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Berkeley Prep grad's career goes 'Kabluey'

Times files (2003)
Jeff Balis, right, talks with Erica Beeney, who wrote The Battle of Shaker Heights, during the second season of Project Greenlight, the show that made him a reality TV star as well as movie producer. Kabluey, produced by Balis, opens this year’s Gasprilla Film Festival.

Times files (2003) Jeff Balis, right, talks with Erica Beeney, who wrote The Battle of Shaker Heights, during the second season of Project Greenlight, the show that made him a reality TV star as well as movie producer. Kabluey, produced by Balis, opens this year’s Gasprilla Film Festival.

Jeff Balis is the only Hollywood producer claiming Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Gasparilla icon Mama Guava among his friends.

Balis, 32, graduated in 1993 from Tampa's Berkeley Preparatory School, where his performing arts mentor was Kathi Grau, the festooned icon leading Gasparilla parades for the past 22 years. Grau helped Balis enter Harvard, and they remain close.

After graduation, Balis created Weisenheimer Films in Los Angeles. Damon and Affleck created the 2001 TV series Project Greenlight, with Balis mentoring new filmmakers. He became a reality TV star amid contentious situations resulting in the films Stolen Summer and The Battle of Shaker Heights, starring a movie newcomer named Shia LaBeouf.

Since then, Balis has produced Ryan Reynolds' raunchy restaurant comedy Waiting. He just completed the sequel, Still Waiting . . . , his directorial debut.

Balis returns home tonight for his new film, Kabluey, to open the second annual Gasparilla Film Festival at the Tampa Theatre. The Times got him on the phone in L.A. for five questions:

How does it feel to premiere a movie in your hometown?

It's funny. I used to go the Tampa Theatre on field trips in elementary school. It's a beautiful place, and I'm proud to have something to bring there to play.

What is Kabluey, and what drew you to this project?

(Writer-director-actor) Scott Prendergast had done a short called The Delicious that my business partner had seen, a really unique movie. I just fell in love with (Kabluey's) script. It's more or less based on true events: an inept guy forced to help his sister-in law (Lisa Kudrow) and her children, and he has to get a job working as a costumed corporate mascot. We try to do stuff that entertains us, finding projects that we love, that we're willing to spend years of our life on. This was one of them.

What does a producer do?

I don't think you're writing a big enough article for that question. If the director is an architect, the producer is the contractor trying to hold all the pieces together. There are definitely a lot of annoying details — negotiating very minute points of contracts, the size of actors' trailers and stuff like that. But there's a tremendous amount of satisfying creative work. You can be a producer who just puts together deals and never goes to the set, or you can be one that hovers over the monitors and is creatively involved. I tend to be more toward the creative side.

Did that cause friction with Project Greenlight directors?

There were rocky parts to it, but that's part of producing. You never have enough money or time, and you're always . . . up against the wall. (Project Greenlight) was just a public showing of that. The fire was a little bit hotter. You learn 98 percent of what you need to know about making movies on the first one.

What is it like having Mama Guava as a mentor?

It's pretty spectacular. When I was doing short films in college, I'd ask her for advice in casting, script and editing. She (is) a person who has no agenda other than to be helpful. I directed the sequel to Waiting about two months ago, and she (acted) in it. I gave her half a trailer.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

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. If you go

Gasparilla

Film Festival

The second annual event begins tonight with a VIP party at 6 and a screening of Kabluey at 8 at the Tampa Theatre, 711 N Franklin St., Tampa. For a schedule of films, locations and show times for the five-day festival and to buy tickets, go to www.gasparillafilmfestival.com.

Berkeley Prep grad's career goes 'Kabluey' 02/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 7:12pm]

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