BRADENTON -- The vibe at the Manatee Performing Arts Center was quite a bit calmer Saturday on day two of the first Skyway Film Festival.
The elbow-to-elbow crowds of opening night were gone and the atmosphere wasn't nearly as frenetic.
Yet festival co-founders Joe Restaino and Erik Lunseth still couldn't stop smiling.
"This is fun," Restaino said. "It's a good Saturday."
The three-day film festival has already exceeded expectations, the organizers said.
"We're already about 50 percent over what we expected in ticket sales for the whole festival," Restaino said Saturday afternoon with another day and half left. He predicted sales might go up another 10 percent by the time it was all over.
Festival passes, which allow access to all films and events, sold briskly, he said, so a lot of people coming to later events wouldn't need tickets.
One highlight of day two: An afternoon screening of the documentary, "3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets," about the 2012 murder of Jacksonville teen Jordan Davis. Michael Dunn was convicted of murdering Davis and trying to kill three of his friends in a convenience store parking lot after he asked them to turn down the volume on what he called their "rap crap" music.
The film drew applause from the audience in the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater and ended up winning the festival's documentary competition. Winners of other competitions were going to
be announced late Saturday at a party and ceremony at Motorworks Brewing.
Besides a full schedule of films, Saturday also brought a day full of "labs" or moderated conversations with filmmakers and other industry experts.
Almost all labs were filled to capacity, mostly by people who wanted to get into the film industry or were already in it.
One lab featured Dan Myrick, the Longboat Key native who co-wrote and co-directed "The Blair Witch Project." The low-budget horror classic was scheduled for a screening Saturday night.
Myrick offered behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film.
It was supposed to feature three young men he said, but Heather Donohue impressed the filmmakers so much with her audition they made her the lead at the last minute.
Someone in the audience told Myrick they felt nauseated after watching the film because of the shaky shots from the hand-held camera.
"I get that a lot," he said. "The film was never meant to be seen on the big screen. It plays really well on TV. I always felt sorry for the people who sat in the first 10 rows of the audience."
With the surprise success of "The Blair Witch Project," Myrick and others involved with the film "were thrown into this surreal world of Hollywood that none of us were prepared for," he said.
He's still a filmmaker, and clips of his new film, "Under the Bed," were screened Saturday at the festival.
He said one thing he's learned about filmmaking is raising money takes longer than the creative process.
"Ninety percent of what we do is hustle," he said.
In the filmmaker's lounge later, many festival film directors and producers talked about their projects and the festival.
"I really like the festival," said Marianna Palka. "They've been really nice to us."
Palka directed and starred in a film called, "Worthy," which also stars Jason Ritter and Lukas Haas. She was also part of a "Film Fatales" lab on women in film.
"We had lively panel," she said. "We had to keep apologizing for cursing. I'd love to come back and do another panel."
Writer/producer Michael Chassin had a short film titled, "Greater Goode," in the Skyway Film Festival. A veteran of films festivals around the country, he said he was especially impressed with this one.
"Love it," he said. "Excellent, excellent. This is very well organized. I'm very impressed."
The people running the festival say they haven't had time yet to think about what happens next with the festival. They won't even say a 2016 festival will definitely happen.
They are, however, thrilled with the way Bradenton has supported the inaugural festival, they said.
"We'd love to be back next year for chapter two, the sequel," Lunseth said.
The Skyway Film Festival concludes Sunday at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Tickets for films are $12 and $15 and include admission to all labs. Go to skywayfilmfestival.org for information. Call 941-748-5875 for tickets.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.