Omar Ellis didn't plan on making his movie in Pasco County. But then the man he cast in the leading role, Nathan Epperson, invited him out to his sprawling ranch in San Antonio.
"It's absolutely gorgeous," said Ellis, a 29-year-old student at the Art Institute of Tampa. "It's one of the few places in Florida that seems untouched."
Ellis began shooting his film, a short western titled Jackson in which a wronged lawman struggles for justice, in early August and wraps this week. It's slated for release at the end of the year.
Jackson is one of three films currently being shot in Pasco, a county that hasn't seen a major movie production since Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, which was released in 1990.
"Those things help bring the community together," county tourism manager Eric Keaton said of the film projects.
The other projects are:
• Sayonara to Hello, a documentary about the life of magician Steve Marshall, 48, a Zephyrhills native who became famous in Japan (see related story). Filmmaker Nic Beery is following Marshall as he embarks on a monthlong tour from Florida to New York, his longest professional stint back in the United States after 14 years living in Japan. Beery and Marshall met in 1984 when they were both clowns with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They planned to film around the Zephyrhills area this weekend to show what an ideal place it was for a young magician to grow up.
• Lawrence Feeney, who has had roles on shows like Rescue Me and Nurse Jackie, is producing a short film in Pasco to enter in the Producers Guild of America Weekend Shorts Contest. The contest begins Sept. 23 when participants are given a story idea. They have 51 hours to create and submit a short film. Feeney, 45, a Hudson High School graduate, recently moved back to Pasco to spend more time with his parents after living in New York City and Los Angeles for the past 15 years.
"No matter where you live, there's a community of artists who can do incredibly good work," Feeney said.
He joined the competition because he wanted to meet kindred spirits and connect with other artists in the area. While he is scouting locations, he's filming the pre-production so he can make a documentary on the film-making process. Filming for the contest is Sept. 24.
"It's exhilarating," Feeney said.
Keaton said it's not unusual to have a few projects going on in the county at one time — commercials, short films, student projects, feature films. He said he tries to be proactive to work with scouting agents to try to lure films to the area.
"It's kind of like fishing," he said. "One of these days we'll land another Edward Scissorhands."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.