If the past decade taught us anything about movies, it proved that anyone can visualize the American Dream through a camera lens.
The most obvious lessons came from artists such as Quentin Tarantino and the Blair Witch gang. Other shining examples are found in Darren Aronofsky's Pi and documentaries such as Hoop Dreams and Brother's Keeper.
Somehow, those previously unknown filmmakers scraped together enough inspiration and financing to cross over into public awareness and multiplexes.
Their success has inspired countless creative minds _ including several with Tampa Bay connections _ to take the same chances.
Hardly a week passes without hearing from hopeful local filmmakers in various stages of progress. Some have scripts written, and others have only an outline in their heads. Too many well-intended projects will remain pipe dreams, or else collapse under the burden of insufficient funds or filming opportunities.
Everybody is looking for an exhibition outlet, preferably a film festival where the right people might see the finished product and break out their checkbooks for distribution rights or future projects.
That is precisely what filmmaker Diana Lucas Leavengood hopes for her captivating 18-minute drama, Three Point Turn, which was recently accepted into competition at this month's Santa Monica Film Festival.
The film was also screened at the recent Sarasota Film Festival, Orlando's Brouhaha film and video showcase, and WorldFest in Flagstaff, Ariz., where it received a screenwriting award.
Plans are in the works for a Tampa Bay viewing, possibly at the Beach Theater.
Three Point Turn focuses on a day when a divorced father plans to take his young daughters to a beach picnic. As usual, he gets distracted by his favorite bar and latest girlfriend. While the father gets drunk, the girls take a brief flight to independence in his pickup truck. When they return, it is with a new resolve that Dad's bad habits won't ruin their lives.
Leavengood co-wrote the script with her husband, playwright William Leavengood, and co-produced with him and editor Lisa Eve Cheby. The film is based on a short story written by her sister, Jennifer Lucas, inspired by an event in their childhood. Their father died in October 1999, only days before he could have seen the finished film.
Diana Leavengood estimated the film's cost at $25,000, with about one-quarter of that total coming from state and local filmmaking grants, and the rest from private investors. She also benefited from professional donations, such as sound mixing at Full Sail studios in Orlando that otherwise would have cost around $45,000.
Principal photography took place in 1997, using rural locales in Pasco County and a homegrown cast, while expensive 35mm film stock (purchased at a 50 percent discount) provided a polished look to impress potential investors.
"This is my calling card, to let people know this is what I can do," Leavengood said. "So, maybe they'll give me $1.9-million to make a movie about drug dealers on St. Pete Beach."
Leavengood was referring to her goal of turning her husband's play, Florida Crackers, into a feature film. Three Point Turn certainly evokes a Florida feel, similar to Victor Nunez's reflections in Ulee's Gold and Ruby in Paradise. Her roots are in upstate New York, but her creative spirit is firmly planted in the Sunshine State.
"I don't ever want to leave Florida," Leavengood said. "There are plenty of stories here to be told."
The Santa Monica reception for Three Point Turn could be the break that enables Leavengood to tell these stories with a decent budget. Otherwise, she will do it any way she can, with whatever resources at her disposal.
"I'm 35 years old, with stretch marks, and Hollywood is not going to come calling," she said confidently. "That's okay; I never waited for anybody to ask me to dance. This is my party."
MOVIES THAT MOVE _ Oregon filmmaker Todd Korgan has experienced the same independent production obstacles Leavengood is learning to handle now. Two of his works will be screened Saturday as part of the ambitious Movies That Move film series.
This edition of the nomadic cinema showcase will be held at New World Brewery, 1313 E Eighth Ave. in Ybor City. Show time is 9 p.m., and admission is $3.
Have You Seen Patsy Wayne? is Korgan's bittersweet story of a woman convinced she is the illegitimate daughter of country singer Patsy Cline and movie star John Wayne. Told in faux documentary style, the film is a brisk exploration of one woman's delusions and the insecurities fueling them. Johnny Bagpipes is a cockeyed comedy about a frustrated bagpipe player whose goal in life is to be opening act for the rock band Metallica.
Tampa Bay post-punk rockers Pagan Saints will provide music throughout the evening, and a Western costume contest will be conducted, with a $50 prize.
Also on the playbill is the rarely seen Terror of Tiny Town, a 1938 Western made remarkable by its cast of vertically challenged actors riding Shetland ponies walking under swinging saloon doors. Not recommended for the politically correct.