By STEVE PERSALL
Richard Clabaugh's filmmaking career began 35 years ago in the back of a Largo camera store where teenage wanna-be Spielbergs gathered to share and compare their Super 8mm creations. The club included Mike France whenever he could bum a ride from Winter Haven; he was too young to drive.
Both made their dreams come true, leading to a public reunion Saturday at Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach.
France bought the place with some of the money he earned for scripting such films as GoldenEye, Hulk and The Punisher.
Clabaugh, now living in North Carolina, has 14 credits as a cinematographer and three as a director, including the sci-fi thriller Eyeborgs that he'll bring to Beach Theatre for a one-night-only screening and after-show discussion at 8 p.m. He'll be joined by his wife, co-writer and editor Fran Clabaugh, and actor-producer John Rushton.
Tickets are $5, with proceeds benefiting All Children's Hospital.
Eyeborgs are surveillance robots created to monitor lives in the name of national security, turning deadly when alleged terrorists hijack the system. It's a good popcorn flick, if you're munching Jiffy Pop on a couch watching late-night cable TV. Clabaugh probably won't mind that description, since he grew up watching Creature Feature and Shock Theater on Tampa Bay television stations.
In a telephone interview, Clabaugh discussed the serious side of Eyeborgs, and why filmmaking without major fame still excites him.
I watched the movie last night, and it's a lot of fun.
Fun is what we were going for. We try to not take ourselves too seriously, (but) we wanted to have a little bit more going on under the hood. I always say we want to ambush people with our intelligence, in the sense that maybe it's a little smarter than you think it will be, but not fail to deliver a good, fun, killer robot action movie.
Your movie features a Patriot Act gone wild, and a shady vice president who talks like Dick Cheney and looks a bit like George Bush. Should we view Eyeborgs as a political allegory?
Well, sure. When we try to protect freedom by increasing surveillance and by increasing security measures, we're ultimately destroying the thing we're trying to protect. How well can a democracy work when you can't be sure that anything you see is real?
What's different about filmmaking today compared to the days when you and the guys were hanging around that camera store in Largo?
It's certainly a lot more open now, which presents pros and cons. You get more voices out there; it's easier for people to make movies and express ideas.
When I lived in St. Pete making my Super 8mm films, it was about $15 to buy and process every two-minute roll of film. That was a lot of lawns to mow. Now, an hour's worth of digital videotape is about three bucks, with full color, sound, everything. But good storytelling, good filmmaking is still in short supply.
I've been told by my distributor that 250 DVDs, new movies, come out every Tuesday. It's very hard to get noticed in that crowd. But no matter how democratic the process, finding those people who can still tell a story well is still the trick, the hard part.
After so many years, have you accomplished what you wanted to do as a filmmaker?
No, no, you never achieve it. I've got so much ahead. I've got more movies I want to make, and more stories I want to tell than I'll ever be able to do in my lifetime. The process of making a movie is so all-consuming that it takes years from the time that you conceive it. It's slow compared to life.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.