An Interview with Jerry Cavallaro – By Duane L. Martin

Last month, I had the pleasure of reviewing a fun romantic comedy called Stuck Like Chuck from director Jerry Cavallaro. This month, I have here for your reading pleasure, an interview with the director himself in which we talk about the creation process, the cast, his distribution experiment and more.

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DLM: Let’s start this out like I always do and have you introduce yourself to everyone and tell us all a little about yourself and your background.

JC: I will probably ramble a lot on the rest of the questions so I will make this quick. I’m a NY based screenwriter & director. I occasionally write for We Are Movie Geeks & can be heard every Thursday at 10 PM EST as Co-Host of FilmSnobbery Live! My novelty t-Shirt designs are available for sale at DirectorsCameo.com. If after this interview you still want to learn more about me, please visit JerryCavallaro.com!

DLM: Aside from Stuck Like Chuck, you have one other credit on IMDB that sounds interesting, so let’s talk about that one first. In 2010 you did a video documentary called A Million in the Morning. Tell us about that.

JC: That was a lot of fun. I’m one of the subjects of that documentary. Back in 2008, Netflix hosted the Movie Watching World Championship. 8 people from around the world were picked to watch movies for 5 days straight in a glass house set up in Times Square. We could not close our eyes or look away from the screen and we only got 10 minute breaks between each film. Most of the contestants were professional Guinness World record breakers and the rest of us were picked from a video contest. I came in 3rd place and was the final amateur to get knocked out of the competition. My final time was 68 hours, 21 minutes & 31 seconds.

A MILLION IN THE MORNING was meant to be a documentary that covered the competition. Instead the filmmakers decided to make a somewhat existential comedy about themselves trying to cover the competition. Netflix was extremey dissatisfiied with the film and decided against releasing it. Despite there being a ton of footage of myself and the other contestants, not much of it was used. It’s still an interesting flick to check out. The only way to see it is to buy a DVD directly from the filmmakers. This was a huge dissapointment for me since I treated the event as a publicity stunt for SLC. I wore a SLC t-shirt the entire time and mentioned the film as much as possible. If the documentary had been more to Netflix’s liking, their wide release of the doc could have led to huge things for me & my film.

DLM: Ok, moving on to Stuck Like Chuck, tell us about the origins of the film. When did you first get the idea for it and how long did it take to develop it into the full script?

JC: STUCK LIKE CHUCK is a film that wears its influences on its sleeve. Obviously Kevin Smith was a huge inspiration for the film but most people falsely assume that CLERKS. was the basis for the plot. It does make sense but SLC was actually born out of an idea I had after watching SUPERBAD. It has a very simple, cliched story with a strong focus on character development and hilarious dialogue. There are a lot of films like that but something about it just clicked. Outside the theater I joked about figuring out the simplest story for a movie. That’s when I came up with the initial idea of 2 people stuck in a room together. I started to wonder who those two people were and I just ran with it. By the next morning, I had an outline for a film called JOHN AND JULIE SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER. I had a nearly final draft 3 months later. Unfortunately since I started my Sophomore year of college right when I started the script, I barely had any time to work on it. Instead, I wrote the film in my head and would type 30-40 pages at a time whenever I had a free day. I would work on some rewrites in between but only about 4 or 5 marathon writing sessions occurred during those 3 months. One month later we were in production.

DLM: When you were writing the film, did you have people in mind already to play the characters, or did you cast the film after the script was completed? Also, did you actually go through a casting call type of process, or was the cast comprised of people you already knew?

JC: Only 3 roles were written for specific people. My friend Igor was always going to be Juliet’s Date and the role of Jerry was always meant to be my cameo. In fact, the Director’s Cameo shirt I wear in that scene was written in the script. Even though I didn’t know him, I hoped for Lloyd Kaufman to play the Teacher in the Video and was ecstatic when he agreed.

I had a very unusual casting process for the rest of the film. Normally one would hold an open call for auditions or at least ask people to submit resumes & headshots. I skipped that and searched for the actors myself. Before I finished the script, I already knew who the characters were and what I was looking for. I searched online at a variety of acting sites like Backstage and watched hundreds of demo reels. I compiled a list of my favorite candidates for each role and emailed the first person from each list. I sent them the full script and had them come in for auditions seperately. I had a good feeling about everyone and figured I could always set up another audition with the next person on the list if I had any doubts. Luckily I was blown away by each actor and never had to consult the list again. I’d like to give a HUGE shoutout to Joe Moran, Jocelyn DeBoer and Patrick McColley for being insanely talented actors dumb enough to work with me and for far less money than they deserved!

DLM: You had two special members of the cast as well, those being Lloyd Kaufman and Chris Elliott. How did you get them involved?

JC: I sensed there would be a follow up question so I didn’t even mention Chris Elliott in my last answer. I am still amazed that they were both in the film. Well Lloyd Kaufman does like 100 movies a year and will be in anything to help out an indie filmmaker but still, it was such an honor to get to work with him. I just went to www.lloydkaufman.com and sent an email asking him to be in the film. He personally called the next to talk about it and he was on board before the call ended.

Chris Elliott actually wasn’t much different. I met him a few years earlier at a special screening of CABIN BOY and we kept in touch via email. The role of the Professor was originally smaller and not written to be very funny so I never thought of Chris for the part. One day my dad suggested I email him to see if he would be interested anyway. I still have no idea why but he said yes. I still find it funny that aside from Rob, my character has the most interaction with him.

And just in case you were wondering, you may have noticed that I don’t promote Chris Elliott’s involvement with the film despite him having the 4th largest role. That’s because of an agreement I had with him before we started shooting. He said he wanted the film to stand on its own and not rely on using his name to sell it. Plus, he loves being a surprise cameo. To be honest, I love having him as a surprise too since people are usually shocked when he shows up. Now that the film is widely available for free, I’m open to discuss his involvement but I still don’t advertise him at all.

DLM: The film has a very limited number of locations. Tell us where it was shot and if you encountered any difficulties at all in acquiring or shooting in these locations.

JC: The lack of locations was one of the key elements that made me confident I could actually pull it off. I wrote the film using locations that were available to me or that I knew I could easily acquire. The classroom and college halls are part of the Communication Arts floor at the New York Institute of Technology. I actually spent way too many hours being bored by teachers in room 1029, which is where the bulk of the movie takes place. Almost the entire film was shot during winter break so all I had to do was ask and we basically had free reign to shoot there. Aside from re-arranging the chairs and hanging the quote posters, that’s how the room usually looks.

NYIT is directly across the street from Central Park, which is where we shot the scenes of Juliet’s date on the park bench and Charlie & Rob’s daytime chat on the bleachers. Those scenes were originally meant to be shot in the same location but a lack of permits led us to go wandering on the 2nd day to find a location in the park. We stumbled across the empty baseball field and bleachers, which ended up being a perfect location. I just found out that it was the same baseball field used this season on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and I love the idea that I used it before Larry David.

The othe main location for the film is Charlie & Rob’s dorm room. A lot of people just assume that I used my own dorm but I never lived on campus. Most don’t even notice but there’s a reason why we only see their room from one angle. The dorm room is actually my grandma’s den and the halls are her upstairs hallway. I got permission from Alternative Cinema to use their porn parody posters and Lloyd said we could use some Troma posters as well. I designed the entire dorm based on how I imagined my room would look if my roomate was someone like Rob. I even brought props over from my own bedroom. One of the bonus features that everyone who donates will receive is a tour of the dorm room set, which gives a better behind the scenes look at how everything was setup.

DLM: What kind of equipment did you use to shoot the film, and are you happy with how it all came out from a technical standpoint?

JC: I shot the film with a Canon XH-A1 HDV camera and a Rode NTG-2 microphone. We used all natural lighting, except for the dorm room scenes, and we had no camera attachments aside from a wide angle lens. The film was edited with a very outdatd version of Final Cut Pro. Considering our budget, lack of resources and a crew of one, I am very happy with how it turned out. That being said, the film definitely looks, sounds and feels low budget. It is obviously shot on video and I never even attempted to mask it with fake film grain or film-looks. The film wears its low budget proudly and even pokes fun at itself for it. I have found that most audiences are willing to look past the budget limitations and technical flaws because they see the film for what it is.

DLM: Looking back at the film now in hindsight, do you see things in it that you wish you had done differently, or that you’d change in any way if you had it to do over again, or are you pretty happy with how it all came together?

JC: As I said, I am extremely proud of how the film came out but yes, I would absolutely do things differently. In hindsight, there are a ton of mistakes that I made from pre-production through the free release a few weeks ago. I have learned enough from this film to write a book full of advice for filmmakers, which I would love to actually do that at some point. If you listen to the commentary track (available to everyone who donates!) I am very candid about what I would have done differently.

I would have worked on the script some more to trim the excess material and narrow down the tone. I would have thought more visually through the entire process. I like to blame Clerks for the look of the film but I wish I shot several of the scenes differently. My favorite scene in the film is when Juliet goes back with Charlie to his room after class. Everything about the scene – the writing, acting, editing, location, camera work, etc – I feel like we nailed it. The nervous handheld feel of that scene just works and I believe that is how the rest of the film should have looked. There are definitely moments scattered throughout the film with cinematography I’m proud of but I wish I stayed away from so many static shots. Moving past the production, I wish I didn’t blow most of my festival budget submitting to major fests we never had a shot at instead of dominating local festivals like we could have. I wish I was more pro-active at the film’s earlier stages with building an audience and earning a name for myself. There’s a lot more I could list but as I said, I could fill a book.

DLM: You’re giving the movie away for free and asking for donations for it. I know a lot of film makers have thought of trying that, but not too many have yet. How has that worked for you, and do you think you’ll ever try to do a paid release of the film at some point?

JC: To be honest, it has not yet been as succesfull as I hoped. I knew it would never go viral because of its length so I was ecstatic when we hit 300 views in the first 24 hours. I expected that number to stay consistent but unfortunately we have never come close to that many views in a day since. Our donations have also been far fewer than expected considering we are offering nearly 10 hours of extras to anyone who donates just $1 or more. I really expected the bonus features to be a big draw, especially among other filmmakers. Oddly enough, most of the donations we do receive are between $5 – $15. I was also surprised by the lack of press surrounding the release. I contacted over 100 different film websites asking for coverage and only about 5 even returned my email. I thought the free release of a well-reviewed award-winnng film aimed at movie geeks would be of interest to websites with audiences consisting of mostly movie geeks but apparently I was wrong.

All that being said, a lot of positives came from this free release as well. While the numbers are not high, I can put faces to many of the views we get. Since the film is online, there is a lot of interaction with viewers. People tweet me right after viewing the film or sometimes even while they are watching it. I get a lot of emails or facebook requests from people who found the film online and I’ve met some really cool new people from this. I love this type of fan interaction and I hope for a lot more of it. I have also noticed that since the film is free, more people are willing to take a chance on it. Whenever someone talks about it we get a nice little spike in views. I believe that if the right person mentions the film, things could really pick up. I’m also getting ready to release the film on some new platforms and it will hopefully find more fans that way. So while the release has not been succesfull as I hoped, it certainly still can be.

DLM: What about your future films? Will you try the same "give it away for donations" system with them, self distribute or try to get a deal with an actual distributor?

JC: I think it really depends on the film. I certainly wouldn’t rule out another free release but I would definitely approach it differently. I would probably do it in conjunction with a paid DVD / Blu-Ray release and with a a higher quality paid download. I also would create a custom video player rather than go througha site like Vimeo.

DLM: How has the film been received by regular viewers, and what kind of reviews has it received?

JC: I have been blown away by the response to the film. I honestly expected a lot more negative feedback than I have received so far. Of all the professional reviews that have been posted, only one was negative. Feedback via Twitter & Facebook has been overwhelmingly positive and our screenings at festivals always seemed to leave people satisfied. I was most surprised by our screenings at the SINY Film Festival since their audience was much older than I had anticipated. In fact, about half of the audience was comprised of senior citizens but they were laughing their asses off at dirty sex jokes so I guess I did something right. At one screening, an elderly woman told me that the film reminded her of “when my husband was courting me.” Aside from the elderly, audiences closer to my age respond really well to the material, especially those who attended college or film school.

DLM: Did you send it out to any film festivals, or are you sending it out to any in the near future? If so, which ones?

JC: We are done with submitting the film to festivals although I would be more than happy to screen at any that invite us. We premiered at the 2009 SINY Film Festival and we took home Audience Choice Comedy. We screened at several others including Hell’s Half Mile Film + Music Festival and the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival. My favorite festival that we attended was the Orlando Film Festival where I inspired the creation of the Indie Spirit Award, which was later named after me at their 2010 festival. As I said earlier, I wish I rethought my festival strategy because this list would be a hell of a lot bigger.

DLM: Do you have an idea or script in the works for your next film? If so, what kind of a film will it be, and when do you think it’ll go into production?

JC: I have 3 scripts ready to go and a few more ideas that I’m working on. There are two that I am really trying to push now.

FUNNY DEVILS is a wild throwback to the anything goes mentality of 80s slasher films. It is a violent, over the top horror flick about an improv comedy group run off the road in the NJ Pine Barrens. They must use their knowledge of horror movies to survive while dealing with a psychotic family that may be descendents of the Jersey Devil. It is a really fun & twisted script that genre fans will love but its extreme nature has been scaring away producers. Hopefully I can get it in front of the right people soon because I know this is a horror film that Fangoria fans have been waiting for.

FRESHMAN 15 is a raunchy college comedy with a big heart. Desperate to get over his ex, a college freshman embarks on a series of ridiculously bad dates by taking part in a school tradition. That tradition is the FRESHMAN 15, a list of fifteen different types of people to date and/or have sex with by the end of freshman year. This is definitely my favorite script I’ve written and it is easily the funniest.

If you would like to learn more about either film or even read sample pages from them, check out the Screenwriter section at JerryCavallaro.com.

DLM: If people want to see or download the film, where can they check it out?

JC: There are a few different web destinations but the best place to check it all out is at http://www.StuckLikeChuck.com. There’s a high quality streaming video embedded right on our site’s homepage, plus a lot of other info about the film. I’m currently finishing up our deal with VODO so that the film will be available for download from them, as well as a variety of BitTorrent sites. You can also download the film directly from our Vimeo page.

DLM: You sell merchandise as well to support your work. What kinds of things do you have for sale and where can people check that stuff out?

JC: In early July I launched DirectorsCameo.com, which is a clothing company geared towards indie filmmakers and pop culture junkies. In addition to film-centric novelty shirts, there are several designs that were either featured in or inspired by STUCK LIKE CHUCK. My favorite is Rob’s “Help! An Evil t-shirt Is Wearing Me,” which was slightly redesigned to include an evil face on the sleeve & text that glows in the dark. Another popular one is “Tarantino Is My Homeboy” which features a very RESERVOIR DOGS inspired image. From now until the end of the year, use promo code SHIPFREEUS or CADSHIPFREE to get free shipping on orders over $50!

DLM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

JC: Thank you for this interview and thank you to anyone who actually reads to this point! For even more STUCK LIKE CHUCK knowledge, head over to http://www.StuckLikeChuck.com or see what else I’m working on at JerryCavallaro.com! And please feel free to follow me on Twitter (@GetStuck), friend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/stucklikejerry) or add me to your google + circle!