Article by Gary White, The Ledger
If it becomes reality, a movie conceived in and inspired by Polk County will be made here after all.
That is the latest plot twist in the drama of three local filmmakers' quest to turn a script into a feature film whose title, "Endure," has come to have a second meaning for the them.
The filmmaking team of Joe O'Brien, Rob Tritton and Jim Carleton has endured several changes of plans and some near-misses with actors in the two years since they began striving to make the small-budget thriller. At this point, the trio still has no firm shooting date and still needs to land a lead actor.
The Ledger has followed the filmmakers' quest in an ongoing series since 2007.
The NFocus team originally decided on a budget of $1.2 million. Last May, NFocus announced it had signed a deal with Hi-Def Entertainment, an established Tennessee production outfit, that would boost the film's budget to $3.1 million. But Tritton said NFocus has decided to bring the project back to Lakeland and trim the budget to $1 million. He said the Tennessee company will no longer contribute to the funding.
Tritton, producer and production manager for NFocus Pictures, said the filmmakers now hope for an April shoot, though that depends upon the signing of a lead actor.
"The script was written for this city," said O'Brien, who wrote the screenplay. "So when we go to start looking for locations, it is more in keeping with the spirit and tone of the picture."
"Endure" is a thriller with an opening hook: A man dies in a vehicle crash on a desolate rural road, and authorities find inside the wreckage a photo of a terrified young woman tied to a tree. The plot revolves around efforts by a small-town detective to determine the woman's identity and find her alive in the 560,000 acres of the Green Swamp.
Randy Larson, one of the project's early investors, said he remains committed to backing "Endure." Larson, a Plant City businessman, said the experience has taught him about the vicissitudes of the movie business.
"I'm still excited about it," Larson said. "There's the old saying, 'Success comes from the courage to go slow,' and I think that's playing out pretty well so far. I've always been confident it's going to happen. I guess I have been surprised it hasn't happened quicker than what it has. I thought we were going to blow and go with this deal right off the bat, but I'm sure the economy has had a big play in that."
Tritton said "Endure," if completed this year, could qualify for a partial rebate of its budget through an incentive fund overseen by the Florida Governor's Office for Film and Entertainment.
Though the state legislature slashed the incentive budget from $25 million last fiscal year to $5 million this year, state film commissioner Lucia Fishburne said the "Endure" project could be eligible for a rebate of 15 percent to 22 percent of its expenses. She said a project must include at least $625,000 of spending in Florida to qualify.
The most vexing challenge for the filmmakers has been signing an established actor for the lead role of Emory Lloyd, a detective in his late 40s or 50s. Tritton said NFocus, working first with an independent casting agent, has managed to get copies of O'Brien's script to well-known Hollywood actors, and though he said some have responded enthusiastically none has yet to commit.
With the new budget arrangement, Tritton said the lead actor would get roughly 10 percent of the budget, or $100,000.
"We're asking people to consider it for a wage much lower than what they're worth and typically work for," Tritton said. "We have to sell them based on the quality of the script. ... Someone's going to do this project for the love of the project not for money. We have to find them."
O'Brien, Tritton and Carleton have full-time jobs through their Lakeland production company, and they have been pursuing the "Endure" project for about two years now. O'Brien, 46, admits the process has tested his resolve.
"I'm convinced all things worth doing are similar - full of frustration," O'Brien said.
Tritton said he's grateful the film's investors have remained patient through the travails of the past year. The invested money is held in an escrow fund, and Tritton said no investors have yet backed out.
Larson said he doesn't yet feel tempted to demand his investment back. He said the funds in the "Endure" escrow account are stable, whereas many of his other investments have tanked lately.
"It's easy to have patience with those guys because they keep you so informed," Larson said. "When you're uninformed and everybody's silent, that's when you begin to worry. But that has not been the case here."
Tritton knows, though, that the investors' endurance isn't limitless.
"There's not an indefinite time frame for this," he said.