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When Steve Tatone hit his 50th birthday after a successful 30-year career as a concert promoter, he decided to take his life in a different direction. He had always had an itch to make movies, but had never taken the time. “I knew that at that age the only way I could break into the industry was through writing,” he says. “So I took a year and literally broke away from my fairly lucrative promotion business.” That one year turned into five and Tatone will soon see his second script, a true story of rise, fall and redemption based on a Boston Bruins hockey star from the ’70s named Derek Sanderson, released as a $25 million Hollywood production.
Not bad for a first attempt at screenwriting. But it’s Tatone’s current production, a contemporary musical called Beautiful Noise, that is lining up to be highly beneficial for Sarasota. That’s the result of another decision: “I was walking the beach and it just came to me — ‘Why not make it yourself?’ So, I decided then and there we’re going to start our company and I don’t care if I have to shoot it with my little Panasonic or if I can find people to help me make it into a bigger thing, I’m going to make this movie and all the movies I write here.”
Along with his wife Linda, Tatone launched Midnight Pass Productions, an independent film company based in Sarasota with the intention of making the Suncoast its primary hub of activity. The company has five independent films slated to be produced in Sarasota over the next 36 months. “We’ve got one of the world’s best film festivals, we’ve got a Suncoast filled with people who live here by choice, but are forced to work out of town to work on anything of any magnitude. So that’s the fertile ground where I came to this decision. For $10,000 or $10 million or anything in between, I’m going to start making movies here.”
With that line in the sand drawn, Tatone finished the first draft of the Beautiful Noise script about a year ago and started assembling a production team. The concept behind the movie revolves around music, so a solid music production studio was a key first step. Tatone found a partner in Top Secret Studios on 17th Street. As the weeks went on he found more kindred souls in some of Sarasota’s most accomplished filmmakers and production professionals, including Alex Rotella, founder of Sarasota-based VisionStream Films, who Tatone met six weeks ago and decided to bring on as the film’s co-producer and assistant director.
“I read the script and I saw that it contained music, with people either breaking into song or hearing a song that’s driving the scene,” says Rotella. “I said you’re either crazy or brilliant, and I’m not sure because I’m going to have to hear the music. I listened to the songs and I said, ‘Steve, I’m leaning toward brilliant now.’”
That compliment is made all the more impressive knowing that every song that was included in the first draft had to be replaced. A self-professed “Diamond Head,” Tatone originally wrote the script using the songs of Neil Diamond’s 1976 concept albumBeautiful Noise. The album was not only Tatone’s inspiration for the film’s title, but the story itself, which revolves around a former pop star that falls off the radar after an accident and becomes a recluse living under a false name in Myakka, FL. After a budding L.A. songstress discovers his lost album she sets out to find the aging rocker to ask for his blessing to re-record the work, hoping it will be her claim to fame.
As irony would have it, Neil Diamond’s management, although loving the script and concept, turned down Tatone’s request to use his songs. A major setback as the lyrics had literally been written into the script. “I thought now it may take three or four months just to find songs to replace,” says Tatone. “But within ten days I had every song of Diamond’s replaced without having to change one line of dialogue. It actually fit in better.” That’s not the incredible part. After a nationwide call out to songwriters, the songs that stood out as perfect substitutes were the ones submitted by the cast members themselves. One of only two of the film’s 21 songs not written by the cast is Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” which she gave Tatone direct permission to use after reading his script.
Tatone had purposefully searched for singer-songwriter/actors when casting the movie. He first flew to Las Vegas to court Jay White for the role of “Noah,” the recluse. Considered the world’s most convincing Neil Diamond performer, White actually played the part of Diamond in Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning Frost/Nixon. The role of “Dez,” the young songstress, will be filled by Bradenton’s own Danielle White, an 18-year-old recent Booker graduate who became a member of pop groupAmerican Juniors at age 12, after winning the American Idol spin-off competition of the same name.
Other cast members include Nashville’s Kimber Cleveland, former host of Disney Channel’s Disney 365 Chester See, percussionist in Neil Diamond’s band since 1976, King Errisson, and numerous other accomplished performers. This impressive, multi-talented roster is complimented by highly regarded national production talent like director of photography Dan Stoloff, who was the man behind the camera during the filming of Disney’s box office hit hockey movie Miracle.
So far Tatone has only heard his movie in any real form when he flew the whole crew in for a table reading in mid-June. But the production will truly come to life when shooting takes place August 23 to September 15. Tatone used the Academy Award-winning contemporary musical Once as a template for the film’s structure, and he’s excited to incorporate the concept in highlighting his hometown: “Sarasota and Myakka are literally main characters in this film. So by design it’s going to have a different look than Once. But both from the marketing and financial, [Once] is encouragement to me that it can be done.”
The team will hold a fundraising concert at the Municipal Auditorium August 26 called “Hot August Night.” White is flying his band in to perform their full 90-minute Vegas show, and opening up will be all the cast members performing their original songs featured in the film. To top it off, Tatone found out last week that Beautiful Noise is one of a handful of films selected and certified by the state of Florida to receive the film tax credit incentive.
“It’s all organic,” says Tatone. “Everything that’s happened, from the cast falling into place, the songs falling into place, Joni Mitchell, every week something’s happened that continues to allow this film to be made. And the capper was the state of Florida. When you get the state of Florida blessing your project, it’s gratifying to all of us who have worked for months, doing everything on spec. It’s the true definition of what an independent feature film is, and it all came from the decision my wife and I made that we’re going to make movies here in Sarasota.”
PHOTO COURTESY RYAN LEBAR