An Interview with ‘Pizza the Movie’ director Donald Gregory – By Duane L. Martin

Donald GregoryFirst tell everyone a little bit about yourself. Your childhood, your repressed emotional traumas, experiences with small animals, sock puppets, etc…

I’m sure there’s emotional trauma lying somewhere underneath the surface from my childhood, but I don’t think it was consciously expressed in this particular movie. I used to have a female hamster named Goldilocks, who gave birth and then ate her babies, so that might give you some angle into my darker thoughts.

When did you have your first “moment of clarity” so to speak, when you said to yourself, “Hey! I wanna make a movie!”

Well, I wrote several screenplays, and to my surprise, it was very difficult if not impossible to get them sold or even read in Hollywood. Surely, I thought my screenplays were different than everyone else’s in the fact that they’re good! So it shouldn’t of been a problem for me, but it was. So screw Hollywood, I decided I’d do it myself. I was going to make one of my screenplays, so I wrote one particularly for a low budget, titled ‘Who Is the Pink Bunny?’. Then I went ahead with production, and there’ s a reason you haven’t heard of this masterpiece, because it was never finished. Making a movie is hard. And when you’re cast becomes scattered across the US, it becomes next to impossible. So it got shelved.

How long did you work on the script before you decided you had reached a point where you were ready to move on with production? Also, while you were writing the script, did you have specific people in mind for the different parts, and if so, did you change your mind about any of them when you saw those people actually reading those parts aloud?

Well, after paying off my bills from the first fiasco earlier than I expected, in August 2003, I decided I wanted to make a movie that fall. I didn’t want to repeat the last script, so I needed something new, and the stories of pizza delivery from Craig and Jason inspired me to go with something in that direction. So I wrote the script and tried to focus as much of it on Jason, Craig and Alex as possible, being that I didn’t know where I was going to find other actors from. With Jason, during shooting I realized he was unable to act ‘normal’ (for him), and his character turned into my biggest problem and somewhat of a regret. He’s my Jar Jar Binks if you will.

Alex Adzioski, Craig Wisniewski and Jason Muzie.
When it came down to production, what kind of equipment (camera, mics, recording equipment, editing equipment, etc…) did you use and were you happy with the results you got? Is there anything production-wise you think could have been done better or looked better?

I used a Canon XL1s, a Senheiser 486 (or some model) shotgun mic. I recorded sound into the camera. I edited with Final Cut Pro 3.1. And in many ways I was happy with the results, however knowing what I know now, I’m embarressed in some ways too. Lighting design could have been improved greatly in a number of scenes, also I know how to do more in post to improve the look, which its also too late for, unless for some insane reason I decide to do a rerelease down the road.

What were some of your biggest problems during the shooting of this film, and what kinds of things did you learn that will help make your next production go smoother?

Scheduling was the absolute number one problem. Conflicts came up constantly, and the schedule was basically thrown out the window early on after my lead actress dropped out. However, in many ways it turned out to be a blessing as Daniela added more to her character of Wendy than the original girl did. But I never did really recover from the initial scheduling problems, which also ended up hurting myself as far as having crew. Without a set schedule, there were many days where I couldn’t find anyone to come help shoot a scene last minute, so it was frustrating to say the least.

Watching the outtakes and the making of commentary, the cast looks like a group of people that would really be a blast to work with. Did you find that their energy made the film more like just having fun than actual work?

They were great, even Muzie who was the cause of many of my problems, also saved me a number of times by doubling as crew in scenes he wasn’t in. But no, in the end, making this movie was work, even though there were many fun times. Hours upon hours were spent getting ready to shoot scenes, and then in post production that involved tremendous amount of work. Shooting the scenes on many occasions were the funniest times, which sometimes made some of them take longer than they should of, but in the end, we did finish them all.

What was the deal with the sock puppet? Was that just written into the movie as a goof or is there a running joke there somewhere that we don’t know about?

I don’t know. While writing the script, I was trying to come up with something to explain the weirdness of Muzie, and the initial ‘naked’ sock puppet scene popped into my head. Then I just ran with it.

Where were the actual pizza place scenes shot? Did you have to get some pizza place to let you shoot there after hours?

We shot at a pizza place in Medina, which was at least an hour drive for everyone. But the other places I tried to get didn’t work out. Fortunately Craig’s experience as a pizza deliverer paid off, because he used to work for these owners, and they gave him a key and let us use the place, when they were closed.

What about some of the other location shoots? Did you run into any issues that were particularly problematic because of outside elements like people hanging around, traffic, police, weather, flashers, homeless people or maybe even transvestite prostitutes fighting on street corners with Danny Bonaduce?

Weather was often a problem, and also in the park scene where Daniela and Craig were talking on the bench, they were originally going to move to the playground equipment in the background behind them for the second half of the scene. However, a bunch of kids showed up, even though it was freezing weather, and we had to reschedule. We tried shooting there again, and for the second time a bunch of kids spoiled it. So eventually we moved it to a fountain which was in a different city. And you might also notice that instead of being autumn, like the first half of the scene, it is actually in the spring by the time we got to reshooting it.

With all the extras and the commentaries and the different subtitles, post production must have taken forever. How long did it take from the time you finished production until the time the DVD itself was fully mastered? Did you run into any major problems during post production?

The movie was finished May 20, and the dvd was fully authored by the beginning of August, so just over two months for me to totally put the dvd together. I ran into problem after problem, with programs not working like they were suppose to, and just learning how to author a dvd.

Craig Wisniewski in drag with some of the health club staff.
The quality of the packaging is highly professional and if you saw this DVD sitting on a shelf in a store it would look just like any other movie that came from a Hollywood studio. There’s two things I want to talk about on the packaging because they’re things you don’t normally see on independent film releases. The first is the fact that the movie is Rated. What went into your decision to have the film rated, what benefits do you get from that, and what was the process as far as submitting it for a rating, time it took to get it rated and the costs involved?

From the beginning the movie was meant to be PG-13, and I figured it would help me sell it in pizza places by having it rated. Also I wanted to learn the process involved in doing it. There really isn’t much benefit to doing it, except for a little credibility. Basically, you have to book your screening date with the MPAA three months in advance, and then pay the fee, and that’s it. The fee varies depending on your production budget, but for us it ran $2000.

The second thing I wanted to ask you about is the bar code on the back of the package. You got an EAN bar code rather than a UPC one and caused you a problem with trying to sell the DVD through the amazon.com advantage program, which used to accept DVD releases with EAN bar codes, but now no longer does. What’s the difference between these types of bar codes, and how are you planning on dealing with this situation, if at all?

EAN I guess is more of an international standard, whereas UPC is more for North American. EAN is used on most books, I’m told. EAN is essentially shows the ISBN number, whereas UPC is totally different. I might attach UPC sticker labels to get the movie into amazon.com, but I might not. Our main way of distribution will be through pizza places, where it won’t really be necessary.

I heard you’ve been working on the script for your next production. What’s it about and when do you think you’ll start shooting it? Will we see some of the same faces in it that we saw in Pizza the Movie?

I have two scripts I’d like to do next year, and I’m sure I’ll do at least one of them. ‘Who Is the Pink Bunny?’ would be something I’d shoot next fall, and I also have a horror comedy project possibly slated for the spring, tentatively titled ‘Survival’. You’ll definitely see some familiar faces if anyone is willing to work with me again, which I think (and hope) they will. I was fortunate to find some definite talent, so I’d be a pleasure to work with many of them again.

Is there anything else you have going on that you’d like to talk about before we wrap this up?

Um… not really, but I will say this: the world hasn’t heard or seen the last from this filmmaker.

You can head on over to the Pizza The Movie website if you’d like to find out more about the film, and / or pick yourself up a copy.