From penning plays for the New York stage to directing festival short films to playing parts on shows like Law & Order and Rescue Me, Larry Feeney has tackled many dramatic efforts. Yet when this New Port Richey resident met his greatest challenge — directing his first feature film — he chose to do it close to home.
A few months ago Feeney launched the "Save a City, Make a Movie" project. His goal was to produce a feature film for $36,000 that would be written, cast, shot, edited and screened entirely in and around Pasco County — all within 90 days.
Feeney, 47, has achieved his goal. And at 7 p.m. Monday, Feeney's film Pharmboy — filmed almost entirely in the communities of Land O'Lakes, Hudson, Holiday, New Port Richey, Aripeka and Port Richey — will debut in two theaters at the Regal Cinemas Hollywood 18 in Port Richey.
"They sold out the first theater," Feeney said quietly, with a smile. "We needed two."
The Hudson High School graduate spent much of his childhood in Pasco, and returned to the area about a year ago to be closer to his family. And despite the fact that he spent much of his career in New York, appearing in numerous TV shows plus motion pictures like My Super Ex-Girlfriend, he found that some of the most captivating sets and scenery were close to home.
"Whenever I drive around Pasco I see everything as a location," he said, noting the small town charm of Dade City and the Spanish moss-draped oaks at at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, among other settings. "We have so much natural beauty here, and I want my audience to see it."
Feeney also wants moviegoing audiences to support the area as well.
"When you live in an area that's not filled with disposable income, supporting the arts is always a challenge," he said, noting Pasco's unemployment rate remains "stubbornly high," almost 2 percent higher than the national average. "Even so, I truly believe that independent filmmaking can be very beneficial to this county, and to the people of this county."
With this is mind, Feeney and collaborator Marc Dahl, a technical specialist and owner of Five Studios, formed Pasco Films. The outfit creates films that support local businesses while also presenting Pasco County as a place where other filmmakers can launch their projects. That goes beyond showcasing scenic settings. Feeney hopes the finished product is proof that Pasco County has the network of businesses, facilities and accommodating government agencies to draw large-scale productions to the area.
After directing and producing three short films, the duo tackled Pharmboy, their first feature film.
"This movie is about a boy of 16 battling an addiction to prescription medications. He's not a current user, he was born addicted," Feeney said. "In making the film, we didn't want to hit people over the head with a message, but to shed the spotlight on the side effects of this addiction."
Feeney and Dahl also strove to show a spotlight on Pasco County, filming everywhere from Starkey Park to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Dobies Funeral Home to Feeney's alma mater. Hudson High principal David LaRoche, a former classmate of Feeney's, is enthused about the film, which includes appearances by the principal's son as well as the school's wrestling team.
"My staff and I are very excited about the fact that Hudson High School is the backdrop for this film," LaRoche said. "Larry and I are friends from high school and both Hudson graduates. He and I share a love for this part of Pasco and are both interested in having a positive impact on its economy."
The cast and crew of Pharmboy was made up almost entirely of people from Pasco and surrounding areas. The crew purchased food from local groceries and restaurants and materials from Pasco businesses.
Furthermore, Feeney has vowed to give half of the film's profits to local civic organizations that include Greater New Port Richey Main Street, Chasco Fiesta, Cotee River Bike Fest and Friends of the New Port Richey Library.
Several local businesses and organizations have stepped up to support the production of Pharmboy. John Gilliss, owner of Friendly KIA, made a donation toward the film's production and purchased 200 tickets to the premiere, to give away at his dealership. Steve Schurdell, managing partner of WJQB-FM True Oldies 106.3, WXCV-FM Citrus 95.3 and WXOF-FM the Fox 96.3, helped out with publicity. Quality Inn in New Port Richey offered the use of a suite as an editing booth; and Hollywood 18 provided theaters for the film's premiere.
The Pasco Tourism Development Council and the County Commission donated a total of $2,500 toward the film's production. New Port Richey City Council member Judy DeBella Thomas, a member of the tourism council, even played a small role in the film.
"I am delighted to be a 'connector' for this project, connecting Larry with some of the key people involved with the project, from the actors to some of the sponsors," she said. "Pharmboy is a winner for Pasco on many levels; it signals a beginning of a new industry in Pasco, it hearkens back to New Port Richey's history as a movie mecca, it benefits nonprofits that tie in to the history, culture and business climate in our community. The movie itself has a timely and compelling message for everyone with a redemptive message. It will put Pasco on the radar for the filmmaking industry."
Eric Keaton, public communications manager for the Pasco County Film Office, supports both the mission of "Save a City, Make a Movie" and the message of Pharmboy.
"Larry introduced himself to us last year and he had a lot of questions and creativity about the filming process in Pasco County," Keaton said. "His initial projects that have been permitted by the county have been small but they have brought some promotional value to the county. This feature film project not only brings a promotional value to the county but more importantly a social message about this county … we hope his vision of that message resonates in the film."
DeBella Thomas agrees.
"In conversations with Larry early on in the project, it became apparent to me that we may have been repeating history in way, replicating the conversations that George Sims may have had with potential investors who eventually helped put New Port Richey on the map," she said. "Some of our conversations took place in our historic downtown, a stone's throw away from the mural on Main, that depicts a film crew taking a lunch break along the banks of the Pithlachascotee, a kismet of sorts! And I am delighted to be a part of it all."
Ultimately Larry Feeney hopes that this production will bring more film crews to Pasco — along with more tourists.
"I want people to see the places filmed in this movie and say, 'Where is this place? I need to go,' " he said.