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'Little Mermaid' film made by the Steinbrenner family premieres this month

Photos courtesy of Kingsway Productions Poppy Drayton is pictured in a scene from the live action independent film The Little Mermaid, which is based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
Photos courtesy of Kingsway Productions Poppy Drayton is pictured in a scene from the live action independent film The Little Mermaid, which is based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
Published Aug. 7, 2018

Robert Molloy sees similarities between Major League Baseball teams and movie productions.

"The actors are the ball players," he said. "Production designers are like those who work in operations." A director is akin to the manager, he added, crew is like the coaching staff, and an executive producer is parallel to a team owner.

Molloy, a 26-year-old lifelong Tampa resident, speaks from experience.

The live action independent film The Little Mermaid he produced through his Tampa-based Kingsway Productions will premiere today to a full house at Tampa Theatre. It opens nationwide Aug. 17.

As for baseball, the maternal side of Molloy's bloodline is the most famous sports team owners of all time: the Steinbrenners.

His mother Jessica Steinbrenner is general partner and co-vice chairwoman of the New York Yankees. And his grandfather is "The Boss" himself — the late George Steinbrenner, who as owner was often as entertaining as the on-field product.

"My grandpa was a showman," said Molloy, also the assistant director of operations at Tampa's Steinbrenner Field, home to the minor league Tampa Yankees and where the New York Yankees compete during spring training. "So, I think he would love what I am doing."

Filmed almost entirely in and around Savannah, Ga., in 2016 for about $5 million, the movie starring William Moseley, Shirley MacLaine and Gina Gershon is far different than the Walt Disney animated classic.

In this adaptation, a reporter seeking to learn the truth behind a miracle tonic called "mermaid water" discovers what his niece says is a real mermaid held prisoner in a circus.

Molloy's film and Disney's are both based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name about a young mermaid who gives up her life in the sea to earn a human soul.

"The book is a little dark but a great story," said Molloy, a graduate of Tampa Preparatory School and Saint Leo University. It "was one of my favorites growing up."

Still, it was baseball that brought Molloy to the movie industry and prepared him for it.

Molloy said he has long had Hollywood ambitions. Around three years ago, he was approached by his filmmaker friend Armando Gutierrez about executive producing a project based on the Yankees.

Gutierrez had purchased the movie rights to the book The Luckiest Man that details Lou Gehrig's battle with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease that ended the career and ultimately the life of the Yankee known as the "Iron Horse."

"He is my favorite Yankee," Molloy said. "I thought it was a great idea."

Still, cameras would not be ready to roll on that production until late 2019. Bitten by the Hollywood bug, Molloy was intent on making a movie sooner than later.

So, he chose The Little Mermaid as his inaugural film. And while he shares an executive producer credit with his mother, Molloy did the heavy lifting.

"It was him from the very beginning," said Kevin Adler, who worked as a co-producer under Molloy on the film. "From script development to financing to preproduction to filming to postproduction to putting it into theaters to doing all the distribution deals."

The experience was overwhelming at times, Molloy said. "We had 150 on our crew, and for circus scenes we added another 50 to 100."

He credits his Yankees resume with helping him through. Before taking on his current position with the organization, he said, "I worked in every department to understand every facet of the organization like marketing and player development."

As an eighth-grader, he even had a stint as a locker room gopher for the Tampa Yankees, the minor league team now called the Tarpons.

"I later helped with the draft by typing 38,000 (prospect) names, birth places and birth dates," he said. "With this movie I took what I learned with the Yankees and was able to translate that to Hollywood. And I think we hit a home run — no pun intended."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

If you go

The Little Mermaid

Starting Aug. 17, The Little Mermaid will screen at theaters including AMC Classic Centro Ybor 10 and AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa and AMC Sundial 20 in St. Petersburg.

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