
She slipped into the tail and slid off the dock to film part of the reel.
Over the course of three days, the team shot 12 minutes of content, which will be edited down to four minutes.
"Little snippets of story so we can communicate as quickly and visually as possible what the greater story reflects," Marinelli said.
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He intends to release the reel in January at a private film exhibition for potential film investors.
Then, "we'll release it on our website (and) on social media," he said.
He wants it to spread fast and far. Then he will wait for the right person to see it.
"We're trying to find somebody who believes in film, who believes in art and who believes in Florida, who would come on board and make this film with us," he said. "What we're gambling on is that if they see this amazing landscape I've never seen on film — this kitschy roadside attraction that still exists — (and) a little bit of mystery, a little romance, a little adventure, it would give them a reason to say, 'I want to see the rest of this.' "
The cast is hopeful.
"A big part of this project is to bring film to Florida," Buckner said.
The project's ultimate goal is theatrical distribution.
If Marinelli gets his way, the film will be financed fast after the sizzle reel is released and shot in three weeks next summer.
But "this is a big opportunity to show what we're capable of," he said. "And I'm not going to rush it."
Contact Arleen Spenceley at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected] Follow @ArleenSpenceley.