TAMPA — The writer and director of Fear of Rain would not share her first choice for the movie’s villain. But Castille Landon did name her best choice.
“Eugenie Bondurant,” the Terra Ceia resident said. “She was perfect.”
Bondurant, a St. Petersburg resident, landed the villainous role of Dani McConnell, a character initially named Dan.
“I liked one person, another producer liked another,” Landon said. “Then we met Eugenie. Everything worked out.”
Everything always seemed to work out for Landon.
She lost her original source of financing and then had to change backdrops, costing her a state incentive and creating a larger budget.
But the movie found a new home in the Tampa Bay area and was backed by financiers that included the Steinbrenner family.
Now, the film starring Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr. screens in theaters for at least a week beginning Friday.
The local theaters showing Fear of Rain include Studio Movie Grill in Seminole and Tampa and Green Light Cinema in St. Petersburg. It will then be available as a digital rental.
The pandemic stole the movie’s wider theatrical release, but Landon is not complaining.
“People aren’t going to theaters right now. Every filmmaker’s goal is the most eyes,” she said, and that means releasing it mainly on streaming services during the pandemic.
Fear of Rain, according to IMDB.com, is about a schizophrenic girl struggling with “terrifying hallucinations as she begins to suspect her neighbor has kidnapped a child. The only person who believes her is Caleb — a boy she isn’t even sure exists.”
Landon said she wrote the movie, originally called I Saw a Man with Yellow Eyes, five years ago to destigmatize mental illness through a story with Hollywood thriller appeal.
“People with schizophrenia are so often portrayed as the villains in the story or the person to be feared,” she said. “I wanted to flip that on its head and make her the protagonist of the story.”
A production company agreed to finance the project and it was set to be made in Ohio — which offers “lucrative tax incentives” for productions,” Landon said.
Heigl and Connick Jr. were attached to the movie and Madison Iseman of Jumanji fame was cast in the lead role of Rain Burroughs.
But “the Me Too movement blew up that production company and we had to start from scratch,” said Landon, who would not elaborate.
So, she reached out to Joe Restaino, the Tampa producer with whom she worked on Apple of My Eye starring Amy Smart and Burt Reynolds and Albion: The Enchanted Stallion starring Stephen Dorf.
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Neither of those were shot in Hillsborough or Pinellas county, Restaino said, but he had a team that included the Steinbrenners who “wanted to bring film productions to our area in a big way.”
It took rewrites to adapt the script to the Tampa Bay backdrop, Landon said, but her familiarity with the area made that easier.
Without a state incentive for productions in Florida, the “budget had to be stripped down,” Landon said.
That impacted the script too, said producer Dori Rath.
“We had to find a way to strip the budget without cutting the cast’s pay” who were already working below their normal rate, she said. “It was tough. It was an emotional roller coaster. For a minute, we didn’t know if the film would be made. It might not have if Joe Restaino and the Steinbrenners hadn’t rode in like the cavalry.”
Still, Landon said, “Nobody could agree on the villain. It was just maddening.”
Bondurant has an acting resume that includes portraying Tigris in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, but it was her house that led to her role in Fear of Rain.
“Our lovely home booked its big debut in” the Hallmark movie Garden Party made in St. Petersburg in early 2019, Bondurant said.
Hallmark’s Los Angeles-based locations manager was also hired for Fear of Rain, which shot a few months later. Bondurant said he suggested the movie also use her home.
Aware of Bondurant’s talent, Restaino suggested something different: He wanted her to read for a part.
Intrigued by Bondurant’s tall and angular look, Landon wondered how she would portray the movie’s villain.
“I played it as a woman,” Bondurant said. “I interpreted this role as a woman. There was no other way for me. The rest is history. Dan equals Dani.”