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Zombie Film Challenge unites movie talent

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Published:   |   Updated: December 30, 2013 at 06:06 AM

TAMPA — Tampa Bay will be crawling with brain-eating zombies throughout the month of February, from the brick streets of Ybor City to the sandy beaches of St. Petersburg. And you can be a part of it.

The Zombie Film Challenge will be staged to promote local moviemaking and the Florida Film Network — a locally based, statewide chamber of commerce of sorts for aspiring big-budget filmmakers. The network holds educational forums and seminars, film festivals and challenges to help unify the region’s movie-making community.

Registration for the Zombie Film Challenge begins Jan. 1; filming starts Feb. 15.

Each team will have 30 days to make a movie revolving around — love stories? “No, zombies of course,” said film network President Joe Davison. “But they can throw a love story in there as long as someone gets eaten.”

Even if you can’t field your own team, you might latch onto someone else’s in acting, directing, writing, sound design, makeup and hair, camera operator, or one of the other jobs that making a film requires, said Dan Brienza, executive director of the film network.

“That is the purpose of the FFN, after all,” Brienza said, “to bring filmmakers together.”

Brienza said the network has played a role in making hundreds of short films and music videos since its formation in 2006.

“Sometimes it’s our members meeting at one of our events and deciding to make a film together,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a filmmaker being days away from start of production and still needing a certain prop or production equipment, posting it on our Facebook page, and getting a response.

“That’s what we are here for — to facilitate the process.”

Events like the Zombie Film Challenge enable filmmakers to meet and share interests while they’re looking for a team or while the films are premiered.

“Someone will see a film made by a different team, be impressed with a certain aspect like acting or lighting, and want to work with whoever was behind it on their next film,” Davison said.

Brian Jalbert used a film network challenge to bring his career to the next level.

He described himself and his brother, Jake, as outsiders in 2011. They knew no one in the film community other than themselves.

Brian is an actor. Jake is a director. They needed more pieces to assemble their filmmaking puzzle. It was through the film network that they assembled a proper production team and entered the Action Film Challenge in 2012, in which 35 teams had 30 days to make an action movie.

The Jalbert brothers’ entry did not win first prize, but it impressed a local investor who funded their first feature film.

Brian said they were not given big-budget money, but it was enough to pay for an experienced lead actor — former child star Alex Vincent of “Child’s Play” fame.

While he admitted the film, “House Guest,” will not make him a millionaire, he said it served its purpose.

“It showed we can complete a feature film,” Brian Jalbert said. “It’s a calling card. Now we are talking to people about raising a higher amount of money for our next film. We’re just going to try to keep growing.”

Two years ago, the film network ran a contest in which the screenwriter with the best two-sentence script summary received $700 plus crew to produce a movie 15 minutes or shorter. The winner, Austin McKinly, had his film, “Quicklime,” accepted at a number of film festivals.

“We’re all just chasing a dream,” said Brian Jalbert.

“It’s tough to earn a living as a filmmaker,” said Davison, who works regularly as a film and commercial producer and an actor. “It’s a hard industry to make it in. We all need help at some point.”

To keep their members motivated, to remind them what they are aspiring to become and to signal that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the film network hosts keynote speakers who have experienced a high level of success in the industry. Recent speakers have included a producer from “A Dolphin Tale” and a choreographer from “Boardwalk Empire.”

Davison said he hopes everyone in the Tampa Bay area who has enjoyed success in the production industry reaches out to the film network as a guest speaker or to teach at one of its six seminars planned for 2014, covering topics such as acting for film, screenwriting and camera technology.

“Chances are someone mentored you and helped your career get to that next level,” said Davison. “You should do the same.

“Besides, the better trained crew available in Tampa the better productions that can be made. Simple math.”

Brienza said the film network wants to raise the bar for what is expected from local filmmakers.

“Not everyone will be in the Hollywood studio structure. But a lot of people have great stories to tell that can be made if we come together and share resources. We should all be allowed the opportunity to pursue that dream.”

Or be pursued by a zombie.

“What better way to spend your day than to run for your life or to chase someone as they run for their life?” asked Davison. “Making movies is supposed to be fun. That’s why we do it. The Zombie Film Challenge is going to a blast.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7606

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