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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 14, 2018 2 months ago

Production company executive aims to turn area into content creation hub

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David Shapiro believes in Sarasota’s potential as a filmmaking destination. He’s helping the area get there through a commercial-nonprofit collaboration.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

A content engine is beginning to accelerate in Sarasota.

And one of the main behind-the-scene drivers is David Shapiro, owner of development and production company Semkhor Productions. Semkhor is collaborating with Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design to give students the opportunity to work on real-life productions and bring more content creation to the area. The collaboration has already worked on web series with Dylan McDermott and Justin and Christian Long.

Courtesy, photo by Rich Schineller. Director Kevin Smith with Ringling College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson.

Shapiro, who splits his time between New York and Sarasota, with stops in L.A. and London, was recently in Sarasota for the third installment of shooting for a new horror film by director Kevin Smith — “Kilroy Was Here.” Area shooting locations included Fruitville Grove in Sarasota, Nathan Benderson Park, a motel near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and Booker Middle School.

The crew of 65 included students, recent graduates and local professionals — Nick Morgulis, a 2012 Ringling film graduate, was a producer. Since filming has wrapped, post-production work will start on “Kilroy” in New York and at the Ringling post-production facility.

Courtesy. David Shapiro, center, with Wendy and Beau Bridges.

In an interview with the Business Observer, Shapiro shares his take on the collaboration and where filmmaking in Sarasota is headed. Edited excerpts:

  • Beginning of a beautiful friendship: The collaboration between Semkhor Productions and Ringling College began about 10 years ago. “It started off slow,” says Shapiro. “We felt our way for the first years.” They got their rhythm, he says, when they developed a speakers series that brought big names from filmmaking to campus.
  • Make him an offer: “It’s structured as a collaboration, not a legal partnership or joint venture,” Shapiro says. Semkhor helps develop productions in which Ringling College students can participate. “It takes a lot of focus and ethics to make a commercial-nonprofit collaboration work. Everyone has to be in it for more than the money.” Something else it takes? Time. “You really do have to be patient,” Shapiro says. “And that patience is completely worth it.”  

“Every time we start a new project, it gets better.” — David Shapiro, owner, Semkhor Productions

  • Show me the money: “We can’t really compete against a $5 million film, so we’re not looking at that right now,” Shapiro says. “We’re looking at projects that cost $1.5 million and below.” The key is to find projects in that sweet spot and use available infrastructure — crew, facilities, technology and academic support. “Semkhor is good at finding projects with recognized talent that can benefit from that infrastructure,” he says.  
Courtesy, photo by Rich Schineller. Director Kevin Smith recently filmed the third installment of “Kilroy Was Here” in Sarasota with the help of Ringling College of Art and Design students.
  • Stuff of dreams: Shapiro attributes some of the growth in student interest in Ringling’s film program to students being able to interact with talented filmmakers. He says, “We think we have a good space carved out because we’re working with artists and projects they’re very passionate about.”  
  • If you build it, they will come: Semkhor invested in new soundstage and post-production facilities at Ringling. “We built a post-production facility that’s on par with a major studio,” Shapiro says. The facilities will be used to create digital and musical content, with space to record and mix audio.  
  • Ready for its close-up: Shapiro sees Sarasota’s potential as a digital content creation hub. He says, “We think this will provide an ignition to that.” He sees a big business impact with more productions and more jobs coming to the area. “We want to be part of economic development in town," he adds, "and this can do that.”
  • Tomorrow is another day: The collaboration’s next project is with actor Beau Bridges. The film will be based on Richard Boleslavsky’s “Acting: The First Six Lessons.” Shapiro says each project Ringling and Semkhor work on together provides valuable experience to build on. "Every time we start a new project," he says, “it gets better.”

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