Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shining a Light on the Sunshine State

Toward the end of 2007, Gainesville, Florida resident Gabriel Tyner was forced to improvise a new career when the U.S. recession pulverized the comfortable niche he had carved out as a wedding videographer and sideline documentary filmmaker. But it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Tyner joined local TV station WCJB TV-20 as an associate producer, rising quickly to the ranks of director and producer. In 2009, he landed a job with Orlando's FOX 35, connecting in the process with a pair of cinematic mentors. One was Christopher Ramsey, a fellow staff member at FOX 35 and documentary producer on the non-fiction selection committee for the Florida Film Festival. The other was horror movie director Steven Shea.

"I first met Steven in October of 2009 at the Freakshow Horror Film Festival in Orlando," recalls Tyner during an interview with FilmStew. "I was there as a journalist where I met a lot of influential people, including director John Landis and horror icon Danielle Harris."

Fact-finding in Orlando

"Out of all the movies I watched, only one really stood out to me," he continues. "2:22 was only about five minutes long, but it was directed by Shea with an incredibly powerful performance by lead actress Tara Lightfoot. It went on to show at the Cannes Film Festival."

Tyner decided that if he really wanted to become a good director, he needed to first understand the actor's side of the equation. Somewhat improbably, he was able to land a role in Shea's movie Doomsday County and tried to absorb as much as he could on the set.

But rather than return to raw footage of The Halloween Manifesto, a documentary about the death of Halloween that he worked on in the past, Tyner chose to focus his efforts on Chiefland, a 2006 profile set in the central Florida town of the same name. Co-produced by aforementioned mentor Ramsey, the film chronicles the efforts of retired bull rider Chris Wilson to return to the ring at age 35 and debuted this past April at the 2010 Indie Grits Film Festival in South Carolina.

Nursing some new wounds

"I have had a lot of great feedback," Tyner shares. "The style of the film has a lot to due with the camera I used at the time. It was the single chip Sony DCR-HC85. The way the camera handles light and color is really cool. It blurs the edges a little and gives it this burned film look. A lot of the shots are right in Chris' face because I knew I had to get his audio. It's a great American story of man vs. bull and man vs. himself. Chris returns to bull riding to finish what he started and find tranquility."

Tyner on the other hand has happily embraced a feverish pace as a filmmaker. Besides Chiefland, he has a new cut of his horror short Tape Found set to screen in September at the ongoing indie screening series FilmSlam. Not to mention Five Angry Ninjas, a reality TV pilot about a tribute band to Ice T's Body Count and the feature-length documentary Chasing Ghosts, currently in production.

"The term “chasing ghosts” refers to the fact that a lot of people do not believe that gangs exist in Gainesville," Tyner explains. "But they are definitely starting to become a problem and I did not want to wait until my hometown was riddled with gang violence."

Reformed Gainesville gang member Tito

"I interviewed a doctor from the University of Florida who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where of course the Bloods and Crips started. He told me that Gainesville looks like South Central did when he was growing up. But this is also a documentary about violence in our schools. Another professor I talked to, from Florida State University, has found a “warrior gene” that links gang violence to weapons. These kids are closet predators and no one is safe in our schools unless we recognize the problem and deal with it."

Tyner has even found time to complete the screenplay Tesla's Coil, an H.P. Lovecraft-style tale about a handyman whose world is turned upside down after he finds an old diagram and follows its machine building instructions. It's just another example of this journalist's natural storytelling abilities, which he puts to equally good use when asked what he did immediately after graduating from the University of Florida in 2001 with a degree in anthropology.

"I went backpacking around Mexico to take photos and video," Tyner remembers. "While taking a break from photos, I was love-struck by a beautiful Latin woman in Playa Del Carmen. I was swimming in that Caribbean blue water when I caught her eye."

"I swam over to her to say hi and she responded with as much English as she knew, which at the time was about three words," he adds. "I knew very little Spanish, but within a half an hour she was swinging me around by my feet and I was giving her piggy back rides. She was 18 and I was 23. We have been together ever since that first encounter in the water. We have been married seven years."


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