Monday, August 29, 2011

Joe Pezzula: Filmmaker And Screen/Comic Book Writer

Joe Pezzula is a filmmaker as well as a screen/comic book writer, living in Los Angeles. Joe has co-written The UnderGrounds webcomic as well as the series Sim-I. His directing debut was for the short film Making Friends, based on his father's short story, which hits the festival circuit this Fall. He is currently working on his latest short film, Tarantula, as well as developing a feature length screenplay based on a true crime that takes place in his home city of Albany, NY.  For more information on Joe and his project please visit

What is the current project you are working on?

I'm about to direct "Tarantula", from a script I wrote, a short horror film in which a terrifying tarantula takes revenge on a man who kills it. It's a really short monster film in the vein of an 80s B-movie, and my producer (Katie Schwartz) and I are making it to enter into the ABCs of Death contest. Beyond that I've got two feature scripts that I'm hashing out and rewriting, a process I typically dislike but this time I feel like the refining is working better than the original construction of the stories.

How do you handle rejection?

Not very well, unfortunately. About the only thing worse is a harsh criticism about my abilities as a writer or filmmaker. I understand that not every story or film is everyone's cup of tea, but it still sucks to hear that something I've created, or even worked on, is not being accepted or included in someone's viewing or reading material.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Mostly, yes. Since I was twelve and watched "The Usual Suspects" and "Se7en" back to back in a theater with my Uncle Billy. Before that, I guess I was unsure.

What inspired you to become filmmaker?

See above. Also, the feeling of hopefulness at the end of "The Shawshank Redemption". I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to make people feel such a strong emotion at the end of a MOVIE, something I can create?

What is the best thing about being one?

The collaborative camaraderie on set. There's nothing like being on a hot set, setting a shot or working together to fix a problem - be it a logistical issue or something to do with script or with a character.

What is the worst thing about being one?

The waiting, the requirement of patience. The process is a lengthy one, it's tough to get support for a film, whether it's financial or a crew.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Mostly short films, with a few features here and there. I'd say a good estimate is 15 total -- again, mostly shorts.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

Pedro Almodovar is at the top of my list, currently. His films are all unique yet very similar in technique, tone, and skill. He writes his characters so well, with minimal exposition necessary. I'm also enjoying pretty much all of Woody Allen's work.

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

I've learned a bit more patience and to respect the process more, so I suppose I've become more accepting of my own faults and accepting critiques. Haven't hit the big break, so in the grand scheme my life is pretty consistent -- just with a bit more experience under my belt. One thing that changed for certain is my location -- I moved from Albany, NY to Los Angeles, CA to do this.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Just DO, don't hope for it to come to you. I still fall into the "please come to me" category when it comes to my writing, but as far as actually making a film -- write something that someone might want to make with you, ask them to do it. Most people can't or won't work for free, but if you find someone willing to collaborate with you and help you raise some funds and awareness for the project, then it's a start. So, Do it.

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

Reading. Also, people watching. People are fascinating, scary, pitiful, and wonderful. Watch them.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

Menial service industry jobs as well as some gigs on live events in the industry. It's fun to see all aspects of the entertainment industry and study how people work, how they execute their way through a problem, and then get frustrated at the money aspects of production.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

American Films -- Full Metal Jacket; Dog Day Afternoon; Sunset Blvd.; Psycho.

Foreign Films -- Fellini's 8 1/2; Life is Beautiful; Talk to Her; Oldboy.

TV Shows -- Spaced, Cheers, Friday Night Lights, Arrested Development.

How would you describe your film education?

Casually Academic. I minored in Film Studies and received a MFA in Screenwriting, so I took a lot of studious courses in film history, but also watch many modern films. I lament that classic films are seen as perfect structures in classes, yet not encouraged when it comes to writing today. I once handed a draft of my thesis script to a professor, told him it was influenced by "Being There," and he told me to not use that movie as a sound structure. "It was a movie made for the early 80s, but no audience would watch it today, and no one would read it." Sounds like a bummer way to see things. I learned a lot watching Paul Osborne on the set of Favor, for which I crewed the entire shoot (minus one day).

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

It's LA. What more do you need to know?

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

Independent film as an "industry" is an interesting concept, one that's constantly evolving. I think that the technology is effecting independents more than social media -- as equipment and resources become more available to more people, there are more ideas that can hit the screen.

Actually, Social Media might be hindering the audience experience more than the filmmakers. Audiences face an over-saturation of films options to watch, or help make, help finance, download for a buck or for free, etc.

Word of mouth is now the printed word, and becomes less reliable than an enthusiastic conversation. I think recommendations should be more than a few words of "you will like this" or "this idea would make a good film." What's lacking is the conversation of what might actually work, and what doesn't, the whys and wherefores of a good film versus a bad one.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

I love the very idea of it, but the toughest thing is to mentally stay in the game without holding a grudge. It may sound shallow, but it's easy to get frustrated when you say out loud "just a buck!" and barely anyone responds. It brings up doubt about your project, and also makes you wonder about the process of crowdfunding. It's still in early stages and being taken advantage of in strange ways, but like everything in entertainment or the creative world, it's evolving. In a healthy way.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

Behind-the-scenes I can't speak from experience, but watching on the screen you notice the quality of story and at the very least the dedication of character development between indie films and mainstream movies.

You could go back in time and see any classic film being made. Which film would it be and why?

The Maltese Falcon. Setting up deep focus photography and watching how John Huston brings out that hard-boiled attitude in Humphrey Bogart.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

"He'll flip you for real." -- from The Usual Suspects, spoken by Benicio del Toro as Fe. Because it's out of nowhere and always gets a laugh, and also represents the entire movie yet it's spoken offhandedly. Probably not intentional by Chris McQuarrie, but fun to play with and say to people out of the blue.

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

Sequels need to be stopped at two (beyond the original) and remakes disappoint me when there's a plethora of original ideas out there. Movies are made in the time they're made with specific context adding to their cultural impact. Imagine trying to remake Casablanca now...ugh, the horror.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Most are enjoyable and I'll give them a shot. Sometimes it helps with the reading experience, and some of the best movies are based on books. (The Maltese Falcon, Godfather, Jaws, To Kill a MockingBird, heck, even Casablanca and Arsenic and Old Lace were based on plays).