Sunday Conversation: Director of gay whodunit finds Tampa warm, welcoming

Director Rob Williams sits as a scene is set up for Out to Kill, a whodunit with a “sexy gay twist,” at the Box Factory Lofts in Ybor City. The Los Angeles filmmaker is impressed by the area’s abundant generosity, not so much by the humidity.
Director Rob Williams sits as a scene is set up for Out to Kill, a whodunit with a “sexy gay twist,” at the Box Factory Lofts in Ybor City. The Los Angeles filmmaker is impressed by the area’s abundant generosity, not so much by the humidity.
Published Jan. 18, 2014

They might not be as big as the ones behind Magic Mike or Spring Breakers, but Tampa Bay is seeing an increasing number of directors filming movies here — including one with previous ties to the area.

Rob Williams came to Tampa in November to shoot Out to Kill, a gay murder mystery that takes place largely in an Ybor City loft complex. The film is in postproduction, he says, and nearing a Tampa premiere.

Williams has made six other small, gay-themed films, perhaps the best known the 2009 Christmas comedy Make the Yuletide Gay. All but one of those movies has been shown at the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

He has also made connections with a festival in India. The Kashish Mumbai Queer International Film Festival hosted a career retrospective for the director last year.

In an interview with Times staff writer Jimmy Geurts, Williams discussed filming in Tampa, visiting India and becoming part of the TIGLFF.

What led you to film this new movie in Tampa?

I've been to Tampa multiple times for TIGLFF, and everyone has always been extremely friendly and wonderful there. When I was there in the fall of 2012 screening one of my movies, someone asked in the Q&A, "Would you ever consider filming a movie here?" I said kind of off the cuff, "Sure. Can anyone here help me find locations?"

And I was literally bombarded with people after the screening saying "You can shoot at my house, you can shoot at my business, you can shoot here, you can shoot there, if you need help with this, let me know." I very quickly realized that was actually something that we could do. We could get out of Los Angeles and go somewhere else — particularly Tampa, where people were bending over backward to be friendly and help us out.

What were some of the locations where you filmed?

We filmed a lot at the Box Factory Lofts in Ybor City. It's like an old converted box factory turned into lofts. We had some friends who lived there who were able to help us out. And then we shot some things walking along Bayshore Boulevard with downtown Tampa in the background. We got to shoot out in a yacht in the bay with St. Pete in the background. Then there's a lot of homes and businesses here and there. We shot some in Ybor City as well, so we wanted to get that flavor of Tampa and St. Pete.

How was your experience filming in Tampa?

It was fantastic, except for the humidity. I'm not used to that; none of us from Los Angeles are. The people there, they're really friends — they're not just people I know from the film festival — and they did everything they could to help us out. If we needed a location, if we needed props, if we needed extras, whatever we needed they just put the call out and everyone was willing to help.

I think the main difference between shooting here and Los Angeles was that when in you're in Los Angeles and you ask people for help, their general response is, "What's in it for me?" And in Tampa, when we asked people for help, they would say, "What can I do for you?" And so it was just this generosity that was really kind of unbelievable.

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Have you had a chance to see Spring Breakers or Magic Mike?

I have seen Magic Mike. I haven't seen Spring Breakers yet. Magic Mike was a lot of fun, and it was fun to see where that was filmed because we were in that same area of Ybor City. It was a much larger production than we were, but it was kind of nice to be able to say we were in the same general area as them.

There will soon be an Indian film awards ceremony in Tampa, and you actually had a career retrospective at an Indian film festival. How did that happen?

I had been in touch with the people who run the festival — it's a fairly new festival, but we'd been in touch, they knew my work. In talking with them, they came up with the idea of having this retrospective at one of their early festivals mainly because my films focus on happy endings.

What I found out when I got there and was talking to everyone in Mumbai was that particularly with the gay films they see there, they don't see a lot of happy endings. It's always very tragic. The response there was so incredible because even showing my first film, which was shot eight years ago, they were just so appreciative of seeing a gay film that ended with a wedding. That's something they don't get in real life so often.

What was that experience like?

Going to India was amazing. I'd never been there. It was totally something different than I've ever seen. But most of all, people at the film festival were saying, "This is the only place in India, period, that I can hold my boyfriend's hand in public." And I was like, "Wow, that's powerful."

How often have you had films screened at the TIGLFF now?

I think everything but my first one. We've screened five films there over the years, and Out to Kill, when we're done, we're going to get the first screening or sneak preview screening over in Tampa. Because we want the people there who helped us out so much to be the first people to see the movie.

So it has been a long relationship at this point.

Absolutely. There are a lot of film festivals I go to where it's basically just contacts, they're the film festival people, that's their job. But in Tampa and St. Pete, they welcome me into their homes. They've become friends. When I go out there, I see them, I hang out with them, I have dinner with them. I feel like these are my friends.

Sunday conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.