Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Stuff"

For your enjoyment, I present to you the short film I directed and finished last year.  It's semi auto-biographical, in that my dad was a drunk and I can be a loser, but the main characters are actually based not only on my father and myself, but on my longtime friends and production partners Jeff Roberts and George Psillides.




PARENTS!  Strong language ahead, but it's still a nice movie.  Nothing else to worry about.


Regardless of the fact that Stuff is imaginary, Felix and Stuff are friends in the same way that a lot of guys from Queens seem to be friends - they sort of despise each other and take intense pleasure in each other's failures.  Even so, divorce is just not an option.  When push comes to shove we'll do anything for each other - albeit completely begrudgingly, and with little sympathy.  George might have turned over his whole house to our crew - but he also threatened to shut down production at least 40 times, never forgetting to include in his rants what a terrible person I am.  We shot the film over 4 magical days in February, 2010, in Astoria, Q. -- 3 blocks from where I grew up.  George threw in his house, Jeff's Uncle Pete lent his '84 Corvette (which caught a lovely little dent to the nose), my DP Luke McCoubrey shot for free (if you knew him you'd know this meant A LOT), my editor Dustin Stephens edited not only for free but for a million hours, Jeff's wife Vivian made the "heinie rolls", Evan Mangiamele hooked us up with the excellent sound mix, and my in-laws, Helen and Brice Marden, put up most of the cash.  For the rest, Jeff and I emptied our "Kid America T-shirt Company" bank account of every last dollar, and started cutting out felt polkadots for Stuff's body pimples.  

Drawing by J. Roberts

Jeff, who played the imaginary friend and made the costume, also labored over Stuff's cartoon eyes well into the summer -- they're animated old-school style, with Jeff drawing them frame by frame.  Jeff even got tutored by Hudson Vagabond Puppets and figured out how to make Stuff's mouth move electronically.  If you watch closely, you can see he's got a trigger hidden in his left hand underneath his furry glove.  Well, I guess you can't see it, but you can tell.

Kevin Corrigan as Felix Zefferelli wearing a vintage EMS jacket


jacket art by K. Corrigan
Kevin Corrigan, who we've known since the 90's, donated his wonderful performance.  Back then, George's house was a real hang-out for slackers and creative types.  Kev used to throw weirdos and play guitar on the sidelines (I remember lots of Dinosaur Jr. and jangles by shoegazer-y bands) as George held court at his dining room table, telling us how wack everything was except for foreign films (Farewell My Concubine!?) and the Body Count record by Ice T.  Kevin's portrayal of the character Felix in the film is based partly on George (they are very good friends) as well as aspects of himself from his awkward teenage days that I think come bubbling through.  Kev grew up in the Bronx and used to paint album covers (among other things) on the backs of denim jackets.  I recently saw him in Trees Lounge again - and he's just always good.


Cara Buono as Madeline in front of the La Guli Pastry Shop on Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, Queens
Cara Buono, who some might recognize as Dr. Fay from the 4th season of Mad Men, plays Madeline - a woman who drives an old Corvette and works in the local bakery.  She did an incredible job encapsulating an amalgam of my memories - Madeline was based, in part, on three seemingly untouchable girls from my old neighborhood that I barely ever spoke to but can remember as if they were old hook-ups - Lily, a cashier from the Trade Fair Supermarket, the "Tall Girl" who went out with a guido who worked in Weber's Sportswear (where you could get iron-ons), and a girl we referred to as "Rusty", the first goth I ever saw, who pedaled used CD's in Sound City, one of the only record stores in Astoria.  Cara did her own nails, which, in a movie about Queens, counts as doing your own stunts.

Frankie with Vinny Vella as Leonard Zefferelli in front of George's house in Queens

It was tough finding someone to play my old man -- but in the back of my mind I kept thinking of Vinny Vella (the guy who messed it up for all the wise guys in Casino by keeping a journal of his expenses) -- and eventually he wound up with the part.  Vinny lives near to my apartment, and I would always see him on Elizabeth St., usually hanging out in the Albanese butcher shop.  The thing was, we didn't know how to officially contact him and I was scared to just barge into the store.  Any other actor we tried to line up fell through.  Cara had put us in contact with Vincent Curatola, who played Johnny Sack on The Sopranos, but he had conflicts.  We tried, through agents, to get stand-up comic Dom Irerra but he wanted not just $$$$ but $$$$$ plus first class accommodations.  After Dan Hedaya basically said, "No way," Jeff and I finally just walked into the butcher shop, hat in hand, and dropped off a script and a letter I'd written to Vinny.  The butcher, a really sweet old guy, was in the middle of chopping up a hunk of lamb, and got blood all over the manilla envelope.  Vinny called me the next day and that was that.

Kevin Corrigan, Jeff looking wilted in Stuff's foam leg puffers, and Cara Buono getting made up.
Plus: A Kino doing it's job and to the left: George's ancient-looking "Rules of Recycling" stuck to the wall 

Below is Danny Dennegy -- who played the young Felix like a pro -- looking ominous, with Stuff and me, in the middle of Felix and Stuff's basement lair. 

See if you can find these things in this picture: a clown nose, a globe, a sound effects record, a birthday cake, a
kid in glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas, a top hat, a cell phone impression in a pair of jeans, an "on-the-air"
light, cheezie balls.
 If you see an imaginary monster, you're nuts - he's not really there.





And, just to keep this shlog's "making-of" sensibility in full effect - I'm posting the practice film we shot - starring Jeff, George, and me, in a round robin of all the parts.  



Last but not least, this film is dedicated to my father, Frank Sisti Sr., graduate of The Samual Gompers Vocational School, who, even though he could be a son-of-a-bitch, was a hell of a funny guy.  

My Dad and a Slice of Olive Loaf, 1995.  Yes, that's the wallpaper I grew up with in my kitchen.
To the left is my growth chart and a small Kid America tag.

7 comments:

  1. STUFF! is awesome! I loved it! so funny & heart warming too! Where'd you find that kid?

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  2. We had problems finding him too. Finally, my friend Stella Guidone took me over to the old kids' gymnastics program in Astoria. I used to go to the same program when I was 5. It's run by the same people that do the famous Bohemian Hall Beer Garden that everyone knows about. They were having a Halloween party - Danny was dressed as an old school prizefighter, in an original costume. His mom brought him to "the set" the next day and I gave him the part. He was excellent to work with.

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  3. Hi, Stuff looks really good. I saw a recommendation for it on Cool Hunting. Trying to watch the video but it's not loading (maybe it's me) Do you have international restrictions ? as I'm in Australia. Is it hosted on Vimeo? do you have a direct link? cheers :-)

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    Replies
    1. Here's the link to Stuff on Vimeo. It shouldn't be blocked anywhere. Thanks for checking it out!

      http://vimeo.com/28834734

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  4. Action Packed!!! I was riveted from the opening cuss' word til the end when the friendly old man tells us all to leave. The acting, music, costumes, effects, editing, decorations, and the cinematography (not to mention the hot dame in those cool "jeans-leggings")..... A classic!!! A fine effort from a bunch really creative guys. I can't wait for the sequel. (is there open auditions for the "Other Imaginary Friend"?)

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  5. I didn't hate it
    Sudsey

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