Skyway Film Institute Seeks To Capitalize Industry

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BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY AUG 5, 2019

Tony Stopperan knows the limits of operating in Sarasota compared to Los Angeles. The film producer can’t set a meeting and just across town with a major studio in an hour. It takes time to make a project happen.

But with the Skyway Film Institute, an film finance and production company which leverages private equity investment into film projects for regional benefit, that Stopperan founded this year, he hopes to improve the ability for local professionals to bring their visions to the screen.

“As a regional, off-market producer, it takes a time commitment to develop a project,” he says. “But I have an affinity for this area for the quality of life, the same reason people move to Sarasota from all other industries.”

The Institute was born indirectly from Skyway Film Festival that took place in Manatee a few years ago. The company consults with film projects in a four-county region—Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas and Hillsborough.

The first major project connected to the Institute, I Saw a Man With Yellow Eyes starring Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick, Jr., ended up shooting in all four of those counties. The film was written and directed by Castille Landon, a recognizable actress with regional ties, and was shot over 21 days, with 100 percent of investment taking place here, including $82,000 in Sarasota County alone

Not every Institute-connected film will shoot here; Stopperan says two pending projects were conceived here but for creative or financial reasons will do much of their filming out of state. But the Skyway region will still serve as a sort of home base. As the area sees more soundstages and post-production facilities open, infrastructure long desired by film leaders in the area, there will be plenty of business opportunities even if the Florida terrain appears nowhere in a final movie cut.

And Stopperan at this point in his career can offer a fair amount of sage advice to filmmakers trying to make it.

His film resume boasts production credits for 10 finished or upcoming film and episodic projects, including executive producer lines of three shot in the area (The Lucky 6; Paradise, FL and I Saw a Man with Yellow Eyes). He also wrote and directed the film Draupadi Unleashed.

He boasts strong connections to such industry-critical institutions as Ringling College of Art and Design, where he worked at the time a film program launched there, and Film Florida, a state film commission where he served as vice chair for two years.

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