A lawyer, a professor, and a creative director walk into a movie theater. ... Sounds like the setup for a joke, right? But, in reality, they are three local film buffs who created the movie meetup called Second Screen Cult Cinema, which has enjoyed a successful run for the past five years.
The collaborative team born of friendship and growing over time is now shifting their energies to a new project in the face of COVID-19 challenges.
Initially, the Second Screen founders set out to disrupt the local film scene by presenting movies that local theaters wouldn't touch. The goal was to solve a personal problem: missing out on some of the hippest, most innovative storytelling and acting on the big screen because such films weren't being shown within the Tampa Bay arthouse circuit. So, they made it their mission to create a monthly event that would involve inviting friends and acquaintances to watch the offbeat films together and then stick around afterward to talk about what they observed and why they thought it important.
“Most movie theaters were showing the classic films like Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws or The Goonies -- the stuff that everyone knows and that they've already seen a thousand times,” says Second Screen co-Founder Michael Martz. "We were looking for more, something that was unconventional and possibly under-seen, and always interesting, maybe a little literate or provocative, or just something with some form of uniqueness."
Everything was going great until earlier this year when COVID-19 came along and put a wrench in the projector. The series’ coordinators -- Ann-Eliza Musoke Taylor (the lawyer), Tyler Martinolich (the professor), and Martz (the creative director) -- tried doing a couple of virtual screenings and chats, but some films in the series, such as Alejandro Jodorovsky’s vast and symbolic masterpiece Holy Mountain, lose their impact on small screens. So, the Second Screeners came up with a new way to feed their cinematic hunger. They’re launching a podcast on Aug. 13, and their first episode will be titled “What is Cult Cinema?”
Evolving from Peeping Tom to today
Five years before the podcast idea was hatched, Second Screen presented their first film at The Vault in downtown Tampa in February 2015. The film, Peeping Tom, immediately set the tone for providing provocative content and boundary-pushing cinematography. The British “proto-thrasher” thriller drew controversy though it wasn’t nearly as graphic as are slasher films of today.
“It was pretty lurid stuff for 1960,” when the film was first released, Martz says. “It just about destroyed the career of director Michael Powell, who's famous for co-directing The Red Shoes and classic British films from the ‘40s and ‘50s.”
Thereafter, Second Screen Cult Cinema became a source for international, avant-garde, neorealist, French New Wave, vintage horror, documentaries, and under-appreciated comedies or dramas you wouldn’t typically see at a multiplex. Longtime buddies Martz and Taylor initiated the event and hosted the movie nights, which were preceded by a swanky cocktail hour and a DJ spinning sophisticated world pop -- sometimes with Taylor’s husband, DJ Brian Oblivion, aka Brian Taylor.
Mutual friend Martinolich, who spearheads local cinema culture as Hillsborough County Film Commissioner, joined forces with Martz and Taylor in early 2017. He’s also a board member of the Gasparilla International Film Festival and teaches film at the University of Tampa.
Second Screen Cult Cinema earned Best of the Bay critic pick awards in 2015 and 2019, and they were also honored with the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Urban Excellence Award in 2017. Some of the films the Second Screeners curated have resonated succinctly with events of this past spring and summer. So much so, you’d be surprised to learn that they plan the films almost a year in advance. In April, they screened a 1978 French film called The Grapes of Death, which was about an outbreak of disease. In May, the renowned, creepy documentary Grey Gardens -- about two shut-ins related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- screened when the madness of sheltering at home started to peak.
“It’s like the ultimate social isolation movie,” Martz says with a laugh. “Then we had Brainstorm, which is about the dangers of technology and the unforeseen consequences of technology like, hello, social media, amplifying everything.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement continued to galvanize, Second Screen presented Babylon in July. The 1980 film was initially banned in the United States because of its racial violence, but it’s also a favorite of critics around the world and explores London’s reggae scene and racial divide.
Meanwhile, questions of systemic racism persist 40 years later here in America.
“No one else was showing these kinds of movies, and they should be seen,” Martz says. “Cinephiles like us, they're always going to appreciate it, but there's an audience for people that maybe have heard of those films, who haven't actually seen them. Beyond that, it was more about sitting together in a room with people in the community and not just watching together but discussing the film together afterward. And that was kind of a key part of our mission,” Martz says.
Second Screen ended its run at the Vault in December 2018 and re-started in 2019 at the Epicurean Hotel in South Tampa. Their last film, screened just a week before the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in March, was Karmen Gei, a 2001 Senagalese film inspired by the opera Carmen. It uses dance and music as weapons of resistance.
Geeking out around the table
At that point, a previously suggested podcast idea picked up full steam.
Also titled Second Screen Cult Cinema, each episode of the podcast will clock in at around 45 minutes and will feature a themed discussion on topics related to underground and foreign film.
“We're all having to figure out how to have a film experience where we can't all be together in a room, which, as you know, is very difficult,” Taylor says. What we really wanted to do with Second Screen was to have a place where people can watch movies together because we felt that the discussions are just as important as the movies themselves.”
While they can’t re-create the visceral elation of socializing and seeing a film on the big screen, the Second Screeners can use the podcast to educate people and offer insight into films beloved and studied by some of the world’s most famous directors.
“We all bring something a little bit different to the conversation,” Taylor explains. “Though we could all have seen the same movie, I'm speaking as a woman and a woman of color, and Tyler as an educator and Michael as a film connoisseur.”
Martz, who engineers marketing campaigns along with writing, editing, and branding during his day job, in addition to having a wife and daughter, says Second Screen will be using social media in new ways to engage their followers. For instance, they might post a question or some trivia on their Facebook page.
Martz adds that they’ve learned the finer points of podcast streaming, potentially pivoting from nonprofit mode to monetization. Martinolich has already hosted podcasts as film commissioner, but Martz admits to having more of a learning curve. Because new podcasts often start with three episodes to get listeners hooked and up their searchability odds, Second Screen plans to post their first three of several pre-recorded podcasts this week.
And how do these three busy professionals maintain a work-life balance?
“I always feel like I'm in the last hundred yards of a sprint,” Taylor says with a laugh and a sigh.
“The way we've been approaching Second Screen lately is just ... we just schedule it,” Martz says. “You just put it in your calendar like you would anything else and you treat it not as a side hustle but as actual work.”
It should be entertaining, too. Considering how much the three love movies and talking about them, their enthusiasm seems infectious.
Taylor adds, as if stating the obvious, “When the three of us get together, we're going to geek out around the table anyway.”
To find out where to tune into the new podcast, visit Second Screen’s Facebook page