An Interview with Anthony Spadaccini – By Brian Morton

 Last month I got the chance to see the short film, Emo Pill, a short film that conveys all it’s emotion and story without any dialogue, a tough thing to do and it was done very very well. After seeing Emo Pill, I had to speak with the filmmaker who put it together, Anthony Spadaccini. Anthony, who lives and works in Delaware, has been making movies since he was a kid (although he gets better as he goes) took a few minutes to sit down and chat with me about making movies, working in Delaware and exactly what the heck is Emo??

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BM – Anthony, thanks for taking the time.

AS – No problem, thanks for asking.

BM – So, how did you get started making movies?

AS – Well, I had always had the creative bug, my sister and I used to take out tape recorder and make radio shows, we probably would have made movies together, but we couldn’t afford a video camera when I was younger. Then, my grandparents gave me a camcorder from the 80s when I was 16, and I just picked that up and started shooting stuff. It started out as a hobby, I would make little films and edit them using the camcorder and a VCR. I got my cousins and friends involved and it just kind of grew from there. Then, once I turned 18 and moved out and started working full time, I started meeting co-workers and made friends who were interested in film, it just sort of grew from there.

BM – So, most of the people in your films are co-workers and friends?

AS – I used to only put co-workers and friends in my films because that’s who was available to me, because some of the other avenues weren’t available, MySpace wasn’t around then and some of the other film making sites where you can meet actors and actresses and other film makers weren’t around then, so it was mostly friend and co-workers, now we do casting calls and hold auditions and all that. I still use friends in my films, but for the most part we’ve turned into professionals at it.

BM – Being in Delaware, how hard is it for you to get your movies noticed on a national level?

AS – It’s been a definite challenge but there are outlets here. There are here theatres that have what they call ‘open film makers night’, it’s kind of an open mic night, but you bring your film and they’ll show it on the big screen, and there are a couple of theatres near me that do that. Emo Pill was shown at the Ozark Film Festival this year, which did a whole ensemble of local indie films that would never be shown on a national level. It is hard, being that we’re not in New York or L.A., but there are creative people, talented people here who don’t get noticed and we work with them and network with them and there’s a little bit of a community here that I really wasn’t aware of a couple of years ago. I really didn’t think there was anybody else in Delaware that was interested in making movies, but I’m finding out there’s a lot of people here who for whatever reason haven’t made the movie to New York or L.A. or wherever because of family and other things. They’ve sort of accepted that they’re not going to move and they’ve settled down here and they just want to do film as a hobby.

BM – Alright, I have to ask for all of us who are old and/or uncool. What the heck is ‘Emo’?

AS – (laughs) Emo stands for emotional. It’s basically this decades answer to grunge, the late 80s, early 90s music movement, Nirvana, Soundgarten, all those bands who came out of the Seattle rock scene. We did a lot of research into it before we shot a film about Emo, because everyone has their own definition. What we came up with in our research was that Emo is basically teen angst, but it’s not loud like grunge was, it’s very isolated. Emo kids instead of screaming or dressing for shock value are more subdued and they spend a lot of time on instant messenger and blogs and MySpace. Emo kids are basically loners, they don’t have a lot of friends, they dress in dark clothing, and they wear those messenger bags with lots of patches and buttons on them. They listen to bands like Dashboard Confessional and a lot of them do have reasons for being depressed, but a lot of the time they just choose to be depressed.

BM – And was it that isolation and depression that made you shoot Emo Pill with no dialogue?

AS – It was a creative decision on my part, but when we first came up with the idea for the film I knew we would shoot it with no dialogue and it would have been easy to get a local emo band to do the music for the film but I decided to go the other route and do an orchestral score. But the reason I decided not to use dialogue was because alot of the time, with emo teenagers, they have worlds inside of their very silence. They’re not listening to anybody on the outside, they’re just consumed in their own world, so we kind of wanted to all that into this one character.

BM – Did filming without dialogue make it harder or easier to make the movie?

AS – Um…hard and easy. It was easier in the sense that people didn’t have to learn lines but it was harder in the sense that since we didn’t have lines, everything else had to be accentuated, body language, facial expressions, you know the way someone walked or their eyes moved every thing had to be accentuated and, at heart, some people could consider it overacting but, for us, it was the best way to tell the story. It was easy in some respects because, as the director, I could just say, move here, now look that way, now look that way, but as far as the actor were concerned, I imagine that it was much more difficult because they had to find a way to convey the emotion of a scene without the help of dialogue.

BM – It sounds like almost a throwback to the old silent movie days.

AS – It was just like making a silent movie, I had made a couple of silent comedies before Emo Pill, but that’s slapstick, that’s entirely different. When you’re shooting an emotional piece, no pun intended, it definitely presents a challenge but we managed to get through it.

BM – I’ve only had the chance to see Emo Pill, but I’d love to hear about your other movies, tell me about Unstable.

AS – Unstable was a film that we shot in 2004, it started out as just an idea that my friend, Jim Schaeffer who co-wrote and co-starred in the movie with me, we were just talking one day in the summer of ’04 and we wanted to make a movie about a hate crime and the effect it has on the characters and also make a movie where these characters where one of their friends is dead and they feel responsible for it and they’re not sure what to do. So I decided to combine these ideas into Unstable and I thought that the way they shot the Blair Witch, that cinema verite look was really compelling. It’s like home movies, you can take any twenty hours of someone’s home movies and it’s going to be very boring, but you can take certain pieces and make some sort of story. I know, with my grandfather’s home movies, I could take a little section from each and make a sort of interesting story, I mean, it would be a manipulation but it’s possible and that idea always intrigued me so I decided to shoot Unstable as if it were somebody’s home movies.

BM – And what about Aftermath?

AS – When I had written Unstable, I decided that there were some back stories to the characters in the film, so I wrote Aftermath as a prequel to Unstable where these same characters had been in a prior situation involving HIV. So, while they go through some situations that are similar to the situations in Unstable, it kind of explains the reactions they have in Unstable. I have to say, the audiences that have seen Aftermath really respond to it as the best of my feature films, I don’t agree with them, but what can you say. I think it has more to do with America’s obsession with reality shows that are really popular right now and it’s not that Aftermath sort of resembles an episode of The Real World than anything else, but I think that style helps peoples appreciation of the film, and the fact that my sister is in it and she’s a terrific actress and she really adds to it.

BM – So, what do you think is your best film then?

AS – Wow, I knew this was coming. Short film, definitely Emo Pill. Feature film, I’d like to say the one I’m working on now, which is a horror film, but of all my completed projects, I’d have to say Unstable.

BM – A horror film, what can you tell us about that!

AS – Well, it’s a horror movie that’s edited together from the home movies of a husband and wife that are serial killers. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know what a snuff film was, I had heard the term but I didn’t know what it was and then I did a little research and thought that that was really disturbing, filming someone’s final moments on a camcorder, so I thought what if these were serial killers doing this, what if this was a husband and wife and they were a suburban family, they had a couple of kids, they were really pillars of their community but on the side they went and picked up prostitutes and low-lifes and hitchhikers, you know, people that wouldn’t be missed and brought them home and brutally slaughtered them and filmed every waking moment of it. I had this idea a while ago, but I put it aside because I was working on other projects and this went on a back burner. Then I shot Hatred and one of the characters got a lot of feedback about his chilling portrayal and I thought, this guy’s a serial killer, not in real life, but he had that demeanor about him. Then, when we shot Emo Pill, the cast and crew were afraid of him, he was working as one of my still photographers and no one would talk to him because they had all seen Hatred and they thought he was really really creepy, so I asked him if he’d be interested in doing this film and he was very excited about the opportunity. He’s not a professional actor but he has this demeanor about him that’s just chilling. Then I had a woman who was working on Emo Pill, she plays the woman who the main character bumps into on the street toward the middle of the film, and she had expressed interest in having a speaking part in my next film, so I pitched to her this idea and asked how she felt about it and she said that’s really really really disturbing, count me it! (laughs) And it’s funny because the reaction I got with Paul I also got with Barbara, she had the same type of demeanor. You know she’s been in some films, she was an extra in a couple of Mark Wahlberg films including Invincible, and she had done a little work here and there, so it helped us having someone around who had been involved with a big production. So we started shooting that in August and we’re still shooting.

BM – What’s the name of the film?

AS – The film is called Head Case.

BM – I think the number one problem most indie productions have is money, how do you go about raising money for your movies?

AS – That would be my producer, Benjamin P. Ablao, Jr.. I met him when we both were working at a bank in 2001, he was my boss, and I was shooting a backyard horror movie with some friends and Ben was interested in seeing some of the footage and he took a real interest in what I was doing. Well, we both were laid off and by that time we had become best friends so he asked me if I’d mind if he was a part of my films. He came in and he helped out wherever he could, as a PA here and there and doing stunts and I guess he noticed something in me, like some talent somewhere because he asked me if I’d be willing to allow him to fund my films and be brought on as an executive producer. Well, I explained that an executive producer, most of the time, doesn’t have anything to do with the film, he just puts up the money, so Ben’s idea was to co-produce the films and he’d put up the money, so I said okay, I really do need financial backing, you know. Well, it just went from there and he formed his own company and brought on my company as a subsidiary, and we’re still working out of our house and a PO box, but it’s pretty easy since we live together too. But, it has reaped its rewards and we’re both happy with it.

 BM – It sounds like you’ve beaten the biggest obstacle in making indie movies.

AS – Yes and no. There’s still a lot of hurdle and obstacles that we have to overcome. I mean we both still have out full time jobs, and I put money towards productions here and there but our budgets are ultra-low but that helps in a way, because when you don’t have a lot of money making a film, you tend to be more creative in the decisions that you make whether it be what shots you need or who to use for what scene or how to do something. It really fosters a creative atmosphere when you don’t have a lot of money, not that I have anything to compare it to! (laughs) But the general consensus on our film sets is that we all have a lot of fun because we are low budget and there are no rules, we’re just making the film we want to make. I mean, no mainstream film would every go out with no dialogue, there are rules that they have to follow, you have to have a car chase scene and a sex scene or you need to have boobs, you know. In Head Case there’s no nudity at all and that’s unheard of in an indie horror movie, especially a low budget horror film. I mean, when you hear low budget horror you think boobs and gore, but this film is not really about that. Now if we had backing by a studio, even one that called itself independent, they’d want something that would be marketable to a certain audience, and a lot of the time, that will compromise the story. With Unstable, I had a distributor who was interested and they were ready for me to sign on the dotted line and everything when they said they really needed a nude scene and a sex scene and I thought they were kidding. I said, okay, that’s a little odd, it would have nothing to do with the film, especially since all the characters except one is male, and even though the film involves a hate crime against a homosexual teenager, it really doesn’t fit with the story, and why would there by nudity, the story takes place in October. Well, they said they needed nudity to market the film, so I had to say thanks but no thanks.

BM – Good for you.

AS – And I don’t know if the film would have ever gone anywhere, but I felt that it compromised the story and my integrity as a storyteller and an artist and filmmaker to just put something in to simply satisfy a certain audience, to me it’s not about that, it’s about telling a story and hopefully it will find it’s audience and if it doesn’t find it’s audience at least you got to tell your story. I’d like to think I made the right decision, time will tell, we’re self distributing right now, and if my break comes then that’s great and if not then at least I’m doing what I want to do. They say that you have to pay your dues and make a horror film or make a comedy before you make the films that you want to make, but I don’t think that’s always the best way. Say a studio says to you they’ll give you a three picture deal, but your first movie has to be a God awful, PG-13, teeny bopper horror film, then no one will want to see your next two films, so you’ve shot yourself in the foot. I guess for me, I’d rather be a great storyteller or a great filmmaker and not be well known than to be well known and make those kinds of films.

BM – So, what would your advice be to someone who told you they wanted to start making movies?

AS – Grab a camcorder, grab some of your friends, write up a story, shoot it then sit back and laugh at it’s awfulness! (laughs) And learn. I started with a Zenith
amcorder from the 1980s, it weighed about 20 pounds and it was huge, but I had that and a VCR that would eat up my tapes all the time, and I just started. I didn’t have any editing software, I didn’t even have a computer then. It’s a lot easier now days because everything’s on computers and we have digital video and everything, but just grab a camera and grab some friends, write a story, no matter how bad it is and make movies. And watch movies, not Hollywood films, micro and low budget films, the kind of films you review at Rogue Cinema, grab some of those and watch them and watch the behind the scenes and the making of segments that those DVDs always have and just make movies…and don’t copy anyone else, find your own voice.

BM – That’s good advice. Thanks again for taking the time.

AS – Thank you and I hope to be seeing more reviews of my movies in Rogue Cinema.

BM – You can count on it!

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Anthony is one of the most enthusiastic writer/directors I’ve spoken to, he really has a vision of what he wants to do, and isn’t afraid to say no to things that might look good but will compromise what he’s set out to do, and that’s something that’s not easy to do! We here at Rogue Cinema look forward to seeing more work from Anthony in the future, and I, for one, will be waiting by my mailbox for a screening copy of Head Case!!