Please tell us about yourself. How did you start your career, and how did you get into the world of filmmaking? What are some of the projects you did before ‘Bizzarro e Fantastico’?
Well, I like to refer to myself as a “lifer.” I’ve wanted to be part of films since I was three and a ‘filmmaker’ since I was old enough to understand what that word meant. From a very early age I watched movies far beyond my comprehension and just began to absorb them. In hindsight, not being able to understand movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Seventh Seal" on a narrative or thematic level was a blessing in disguise, because I was able to process them in terms strictly visual and emotional. This is now something I try to do, often getting distracted by the intellectualizing of the story or by focusing too heavily on the craftsmanship aspects. Anyway, my path into filmmaking was through exposure to movies, and I have projects that reach far back into my adolescence — the first substantial effort being 2012’s “God of the Machine,” which is almost a spiritual companion to ‘Bizzarro.'
As a filmmaker, an artist, who or what are your influences?
Besides prominent movie figures like Kubrick, Bergman, Fellini, Chaplin, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Hitchcock, Fassbinder, Ophüls, Dreyer and Welles — I find myself being heavily inspired to engage in human stories from examples set by literature and poetry. In my teens — being without the means to make films — I focused heavily on writing; screenplays, but also poetry and prose. The big boys like Dostoyevsky, Flaubert and Joyce, but also The Lost Generation, The Beats, the post-modern European movements of Humanistic Absurdism, both philosophical and literary. I think literature taught me how to tell stories while poetry and film taught me how to make those stories in such a way that they remain open enough, in terms of theme, to transcend my own personal trappings; to allow “my” story to become a unique and personal story for whoever watches the film.
What is your vision as an artist? What types of stories you endeavor to tell through filmmaking?
I would like to make films that have more in common with dreams and music than car commercials — but a dream for which you’re willing to buy a ticket. I would like to put simple, entertaining, human stories into the world, ones that contain oceans of poetic depth beneath the surface, that grow in peoples’ minds and change as they change over time… I don’t want to tell anyone anything. I just want to ask questions; try to connect people to challenging and beautiful ideas. And make you think about unpleasant things whilst smiling.
Bizzarro e Fantastico has an interesting premise and it sure looks like a tribute, an ode, to cinema. What made you want to make this film, and where did the idea for the film come from?
‘Bizzarro’ is definitely an ode to cinema — as most of my work invariably is — but the style in which the film was made and the overtly referential tributing to the movies of Fellini, Pasolini and Bergman evolved later in the process; something I hope is only a charming background to the unique substance of the movie. I usually write theme-outward. I knew I wanted to examine the concept of Death through the prism of Humanism — a topic personal to me. But that doesn’t make for a very good movie. So taking into account my budgetary and time constraints, I decided to put the film in the framework of a morality play, featuring stock characters and using their philosophical conversation as the centerpiece. But it wasn’t until I came up with the idea of Death having food poisoning from a French soul that I knew that I had a movie.
I know it may be a difficult question, but could you talk about your creative process? How do you move forward with your ideas and shape them into a script and, finally, a film.
It is a difficult question. It’s a little like asking someone to explain the process of falling in love. It’s a bit schizophrenic, too, because there are clear steps, but they blur somewhere along the way, and a movie isn’t completed without variables beyond your control — luck, timing, coincidence, etc. Doing my best to keep it accurate and concise: I draw from the well of my general interests. I establish a theme that I believe will keep me fascinated for the multiple-year process of making and releasing a film. If it’s interesting enough to me, my hope is that it will be interesting to others. At this point, a story isn’t far behind. I tend to daydream obsessively about a premise until I’m able to see the full arc in my mind — a story that only serves the theme and the characters who populate the world. The process of creating story and characters, and to a lesser degree, plot is largely instinctual. Once I have a clear beginning, middle and end in my head, and a sense of tone and mise en scéne, I sit down to make an excruciatingly detailed outline — a point by point of the action within the story. Then I write a screenplay, which rarely goes beyond three drafts. I typically just make minor adjustments to the first draft. The outline stage is where I really “write” the movie. The screenplay stage is where I assign unique voices to the characters via dialogue — their character motivations being established during the earlier period. That’s when the real filmmaking begins because I bring in my other creative partners. We discuss things with an endurance that rivals Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” for weeks, months, sometimes even longer. At this point, I personally oversee casting. Once the actors are in place, there’s an extensive rehearsal period. This is where most of my ‘directing’ takes place. The actors and I collaborate on performance, timing, and chemistry; attempting to excavate the deeper themes of the work. Meanwhile, I’m creating a mental shot-list — fleshing out what was already formulated during the initial daydreaming. With the DP I work out the kinks of this shot-list and then finalize it on paper. The DP then gets to work on the lighting plots — the style and atmosphere of which have already been created during conversation, using a total reliance on the tone established by the script as our guide. Once we’re here, logistical consultants come in — other producers who help us nail down concrete practicalities like locations and scheduling. Then we shoot, and if we get lucky, we make a better film than we planned… Of course, this process was a bit different with ‘Bizzarro,’ which we’ll get into with the next question.
I understand that you were a one-man crew when making ‘Bizzarro e Fantastico’ as you did almost everything during the production stage. Please tell us about the process and the challenges you faced when making this film?
I definitely think I went a bit balder during the making of ‘Bizzarro.’ When I think back on it, it really does all seem like a fever dream. I’m not quite sure how I pulled it off as my only pre-production and production crew member. What I know for sure is I owe a massive amount to my cast, who, beyond giving outstanding performances, helped pick up some of the logistical slack along the way. It was difficult enough to set lights, operate camera and run sound on my own, but the added difficulty came from the film being shot over five days, in two foreign countries and in two languages, neither of which I speak. Again, this is a testament to the talent and professionalism of the cast. They delivered the lines exactly as they were written (and painstakingly translated), because if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to edit the film once I got back to the States. I only really confirmed that the movie worked months later when the film was assembled in a rough cut and the translator came to double-check the language. I think it’s one of those things that if you had a full understanding of how difficult it was going to be, you wouldn’t even attempt it. Thank goodness for my ignorance and blind, foolish ambition, because the film was completed, and honestly, it was fun.
As an independent filmmaker, do you think online streaming services have had a positive or negative impact on the film making industry?
Like all advances in any field, there’s growing pains. Some things I hold sacred about cinema are suffering with the advent of streaming, but I can’t deny that for someone in my position, streaming has made my filmmaking aspirations wholly more realistic. There’s just a market for me to function in, and a desperate demand for quality material… material I’m more than willing to supply. Anything that decentralizes a monopoly — which was your run-of-the-mill theater distribution deal requiring a 4 million dollar (and up) buy-in to be competitive — means there’s more opportunity for people whose uncle isn’t named Spielberg. Yes, there’s more dreck than ever, and it’s more competitive, but it's a fairer race with more opportunity for riskier material. That’s a positive.
How was the film received at film festivals? Please tell us about your festival run.
I am so pleased to say that “Bizzarro e Fantastico” has been very warmly received by festivals. Due to many of the events being canceled, postponed or converted strictly to ‘remote’ during the early parts of 2021, we waited to begin submitting until late in the year with our focus on the 2022 season. It’s just the beginning, but as of January 9th, we’ve already been selected by 39 festivals — including the New York Tri-State International Film Festival. We’ve been awarded in 19, named “Best Short Film” in 5, and we’re currently in 13 countries. It’s so moving and humbling that people are connecting with this film, a movie that is truly a labor of love, and a piece of art designed to confront challenging ideas in a beautiful and funny way. We look forward to playing in even more festivals throughout the world.
What will you work on for your future project(s)?
I’ve already got a few irons in the fire. I’m currently in production with a low-budget independent motion picture titled “Bipolaroid” — a psychological thriller wrapped in a period noir mystery, produced by my close collaborators Dylan Gallagher and Bryan Paulson. I’ve written a play, “L’imposteur,” which is currently being developed in Paris with ‘Bizzarro’s’ own Julie Zeno. That is hopefully hitting the stage sometime in 2023. And I’m also working on another feature-length film titled “Madame X,” which ironically brought me to Rome in the first place, on the hunt for financing. It was during this long process that I decided to make ‘Bizzarro’ while abroad. “Madame X” is a very special project as I have the incredibly rare honor of working with Stanley Kubrick’s widow, the artist Christiane Kubrick, featuring her fabulous paintings in the film.
Hopefully that’s enough to keep me busy for a while. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you! We hope you enjoy “Bizzarro e Fantastico!”