tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
  • Home

Tampa natives finding success in Hollywood

Tampa Bay once had a dream of being a hub of Hollywood activity.
It started in 1984 when “Cocoon” was shot in St. Petersburg. It became an instant classic, winning two Academy Awards and launching Ron Howard's directing career. Tampa Bay thought it also would help to launch this community as a viable alternative to L.A.
A sampling of major films that have since used the Bay area for the bulk of its locales include “Summer Rental,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “My Girl,” “The Punisher,” “Dolphin Tale” and “Spring Breakers.”
Although this list is comprised of some major hits, they are not enough to label the area as a “hub” of Hollywood-backed films. Such films only appear in Tampa every few years. The dream of becoming “Hollywood South” never has come to fruition.
However, that has not stopped a number of area residents from achieving their own personal Hollywood dreams.
Although natives such as Patrick Wilson and Brittany Snow and transplants such as John Travolta are some of this area's best known talents for their work in front of the camera, others have found lofty success behind it in a multitude of fields.
He turns mortals into immortals, nice guys into monsters and real life Clark Kents into super heroes. Corey Castellano, a 49-year-old lifelong Tampa resident, turned what once was considered a “nerdy hobby” into a flourishing career as a special-effects makeup artist for some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters.
On “X-Men: Last Stand” he was the creative mind behind 40 mutant extras, designing their tattoos, skin color, prosthetics and other attributes that set them apart from their less-evolved neighbors. On “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,” he tattooed countless pirates. And in “Lincoln” he “gorrified” those who were killed or injured in battle. In all, between television and film, Castellano has 68 credits on his resume.
“I got my start just goofing around making masks for fun and doing haunted houses and stuff like that,” explained Castellano. “Then I started getting work at some of the studios in Orlando and everything just kind of snowballed from there.
“I have seen every movie I have ever worked on. It is bitching to get to see the actors transform from themselves into a character and to know I had a hand in it.”
Give him one kid sitting on a boat in a pool surrounded by blue walls, and he can help turn it into a majestic world.
Richard Servello, a 34-year-old Clearwater native and longtime resident turned L.A. transplant, is one of the few thousand people in the world lucky enough to work as an editor on Hollywood films. As a digital compositor, he takes the work completed by every other member of the editing team and puts it together into a seamless film.
“Everyone else who edits only gets to see what they work on,” said Servello. “I get to see the finished product. So I think I have the best job.”
Some of the 31 titles on his resume include “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,” “The Green Lantern,” “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “Life of Pi,” which won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Servello explained that being part of an Oscar-winning team was flattering, but it was also humbling. Despite playing a part in such a prestigious project, he still has to hustle to find work.
“As an editor, I am always working myself out of a job,” said the Full Sail University graduate who explained that most editors are independent contractors. “I get hired for a specific project, and when it is done, so is my job. And with so much special effects and editing work being sent overseas, it is getting tougher and tougher to find work.”
However, the pitfalls of his career choice will not deter him anytime soon.
“I knew I wanted to do this for a living ever since I saw 'Jurassic Park,'” he said. “To be one of the few who can earn a living doing this is amazing. There is no way I would give up. I'll just work harder.”
Tampa native Matt Lopez's longtime dream of writing for TV and film was not unique, but the way he went about obtaining it was. He earned his law degree from New York University Law School, moved to L.A., found work as an attorney for Dreamworks negotiating deals with screenwriters, and then used his contacts to have one of his screenplays read by a major agent, who recognized Lopez's talent and agreed to represent him.
That particular screenplay was never produced, but Lopez's agent did get him a screenwriting contract with Disney. Lopez went on to write the scripts “Bedtime Stories,” “Race To Witch Mountain” and “The Sorcerer's Apprentice.”
He recently penned the pilot script for an upcoming ABC project called “Gothica.” ABC describes it as a modern-day gothic horror soap surrounding the lives of Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and others.
“If there is one thing that bridges all my stories, it is a sort of fantasy element,” said Lopez. “My favorite movies to watch are the ones that make me feel like I have been transported to somewhere I've never been before and never could have imagined being.”
For an attorney, Lopez is one heck of a screenwriter.
She was once considered Tampa's “It Girl.”
In the early 2000s, it seemed rare a month went by in which Tampa native Chrissy Chase wasn't in a local publication or on a news program that promoted her singing talent. She hosted musical open mic nights in Ybor City, mesmerizing crowds with her angelic voice. She stomped on the bar and sang to hordes of drunken men at Coyote Ugly. She was a successful model. Everyone who knew her seemed positive she would make it in the entertainment business. And they were all right.
A few years ago Chase moved to Nashville, where she began working with multi-Grammy Award winning producer Rob Galbraith, sang a country duet with Kevin Bacon for a compilation album raising money for the Fraternal Order of Police and firefighters and appeared in music videos for country stars.
However, it was in teenage programming that she has found her most success. Nickelodeon regularly plays four of her songs — “Meant for Me,” “Jump In, Strap Up,” “All The Way,” and “Run Forever” — on two of its most popular shows, “Victorious” and “iCarly.” And Chase has 10 new songs that will be placed on Nickelodeon shows in the near future.
Tampa's former “It Girl” has become Nickelodeon's musical “It Girl.”
At an age when other boys were dreaming of pitching for the Yankees, putting out fires or landing on the moon, he dreamed of pointing a camera and filming movies and television shows.
“For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a director of photography,” said lifelong St. Petersburg resident Erik Curtis.
Although he has never desired a career in front of the camera, he broke into the production industry as an extra on the 1995 film “The Break” that was shot in St. Petersburg. Rather than trying to hobnob with the stars or steal more camera time, he watched the crewmembers so he could have a better sense for what they do. From there he began seeking work as a production assistant on any movie, television show and commercial shot in the area. The veteran directors of photography took him under their wing and taught him the ins and outs of the business.
“My advice to people is find out what you want to do and focus on learning and working your way up the ranks,” said Curtis.
And that is what Curtis did. Over the past decade, the former extra and production assistant has worked as a camera operator on blockbusters such as “Miami Vice,” “The Transporter 2” and “The Final Destination” and as a director of photography on films such as “Spring Breakers” and Naomi Watts' upcoming “Sunlight Jr.”
“I have gotten to live my dream,” he said. “Not a lot of people can say that.”
He's officially one of the coolest comic nerds in Tampa Bay.
When Czech Republic native and artist Ales Bask Hostomsky moved to Florida with his parents in 1984, he immediately fell in love with the United States' pop culture, with comic books near the top of the list. So when a friend of Hostomsky's who works in the film business offered him the opportunity to create some artwork for “Iron Man 3,” it took him all of a split second to say yes.
“I didn't know what they wanted me to do,” he laughed, “nor did I care. What was cool, though, was that the film wanted me to create my artwork rather than telling me what they wanted. They let me be me.”
One particular piece was one that depicted the Morton Salt girl with a massive bomb falling down on her. The original had been sold for a while, but was too small anyway, so he recreated it to their size specification of five foot wide and 13 feet tall. The painting was shown prominently in the film, hanging in Tony Stark's home.
He also designed 13 more massive paintings for The Mandarin's lair as well as an Iron Man mask painting that was not used in the film but appeared on shirts and postcards given to the set department following the wrap of the film.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Hotomsky. “And I hope it is just the first film my work shows in.”

Paul Guzzo is a freelance journalist, independent filmmaker and author. His new book, “The Overnight Family Man — a humorous look at his transition from single man to father of three in one year” — is available now.
Weather Center