Official Selection - Cannes Festival - 1994
What inspired you to write this screenplay?
I wanted to do a 40's style film with real characters, you know,
an old-fashioned, `meat and potatoes' type of film like the old
Robert Mitchem, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart type films with
just, you know, it is the characterization that carries the story.
And I also wanted to do something I could do low-budget and I knew
it had to be a real story driven piece.
How would you describe the story?
I would describe the story as a modern day "On the
Waterfront"...modern day depression type of story; it's, you know,
old-fashioned characters in an economic downfall; it's the story
of this neighborhood, where we're shooting.
Are the characters based on real people that you knew, since you
grew up in Staten Island?
Not really, can't say that they're anybody I knew, they are
composites of people I knew; it's not autobiographical at all.
How did you go about the casting of the major roles...did you have
them in mind ahead of time?
I didn't have this cast in mind, I wasn't thinking in terms of
doing the film on this big of a level. I actually wrote the film
very, very small as a 16mm low-budget feature with people that
I've known with equipment I knew I could get for free, I was a
film teacher at the School of Visual Arts in the College of Staten
Island, so I had access to free equipment and I was gonna do it
really like... kinda like this...I was gonna rent a big house and
just go into it, but just a bunch of friends, not...not on this
Did you end up bringing any of those friends or students into the
Yeah, I have about 12 students working on this film right now, you
see them, they are all over the place. It's great for them,
because' they get to see not only from what they learned in the
classroom, but what they're learning here is better than school.
One of `em dropped out and is on the camera crew, so he had the
option of joining our camera crew as a paid production assistant
and he took it and it's better....he'll learn much more here.
What challenges have you had in getting this film made?
I've been trying to make this film for 4&1/2 years so we...getting
the financing was the hardest piece of the puzzle, basically
because I didn't have names cast throughout and it's a rough
project, it's not really a major commercial piece and it's got a
dark edge. In some ways it's pretty dark for studios. A lot of
studios expressed interest in it, but the budget was so small they
felt they couldn't do it, they couldn't jump on board.
Why was it important for you to shoot on location in Staten Island
instead of something that might have been easier in terms of
location and for the cast and the crew to get to?
We had to shoot out here because the story is about this place, I
grew up out here and when I was a kid this was like a thriving
community, this was like...before there were malls and shopping
centers, the main street of this town was it, it was packed with
people shopping every afternoon and then I come home now and it's
like... barren, empty...like it will be in the film. So, I felt
it was really about this place and I know these characters better
than anybody...I know what they think, how they think, what they
look like, I know their behavior...so it's great, it's like
coming home...doing a film.
Is there a lesson or a moral that you think audiences are gonna
take away from the theater when they go in to see this story or is
there something that will be left in their minds or is there an
overall point in the characters' lives here that is important for
you to convey?
Not really...it's not a moralistic tale. It's like a modern day
Caine and Abel in some ways. It has that type of scale, that
tragic scale. It's not really a morality tale, it's actually very
grey...there aren't any completely good or bad characters.
As a first time director for a full-scale motion picture like
this, describe the experience working with the actors of this
caliber and this full-scale crew...is it what you expected...is
there an anecdote from it?
It's actually better than what I expected. It's not as daunting
as I thought it would be, it's actually pretty much the same as
doing my smaller films...I did a small, low-budget feature and
this really isn't that different you just have more people. Other
than that I was surprised how similar it is, although I have
learned a lot, especially working with this cast, I've learned a
lot about how to work with the talent, things not to do as well as
things to do.
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