TAMPA — Last year, Andy Garcia expressed interest in shooting a feature film in Tampa.
He is still working toward making that happen.
Meanwhile, that effort birthed an opportunity for area film students to work on a documentary.
Titled Stonebreaker and executive produced by Garcia, the documentary tells the story of the late Scott “Stonebreaker” Ross, a musician of international renown who remains little known in his native United States.
Hillsborough Community College students are helping with the editing through their Digital TV, Radio, Film and Media Production program.
Now, the production company partnering with Garcia on his feature film and the documentary wants to bring further opportunities to student filmmakers in the area, possibly by creating a movie studio in Hillsborough County that offers an educational component.
Semkhor Productions, which in 2010 established a similar venture with Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design, is among those seeking to open a studio via a public-private partnership with Hillsborough. The county is expected to issue a request for proposal in May.
“If I don’t get the RFP, I still could build another facility,” Semkhor owner David Shapiro said. “I want to bring the same operation to Tampa Bay as I had in Sarasota.”
He said it is too soon to say if it will be directly attached to an area college or remain an independent venture that provides opportunities for local film students.
According to Ringling College’s website, the 36,000 square foot Ringling College Studio Labs “was conceived and built in partnership with Semkhor Productions” and hosts Hollywood movies that provide its students “real world experience on real world media productions.” Kevin Smith’s Kilroy Was Here and Anna Paquin’s The Parting Glass were filmed in the studio with students as crew.
Sarasota County gave a $1.75 million grant to the studio, which was completed in 2018. Semkhor and Ringling “parted ways” a year ago, Shapiro said, when he sold his interest in the studio to the college.
Shapiro and Garcia came to Tampa in October to meet with potential investors for the feature film Angel Eyes, which will star the Ocean’s Eleven and The Untouchables actor as a private detective trying to solve and absolve himself of the murder of his client.
Their stops included a meeting with Hillsborough film commissioner Tyler Martinolich.
“The conversation turned to other projects they’re working on,” Martinolich said. “It was mentioned that they had a documentary that had just finished filming and they were looking for an educational institution that could assist with postproduction. I thought this was a great opportunity to get HCC students exposure.”
Over seven years, nearly 90 people were interviewed throughout Europe, Canada and the United States for Stonebreaker. Pittsburgh-born musician Ross specialized in the harpsichord, a keyboard instrument that was popular in the 16th through 18th centuries.
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Ross was the considered the instrument’s modern master and “an eccentric musical genius,” Shapiro said. Ross died of AIDS-related pneumonia in France in 1989 at 38.
The interviews were transcribed and passages that might make the final cut were marked. Four HCC students are pulling those clips from the footage and cataloguing each by topic. Via Zoom, they meet regularly with director Bruce Burchmore, Shapiro and Garcia. Two more students will join the project next semester.
“They are doing a lot of work and being paid in street cred,” said Nerissa Lamison, chair of Digital TV, Radio, Film and Media Production. “They are working with a real Hollywood producer, a real Hollywood director and a real Hollywood actor. This is real experience for their resume.”
Shapiro said he believes such opportunities should not “only” be afforded to students at “expensive film schools.”
At least two of the students might be hired to continue working on the project when cataloguing is complete. HCC will then “explore more opportunities to work with Semkhor,” said Sheila Rios, the dean of HCC’s science degrees program.
Whether that includes a future studio or Garcia’s feature film is too soon to say, Shapiro said, “but we will be back. This documentary is the first in an ongoing project with the Tampa Bay area.”