Jul 28, 2014
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James Woods Visits Ringling College

Actor James Woods stopped at Ringling College of Art and Design to work with students and be shown how Sarasota could be a good place to do business in the future.

Sarasota, actor James Woods knows where you're at.

That probably would have been scary given some of his roles such as the gangster Max in "Once Upon A Time in America," but the James Woods is impressed with what's developing at the  and the region is starting to blip on the Hollywood radar.

"Hollywood better worry about whether they're on Tampa Bay's radar because in fact, when you go to areas outside of the usual media centers — L.A. and New York — you realize there's action here, there's something going on," Woods told Patch in a one-on-one interview (see video above).

The 64-year-old actor, Emmy Award winner and two-time Academy Award nominee stopped at the college on Monday and Tuesday to interact with film and gaming students to give them feedback and critiques.

"The level of sophistication was surprising to me on the work," Woods said. "These guys are like professionals."

Just a little more than a year old, the school's digital filmmaking program was named  one of the top 25 film programs in the world by trade publication Hollywood Reporter . The college is being aggressive on keeping that distinction and developing talent by bringing in world class actors, directors and cinematographers to visit Ringling and interact with students.

Ringling College President Larry Thompson said the presence and advice the college hears is appreciated.

"One of the things we learned is that the most important deal is the talent," he said. "They gotta have the talent. After that, it becomes the financial incentives." 

Woods said his goal of his interactions with students is to guide them onto the right track, but he's not coming in thinking he's the end-all of the entertainment industry.

"I don't put people on tiers," Woods said. "Orson Wells was 21 years old and he made 'Citizen Kane' — younger than the people I may be meeting here at Ringling. You never know what you're going to learn.

"I can guarantee you the kids in the animation and games department know more about that particular nice than I do, and I've been doing this for 30, 40 years. I get as much from them as I hope they can get from me."

To Woods, "Salvador" was a mark of the little guy's victory in the '80s when Hollywood was turning more corporate with the movieplexes. A selective audience screened the film before Woods took the stage for a Q-and-A session.

"At that time, our independent movement was going in the other direction," he said. "In a way the divide was more helpful to us than not. It has a lot of the ways they're doing things here — they're focused on the people doing the work and the technology, and they'll let the commerce take care of itself."

And because of today's technological advances, and the lack of tax incentives in California, Woods said the major studios aren't needed as much anymore.

"No movie should cost $80 million. You shouldn't have to," Wood said. "I was watching The Walking Dead on my Kindle and I'm thinking you have one location, a series of actors, none of them were stars, but they're wonderful, I liked them. You can make that thing pretty inexpensively if you didn't have 15 writers to come up with a bunch of stuff, but you do need that."

"Some kid's going to come up with a good idea for a mini-series and the next thing you know, they're going to sell it to Netflix, and Warner Bros. is out of business," Woods said. "I hate to say it, but I hope they're not out of business."

For himself, Woods said he would have liked to be more than an actor and more of a "one-man industry" in his career to help influence projects more than what he has, and he says he's still looking forward to diversifying himself.

"I'm intrigued by all of the technology and the focus these kids have because it's something I'm going to need if I want to move forward in the industry the way it's going to be," Woods said.

Woods is semi-familiar with the Gulf Coast. His mom used to snowbird to Largo and Clearwater, and that familiarity combined with what greater Sarasota and Tampa Bay offers for filmmaking is attractive.

"I would be very excited doing business here," Woods told Patch. "Everyone I met seemed to have a good, savvy business sense. I get a sense of great economy here at the school. ... "

"One of the things happening here at Ringling College and by extension of the area of Sarasota is the ideal of having the film festival," he said. "The film commissioner — she's smart — she stopped by even though she had another appointment to make sure I knew she was aware of me and wanted me to feel welcomed.

"Forget that it's me. The fact that she's savvy enough to make sure people are welcomed, now I have a contact and know what's going on," he said. "It's good business."

That's exactly what Thompson hopes to hear.

"We bring them to lure them to do movies here and to do post-production work here," Thompson said. " ... And it helps the community because it helps them to learn what Sarasota has to offer."

To help that become a reality, Sarasota County government recently awarded the college a $1.75 million grant to help build a post-production on campus so those Hollywood filmmakers and actors can complete their movies or shows here and then work on developing the completed product in Sarasota, too, he said.


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