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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Interview with the filmmaker

Here’s something different this week. Filmmaker Eric Casaccio graciously volunteered to be subjected to my questioning. Eric—who has worked in the movie industry as an actor, a cinematographer and casting director—directed the short film Freak, which I wrote about four months ago.

It turns out that online interviews are a great idea. For one thing, it’s a way to get someone else to generate more than half my content for me. I would definitely do this again. (Spielberg? Scorsese? You know where to find me.)

Freak Directed by Eric Casaccio (Trailer) from Eric Casaccio on Vimeo.

Here’s our Q&A.

ScottsMovies: Here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask someone, after years of watching Barbara Walters do interviews. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Eric Casaccio: That’s an interesting and far out question! I think I would be a very tall, giant strong tree with enormous long arms to hug and protect individuals in need of love, acceptance, and happiness. The branches would have tons of rainbow colored candy hanging from them similar to the hub center setting in the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Indeed, “Rainbow” is in fact the key word. :)

SM: It looks as though your second short film Freak has been really well received. I suppose a question that always occurs to a viewer of a vivid character portrait like this is, where did the idea come from? Is there an autobiographical element to it, or was it inspired by someone you knew?
EC: Like many others, I was bullied a lot growing up and when I first came out of the closet, I felt like I was never going to be good enough or accepted by anyone. Bullies come in many forms, even in adults. I spent years re-attracting and/or seeking validation from people that do not want to see you happy or succeed in any way, shape or form. I took all that emotion and projected it into the creation of a genuine soul considered to be different, placing him/her in a very desperate and lonely situation where he/she is about to lose their mind.

SM: Did you set out to make a “message” film, e.g. to tell people to hang in there and not give up on their dreams? Or was the story basically there to service your portrait of Randall/Sophia?
EC: My goal was definitely to tell people to hang in there and NEVER give up on their dreams no matter what. Also, I wanted to show that it’s okay to be who you are no matter where you are and never let anyone try and destroy, abuse, or take away your own self worth. When the nice person finishes last, it is only just the beginning.

Eric Casaccio
Filmmaker Eric Casaccio on set

SM: One thing I have noticed about the early films of new directors is that they often include critical observations on the film industry. Was the character of Dale and the way he treats Sophia at first meant to highlight an unattractive aspect of life in the industry?
EC: Dale is meant to represent the primary bully of the story. He is the kind of guy that strives to seek and project his own self-hatred onto nice individuals. The way Dale treats the innocence of Randall/Sophia triggers the emotional underlying fears, anxiety and pain he/she carries caused by a lifetime of ridicule and abuse. Dale also symbolizes how certain egotistical types need to belittle others in a quest of power, attention and self. Without giving away the ending, we see that Dale is really weak inside and even more desperate than someone considered being a freak or different from “the norm”. The insecurities of being an artist can sometimes bring the best out in people as well as the worst. I think this kind of behavior takes place in all aspects of life, not just within the industry itself.

SM: In addition to directing, you have worked as an actor, a cinematographer and a casting director. Were you consciously following a career path to build toward directing? Or did directing just naturally seem like the next step after you had mastered the other jobs?
EC: It’s interesting that you ask me this question. As an actor, the only time I ever felt like I was “in the zone” was when I played a lead part in an original play called Chasing the Twilight. I shined in that performance but could never seem to find that sparkle, drive or fulfillment in any role again. In 2008, I produced, co-directed and played the lead in a charity event theatrical production of a screenplay I wrote called Psychic Glitter. Once Glitter closed, I realized acting is just part of my artistic being and not the entire measure of my existence. I even felt lost and confused about myself as an artist. About a year later, I signed up for a UCLA Extension filmmaking course called “Making You Own Mini-Movies” and wrote Freak about a month before the very first class (because I wanted to be super prepared, etc.) Once realizing that Freak was too complex for the course curriculum, I ended up writing, directing and editing a well-received student film entitled The Test. Once it was accepted into the Marblehead Film Festival in Massachusetts, I decided to get pre-production going on Freak right away. After completion, I finally found my true artistic purpose in life and feel amazing because of it! Without studying acting and everything else for the years I did, I wouldn’t have the several film festival selections along with the eight awards for Freak that even includes Best Actor for my lead, Aaron Merken. All of this has rekindled my sparkle in a different form and I now best describe myself as a storyteller of many traits.

SM: What are your plans for more films? Are you contemplating a feature length film at some point?
EC: I already have another short written that will be the next film I shoot. All I am willing to share at this point in time is that it’s about bullying. It is indeed a subject matter very near and dear to my heart and my goal with the project is to keep the awareness alive. Once completed, I will work on writing the zillion feature length projects I have in my head. So if any of you out there are interesting in investing into a slice of life short film, make sure you contact me right away! I also have a pilot for a one-hour television series that I am shopping around for representation.

SM: Most of your movie work has been in films that, in one way or another, explore gay themes. Is this the area you prefer to work, or are you interested in making more “mainstream” movies as well? Could you see yourself making a genre movie like a western or sci-fi movie?
EC: When I first started out writing my own projects, my intention was to only explore gay themed storylines. What’s been great about the success of Freak is how it’s screening in mainstream, LGBT, international and underground festivals winning awards in each kind of venues. The best reward for myself has been attending all these different types of festivals as nothing more than the out and proud artist that I am. It forced me to break out of the West Hollywood bubble that I am ever so comfortable in and diversify myself more. Now my heart is geared towards creating underdog characters simply trying to find their place in the world, hence, a likeable hero stuck in a position of underserved misfortune. If these characters I create happen to be gay, I think that is wonderful, but they are not required to be. Being able to shine in the best of both worlds is fabulous because overall acceptance is beyond important to me, gay or straight. I’d like to take all this and throw it into a mainstream horror flick somehow because I love that genre and have many ideas for it.

SM: What advice would you give to a young aspiring filmmaker trying to break into the business? Do you think that’s easier or harder than it was when you left Boston for L.A.?
EC: My biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself around the ones that truly have your back and believe in you as much as you believe in them. The business can be lonely and unsatisfying if you are working with people that are only in it for their best interest. Don’t ever be afraid to check references and remember, whether you’re the star or a production assistant, it’s always a team effort. Team effort creates harmony and harmony will lead to right kind of success. That is exactly what we had on Freak and why it has gotten to where it is now. As far as whether it’s easier or harder since I left Boston, I would have to say it’s easier in the sense that technology has made it simple, but harder because so much more content is being created leading to larger masses of projects to review and accept. I am flabbergasted when festival directors inform me of just how many submissions they receive. I feel extremely blessed to have screened in eighteen venues so far!

SM: I see you spent some time studying in London. What was that like? Given that European countries like the UK tend to provide more grants for filmmakers than the US does, do you think it’s a better environment for filmmakers over there? Or are there other advantages in America that make it a good place for filmmakers?
EC: Back in 1994, I spent a semester of college in London and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was the beginning of me coming to terms and discovering my true self. At that point in time, I was primarily studying live theater and filmmaking wasn’t part of the program. I did get to study acting with a director named James Roose Evans and was exposed to all kinds of live theater attending over sixty-four shows in three months! It was incredible and definitely the best part of my theater education. I don’t know much about film grants in the UK versus the US, but am very excited to have Freak selected for the European Film Festival. This venue will screen in several different cities around Europe including London and Paris.

SM: You have a role in Joey Sylvester’s comedy Walk a Mile in My Pradas. It looks like a really funny premise (a straight man and a gay man switching orientations). What was it like to work on that movie? Did you have any interaction with Tom Arnold, Dee Wallace or Bruce Vilanch? Any good stories to share?
EC: In Walk A Mile In My Pradas, I played the sweet supporting role of Glen, a guy in a loving relationship with his partner Leonard. Originally, my character had about eight scripted lines and three scenes. In the end, I ended up shooting two scenes and only three of my lines made the cut (which happens a lot in film!) However, my two days of work on Pradas got me out of a creative slump I was in and gave me the energy I needed to create Freak. I did not have any scenes with Tom Arnold, but I’ve ran into and introduced myself to Dee Wallace and told her I worked on Pradas. She is a lovely person. When Freak screened at Q Cinema, Fort Worth’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Texas, Bruce Vilanch and I were on the same flight and had the same driver. I got to spend a lot of time with him at that venue, and as hilarious as he is, he is by far one of the most intelligent guys I have the honor of knowing.

Related Links

Freak web site
Freak Facebook page
Eric Casaccio web site

-S.L., 8 December 2011

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