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Local girl makes good at upcoming Gasparilla film festival

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There will be plenty of features to screen when the Gasparilla International Film Festival takes place next week, beginning next Tuesday March 24, and going through March 30. 140  in all — 60 features and 70 short films, including Odessa, produced and co-starring  Tampa native Grace Santos, who now resides in Los Angeles.

The film is described as being about a desperate mother living in a post-apocalyptic Texas who is forced to make a perilous border crossing to save her child’s life. It also stars  Tampa Bay area residents Will Haze and Ricky Wayne, both of whom who work a lot in American TV and cinema. It screens with four other shorts beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at the Channelside Bay Plaza theater.

Santos said she found the screenplay for her film at the same time that issues of immigration and border security were dominating the news. “It’s a drama about a mother and the love for her child,” she says speaking from her home in West L.A. “It’s not a black and white issue. People have to cross the border for different reasons.” She emphasizes that while she likes to be involved in projects that deal with social issues, “I don’t want it to be in your face — like these are ‘my views.'”

Santos became attracted to the arts while attending King High School in North Tampa. She then moved on to the University of Miami, where she originally majored in theater arts. But it was there that she received a prescient piece of advice from an agent about the industry she wanted to work in.

“He was telling me how it’s hard for someone like me to break in, because there’s just not a lot of roles for minority females. He…suggested that I try to produce my own things,” says Santos, who has Filipino roots.

She says she initially wasn’t sure how she could produce her own projects, so she kept on taking different acting workshops. After she graduated from UM she had to get a day job, but she kept involved in acting, mostly at Jobsite Theatre. She also dabbled in other projects, including a stint at WMNF radio working in the news department. (Full disclosure: this reporter supervised her work back in 2004.)

She ultimately did make it to Los Angeles in the fall of 2011, attending the professional program in producing at UCLA. She did so well there that officials there asked her to stay on as a teaching assistant for the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television’s Professional Program in Producing and Program in Television Writing — the Showrunner Series.

Since that time she’s produced a handful of projects, including “Silk” (a drama starring Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo and directed by Catherine Dent), “Spun” (a comedy that was awarded by the Producers Guild of America), and “Election Night” (a comedy by AFI DWW and ABC Disney Directing Participant Tessa Blake and starring Frasier’s Peri Gilpin).

Santos thought that Odessa originally might work as a web series, but she says that people in the industry who have viewed the trailer are asking why doesn’t she try to produce it as a 60-minute drama?

“So we’re going to try to shoot for a one-hour drama first to see if there are any buyers and distributors and studios for that, and then if that doesn’t work we would go back to our other plan.”

Santos says that there are more digital channels now for short pieces of entertainment, but of course, like many things on the Internet, the vexing question remains how to monetize that.

“There are some that are ad-sponsored. You could get revenues through that, and then you would divide that between the channel and your program,” she says. “We’re still in the middle of learning this — as is the industry.”

A full schedule, individual tickets and ticket packages are at

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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