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After 20 years, Tampa Theatre’s marketing and community relations guru, Tara Schroeder, is leaving Tampa Theatre in a few weeks to move back to her home town of New Orleans to be with her family.  While the axiom that “everyone can be replaced” is true, of course, it is equally true that everyone is unique, and some things about certain people just cannot be duplicated.  So let’s just sayImage, there’s something about Tara.

I first met Tara years ago when I had become involved with a group of historic theatre operators through an organization called the League of Historic American Theatres.  Tara was on the small but intrepid staff of LHAT, and I observed how hard she worked, how passionate she was about historic theatres, and how she had this uncanny ability to quickly make friends with total strangers.   When an opportunity to bring her to Tampa Theatre came around, she was ready for a change and we were lucky enough to hire her away. I’m not sure the League has ever truly forgiven me for poaching her, but they still let me come to their meetings.

In her time here Tara has done so much that it’s hard not to name an area where she hasn’t had an influence or made a difference.  I often counseled her that her biggest problem was that she didn’t know how to say “no”, which resulted in her taking on more projects than I can count.  Looking back, of course, it’s one of the things that also made her so valuable.

Her knack for making friends translated beautifully into building the community’s ties to the Theatre.  It’s no coincidence that during her time here the Theatre has become somewhat of a media darling. No matter what all the public relations experts may say in workshops about generating publicity, if the press doesn’t like you personally, you’re not likely to get much press.  The press loved Tara.

Rosa Rio, the legendary organist who passed away at age 107 just a few years ago, became best friends with Tara.  It wasn’t surprising, given that they were both from New Orleans and both shared a passion for people and Tampa Theatre.  Aside from helping Rosa during her silent film performances, Tara spent a great deal of time with her as a friend and spent more than a few wine-fueled and laughter-filled evenings at Rosa’s home. The key to their friendship was that Tara did not treat Rosa like she was a 107; she was just one of her gal pals.

One of Tara’s lasting legacies will be the creation of our award-winning summer film camp.   Nine years ago it was Tara who decided that Tampa Theatre should invent a film-making summer camp to teach the creative process of film-making to children.  Tara knew that the camp would do more than teach a child how to make a short movie.  She knew the process would teach them valuable social and communications skills, too, like collaboration, compromise, and teamwork.  She accomplished this feat by forging a perfect partnership with the University of South Florida’s Department of Education, and today the Tampa Theatre Film Camp is the hottest summer camp ticket in Tampa.

We have no shortage of great applicants to fill the position, and I know we will find someone great who will be eager to step in and make their own contributions to the Theatre’s service to the community. It’s healthy for organizations to look forward to new ideas and an infusion of fresh thinking. Still, Tara’s contributions will be long remembered.

So, Tara Schroeder, thank you for making Tampa and Tampa Theatre a better and happier place. We will miss you. And, as we sang way too many times during a certain sing-a-long, “So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, goodbye.”

Bon chance.

Werner Herzog and Tara Schroeder at Tampa Theatre

“The Tampa Theatre is absolutely stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Werner Herzog during remarks at a reception held in his honor by the German Embassy this past Saturday evening in Tampa.

He came to Tampa for a talk on Saturday, November 19, 2011 at USF at the invitation of Dr. Margit Grieb (who we adore). She teaches courses on German film, literature, language, and culture and introduced our sold-out screening of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis last summer.

Werner Herzog and Margit Grieb

Mr. Herzog started his day with a tour of Tampa Theatre and lunch. I’m a big fan and was nervous, but he completely put me at ease with his calm and friendly voice and demeanor. He is one of the most down to earth, gracious, brilliant, insightful, funny and fascinating people I’ve ever met – and one of the most prolific creative forces of our time as you can see here.

At USF, he screened one of his latest documentaries, Into the Abyss (amazing as usual), to a standing room only lecture hall (of course, it’s Werner Herzog) followed by an entertaining and compelling Q&A (which you can read about in this Creative Loafing article).

Thank you Dr. Grieb, USF and the German Embassy for bringing our hero Werner Herzog to Tampa!

Oh, one more thing… During lunch he mentioned being asked by an interviewer about his social media presence.  He’s not on facebook and limits phone conversations.  He said he loves to cook and his social media of choice is dinner and conversation around a table.  How refreshing!  Makes me want to host more dinner parties.

Jim Wordes and Aasif Mandvi

About a month ago, my pal Jim Wordes called to say that one of his pals from USF, Aasif Mandvi, has a new film called Today’s Special. (Aasif’s day job is as a special correspondent for a little basic cable show you may have heard of called “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart“).  Jim also said that Aasif has family in the area and perhaps we could coordinate a visit. Yada, yada, yada… Aasif will be here for a Q&A after the Saturday, November 27, 7:30 screening.  You can also catch him on WMNF 88.5 Art in Your Ear with the lovely hostess, JoEllen Schilke, on Friday, November 26, 1-2pm.  Listen live at 88.5 or online at wmnf.org.  They are both smart and hilarious so should be a fun show!

The interesting thing here is that Jim was our connection to some other pals from USF with family still in the area, Seth Keal and Charles Miller, who came to TT for Q&A’s with their film, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The takeaways here are:
1.  Always answer phone calls from Jim Wordes.
2.  USF gets an A+ for educating students who go on to such successful careers.

Aasif returned to USF last week to give a lecture (he’s hilarious!).  Jim and I went and he snapped some photos for Creative Loafing.  I accompanied Jim to say hi to Aasif afterwards — what a nice guy!

Indie Filmmaker Kimberly Wetherell

In another Today’s Special coincidence… got a call earlier this week from a successful indie filmmaker named Kimberly Wetherell (another local done good) who was the associate producer for Today’s Special.  She’s from here, moved to NYC and just happens to be down here working on a new film (which will likely premiere at TT.)  She’s over the moon that Today’s Special will be at TT — her favorite movie palace.  So… yada, yada, yada… Kimberly will be here for a Q&A after the Friday, November 26, 7:30 screening.

Yay!

Vincent Price and Me

I recently heard Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and whenever I hear that song I immediately think of Vincent Price. In what seems to be a lifetime ago now, I booked Vincent Price for an appearance when I managed the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, NC in the early 1980′s. It was an “evening with” sort of program, where he spoke to the audience for about 45 minutes and then fielded questions from the audience for another 30 – 45 minutes. 

So whenever I hear “Thriller” my mind wanders back to that day and a moment that occurred shortly after he left the stage, a moment that I recognized instantly as one that I would always remember. 

Vincent Price had agreed to attend a meet and greet with some members and friends of the Carolina after his show.  We had such a great turn out that night and so many of our folks wanted the chance to shake hands and chat with the master of the macabre.  I was just as excited as the audience, as one of my most distinct childhood movie memories involved being scared out of my mind watching “The Tingler”.

His talk was wonderful.  I mostly remember standing in a spot in the Theatre where I could watch the reactions of the audience, and the entire room was enthralled with his wit and charisma.  His talk was wide-ranging and engaging as he spoke about his life and career. During the Q &A, I remember he was asked about his cookbook, and he spoke about his passion for food and cooking (his favorite thing to cook was anything to do with chicken, because he said it was so versatile.) 

The final few questions were of course about “Thriller”, which was almost new then, and he talked about how much fun it was to contribute to that.  He finished the talk by reciting the “Thriller” poem, and when he said the line “Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood”, he said it with a particular relish that made his words seem to drip down the walls of that grand old southern theater. And he enjoyed putting extra emphasis on “y’all’s” since we were in North Carolina. 

After his stage appearance, out of courtesy I gave him a few minutes to relax in the star dressing room before I came to take him over to the reception.  After about five minutes I went up to his dressing room and noticed that the door was open.  Being respectful, I approached somewhat slowly and when I got into the door frame I saw that he was sitting in a straight chair, leaning over with his elbows on his knees, smoking a cigarette.  He was clearly lost in thought, staring at the floor. 

I realized that he wasn’t aware that I was even there, so I lightly knocked on the open door and cleared my throat.  His body jerked slightly with a start, then he quickly gathered himself, smiled and said “Hello, John, how did I do?”   Although I’m sure I told him he did a great job on stage, I really don’t remember what I said, because the only thing going through my mind was:   I . . .  just . . . scared . . .  Vincent Price!  Yesss!

I considered it payback for “The Tingler”.

The very first ticket to Blood Into Wine was purchased by Harry Canalejo, one of our fab event staffers. Even though TT staffers get free movies, Harry insisted on buying a ticket to support his inspiration, Maynard James Keenan, who acts on his passions whether it be music or winemaking.  And I, in turn, was inspired by Harry’s integrity. I got a screener and gave it to Harry so he could watch it and write a review (below).  

James DeFord is another wonderful TT staffer and Tool fan who saw the screener also wrote a incisive review.

Both reviews are terrific.  Thanks, Harry & James!     

Blood Into Wine  — One Show Only Wednesday, October 20 
6:00 – Pre-film Reception with light hors d’oeuvres, cash bar & concessions
7:30 – General admission for film only
8:00 – Showtime

The Wickedest City in the West Meets Rock Star Status
by Harry Canalejo

Blood Into Wine delivers a holy experience in which we are taken through a spiritual journey of wine through its early stages at Merkin Vineyards in Jerome, Arizona with the self-proclaimed “Mobile Vortex” front man of Tool, Maynard James Keenan, and his Muse, Eric Glomski. The film offers a personal look at Tool’s front man which has eluded fans for many years. Although this is a documentary about Maynard and his vineyard, many others share their own personal stories and experiences. I feel that having multiple voices helps viewers draw their own conclusions about wine instead of being distracted by Maynard’s celebrity and following his words blindly. As we continue through the passage of wine making, we see Maynard’s true inspiration: his mother Judith Marie. The movie paints a heartfelt and more sincere picture that is sandwiched between the comedic outtakes of Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and Bob Odenkirk. Ultimately, we see Maynard trying to constantly reinvent himself and his wine as he has done with Tool and his other bands for so many years. He inspires us to never be stagnant in life and keep moving forward and evolving — just like making good bottle of wine.

Why Arizona?
by James DeFord

There’s a concept in winemaking called terroir.  Broadly speaking, terroir is the idea that growing grapes take on certain characteristics of the land on which they’re grown, and that therefore the wine made from those grapes can be evocative of that land.  Different regions produce different individual characteristics in the fruit grown there.  Wine produced in a certain place tastes, literally, of that place.

Blood Into Wine takes us to Arizona, where Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer) has started a full production vineyard and is about to release his first Cabernet Sauvignon grown entirely on his own land.  Arizona is stark, not that that’s news to anybody: it’s very dry, and largely red, and corrosive to anything alive.  Significant portions of the beginning of the movie are devoted to long (but achingly beautiful) panning shots of soil and brick and rust; mining conglomerates more than 150 years old literally own all the usable water in the vineyard’s area, and have to be sued into giving it up; wild native pig-beasts eat the young vines.  Really.  Growing wine grapes in Arizona is like trying to farm on a newly terraformed Mars.  

So why do it?  California is a scant few hours away.  Plenty of people have made plenty of money making wine there, wine ranging from perfectly serviceable to world-class.  Seems to be easy enough there.  Why Arizona?  Well, have you ever listened to Tool?  

Music can be evocative of place, too.  Maynard’s music isn’t desert music in the shallower way that, say, Calexico can be.  But it’s intricate, incisive, challenging.  Spare in a way that speaks of precision and intent.  Disdainful of wasted motion or effort.  It creates the impression of vast age without being old.  It has the flavor of the desert.  I bet his wine does too.

Blood Into Wine  is like Maynard’s music in another way, too, in that it manages to be a lot of different things at the same time. It’s mostly a beautifully filmed documentary about the nuts and bolts of winemaking and -tasting. It gives some rare insight into Maynard’s personal and professional lives, and his discomfort when they cross over. At a few places it’s a showcase for some of his celebrity friends (Tim & Eric, Patton Oswalt, Milla Jovavich, Bob Odenkirk in a hilarious scene over the end credits).  And it’s a bit of a love note to rural Arizona.  

Wine, as oenophiles won’t stop telling us, is not just a drink but an experience.  The story of how the wine was made, where the grapes were grown, who had their hands in the creation is written in the bottle of wine itself.  The story of Merkin Vineyards, the story of Maynard and his wine partner Eric Glomski, and a piece of the story of the Southwest US all come together in Blood Into Wine.  They taste great together.

TONY, TONY, TONY

We awoke this morning to the sad news that Hollywood legend Tony Curtis passed away over night.  It’s safe to say that he was one of the great iconic actors of his day, and he enjoyed his work and his celebrity immensely.  We had the pleasure of hosting Tony Curtis here at Tampa Theatre in 1996 when we screened “Some Like it Hot” as part of a series of films from the National Film Registry.  

Tony Curtis on stage at Tampa Theatre (1996), with daughter Alex and twin granddaughters Dido and Elizabeth

Some Like It Hot” still sits atop most polls and surveys as the #1 most enjoyable comedy ever.  Whenever we’ve shown it, we’ve always enjoyed great crowds – most of whom have already seen the film several times.  In that regard its like “Casablanca”  . . .  there always seems to be an audience eager to see it in a great setting.  

My remembrances of my brief day with Tony Curtis always bring a smile to my face.  About a month before his appearance at Tampa Theatre, my phone rang at my desk.  I picked it up and on the other end of the line was Tony Curtis who with great gusto said “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”.  Now, I’ve personally dealt with celebrities from time to time (from Ben Vereen to Vincent Price), but I can tell you I became a babbling idiot on the phone during that first phone call.  I mean, it was Tony Curtis on the other end of the line talking to me like I was an old friend. 

Over the next few weeks leading up to the event I got more phone calls from him, as did staff member Tara Schroeder who was handling all of the press relations for his visit.   Her phone would ring, and she would hear “Tara, Tara, Tara!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”   He became personally involved in making sure his appearance worked for us, and we really looked forward to hosting him in person.

On the day of the event, we wanted Tony Curtis and his family members travelling with him to arrive at the Theatre in style.  We made arrangements for a friend who had a Rolls Royce to pick him up from his downtown hotel and bring him to the red carpet in front of the Theatre.   Tara and I waited with anticipation with a throng of fans in front of the Theatre for his arrival.  We became excited when we saw the Rolls pulling up Franklin Street.  The Rolls got to the front of the Theatre and, aghast, I realized that no one but the driver was inside.  He had a look of shock on his face.   

Thinking the driver either got lost or had lost Tony Curtis, I ran over to him and asked “Where is he?!!!??!”  He replied that Tony had a few more people than expected and he didn’t want to take separate cars, so he called for a cab. 

Tony Curtis arriving at Tampa Theatre in a cab, not a Rolls.

About that time, a beat up station wagon taxi pulled around the corner, screeching tires with smoke billowing out the tail pipe.  The taxi’s back end looked like it needed suspension work because it appeared overloaded and dragging.  The taxi skidded to a stop, the door opened, and Tony and six others came pouring out of the cab.  The crowd roared its approval, and my heart rate returned to something resembling normal. 

Over the course of the evening, he could not have been more gracious.  He mingled with the crowd, signed every autograph asked of him, posed with guests for picture after picture.  Once he stepped on stage to introduce the film and again afterwards for a Q & A, he became every bit of “Tony Curtis, the movie star” and the crowd couldn’t get enough of him.  Off stage with me, Tara and the Tampa Theatre crowd, he was simply “Tony”, a guy who seemed to enjoy making friends everywhere he went. 

We had him for just a day, but it was enough for us to appreciate his spirit and how much joy he found in living his life large.

All of us at Tampa Theatre extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. 

Tony, Tony, Tony:  Bravo, Bravo, Bravo.

Logan and Noah on the FarmI’ve spent the past few days with Logan and Noah Miller who wrote, directed and starred in “Touching Home” opening tonight. I immediately felt comfortable with them since I have three brothers.  But you will too if you catch them at the post film Q&As after the Fri & Sat shows.  The Millers are sweet, kind, considerate, creative, uber smart, down to earth, engaging, entertaining — and it’s no surprise that they both have girlfriends.  Their infectious enthusiasm and amazing tenacity also comes through in their book, “Either You’re In or In the Way.”  Buy it at TT Fri or Sat and they will gladly sign it.

TT staff member and music/film writer Gina Moccio met the Bros and wrote this article.  It’s a great snapshot.  Enjoy!

“What You Don’t Know, You’ll Figure Out”
Logan and Noah Miller: the forces behind Touching Home
By Gina Moccio

      When Logan and Noah Millers’ dream of becoming professional baseball players stopped short, they decided to become involved with film. They found out they were excellent writers and put their ideas into screenplays. Touching Home had been around for a while, and all their friends and family knew the film existed on paper. Though, when the boys’ father passed away alone and in jail, it sent them into a frenzy of guilt and grief. They made a vow to tell their father’s story; Touching Home would be a reality in one year. Armed with seventeen credit cards, a grant from the Panavision New Filmmaker Program, a contract in the form of a handshake from Ed Harris, and enough passion and determination to turn the Earth upside down, the Millers were able to make it happen.

      With no physical experience in the filmmaking world and an operation of this size to pull off between themselves, people wonder how they did it. Just how were they able to tackle their doubt? The negativity of others? The answer is that the feeling never went away. “We felt terribly inadequate,” said Noah. Though he didn’t agree with the use of the word naive because it’s often used to limit someone’s thinking; he knew they needed to learn as quickly as possible. “And we knew we were starting with a considerable deficiency.”

      He told a story about George Lucas, the Stars Wars tycoon. Apparently, Lucas’ crew didn’t believe in the first film and would walk off set as soon as their time was up whether they were in the middle of a scene or not. Lucas actually checked himself into the hospital during the editing process because he thought he was having a heart attack. He thought he had made a bomb. A bomb that as of 2008, ended up becoming the third-highest-grossing film series in the world. Logan said they thought about that when they were reflecting and writing their book, Either You’re In or You’re In the Way. He understood they’d always be underprepared for the next step, but it was just a part of jumping in. “I think it’s good to be honest and outrageously optimistic,” said Noah. “You have to be honest with where you’re at and then shoot for Andromeda.”

      Having each other to share the responsibilities with certainly helped. When one Bro was down, the other Bro would build him back up. “It’s a blessing for sure,” said Logan. “But sometimes we argue and work against each other.” Since both brothers acted in the film, they played both a character and the director. “It’s tough for me to take direction from him,” said Noah. “I trust what he says, but he’s always telling me stuff during the day; he directs me all the time in life. We butt heads on everything, but we eventually come to an agreement. No one acts unilaterally.”

      Logan and Noah’s film education consisted of pouring themselves into books on directing, producing, and other major bones of the film body. Putting together Touching Home with the help of several loyal friends and crew members they had gathered was the ultimate filmmaking crash course. Usually this is the part where, “they could write a book about what they learned” would come in, except they already did. But the most standout lesson was, “what you don’t know, you’ll figure out,” said Logan. “So many times you don’t start something because you don’t feel that you have the requisite knowledge– whatever that is.” Noah added, “Hire really good people. Explain to them what you want and let their creative minds take over. They’ll bring you things that you never even thought of.”

      The Millers’ favorite part of creating Touching Home was the sound mixing at Skywalker Ranch. Finally they were able to slow down and let time be one of the decision makers. Logan enjoyed the methodical aspect and the time to reflect on what they had done. “Or hadn’t,” added Noah with a laugh. “We now had a movie that worked.”

      Reality is a gray zone when you’re talking about the pursuit of dreams. It’s also a matter of perspective. Though, if there’s anything a person should do with their dreams, it’s “go after it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it,” said Logan. Feeling insecure and uneasy is just a part of the process, he explained. “Nobody is any smarter than you are and nobody knows you better than you do.. What do you think Bro?” “I agree. I concur,” said Noah with a laugh.

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