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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Holding a mirror to Narcissus

One of the joys of writing about new films is that sometimes the filmmakers keep me posted on their progress with film festivals and other screenings, as well as distribution deals. For example, Bertie Brosnan informs me that his short Jacob Wrestling with the Angel is not only screening at the Limerick Film Festival (running today through Saturday) but that it is shortlisted for an award for best cinematography. Well done, Bertie and crew!

Meanwhile, another film I recently wrote about, Eric Casaccio’s Narcissist, will have its world premiere at the Boston LGBT Film Festival on Saturday. Eric was kind enough to do a Q&A with me a couple of years ago after finishing his previous film, Freak, and guess what? He’s submitting to another inquisition by myself—making this my second filmmaker interview in as many weeks!

Eric Casaccio
Filmmaker Eric Casaccio

ScottsMovies: It’s been a little over two years since we last chatted. How have you been? Besides making Narcissist, what have you been up to for the past couple of years?
Eric Casaccio: Hello Scott! Wow, time flies! I’ve been great. Freak finished a two-and-a-half-year film festival run and received worldwide on-demand distribution with IndieFlix. I also completed a final draft of a feature length screenplay entitled Twin Flames.

SM: I’m detecting a very clear common thread in your films. Both Freak and Narcissist are both about people who persevere despite the bullies they encounter in their lives. In the first film, Randall/Sophia is targeted for being different. In Narcissist, Evan is a victim in a bad romantic relationship. Will this continue to be a central theme in future work? Does spending so much time on this particular subject matter ever wear you down emotionally or does it have the opposite effect, like providing some kind of catharsis?
EC: Your detection is 120 percent accurate and, yes, I will continue this central theme as it has become my life’s purpose. The way you describe the subject matter definitely has its wear and tear, but knowing how these stories affect others makes the challenge and sometimes grueling process well worth it. The catharsis definitely plays in because, upon completing these projects, I get to look back at some tough life situations and realize how grateful I am they happened… grateful because those experiences only made me stronger leading to a happiness and success that I never even imagined. Without pain there is never any strength, and without strength there is nothing ever accomplished or learned.

SM: Your films tell stories, but they also have a clear message. Do you consciously work to try to ensure that they do not come off as preachy or glorified public service announcements? Is there a tension between spinning a compelling narrative and educating?
EC: Absolutely! One of the primary goals with my films is to always focus on how a character handles silence. Thinking about this simple characteristic during the writing and editing process keeps the “glorified public service announcement” tone out of the story. It’s not what the lines say. It’s about the subtext between them. Yes, there is definitely a tension between spinning a compelling narrative and educating… tension because being the captain of films like Freak and Narcissist, it’s first and foremost beyond important that all financial contributors are happy with the final execution and that the audience is left with a clear message versus a vague one. My father just said to me today, “You do a good job when you complete the job.” He certainly has been a man of wisdom.

SM: I was impressed with the degree of tension you were able to evoke in the dream sequence in Narcissist. For a few moments, I felt as if I was watching a thriller. Have other viewers had a similar reaction to that bit and were you actually aiming for that degree of tension? I am always fascinated by the mechanics of creating a suspenseful scene on film and find myself wondering what exactly goes into it.
EC: Yes, many other viewers have had the same reaction about the dream, and I definitely was aiming for that degree of tension. Amy R. Handler of Film Threat stated the scene has an endless array of emotions ranging from “innocence and desperation, to something no one should ever see or feel in a lifetime.” What actually goes into creating a moment like this is developing trust between the actors, going over the specific blocking and action, rehearsing, and then capturing. When filming the extreme close-up shots of Hunter Lee Hughes (Evan) and Brionne Davis (Rob), I felt sickened in a good way… sickened because that’s how the audience should feel, and good because the created intensity was how I always envisioned the level of suspense. We also captured their close-up angles with only one take each!

SM: I know we are still a couple of weeks from Narcissist’s world premiere, but are you happy with the general reception the movie has gotten so far from those who have seen it? Have you heard from anyone who has totally not “gotten it” or who had a completely different take on it than you intended? Any reactions that surprised you?
EC: Yes, I am beyond happy with the general reception. The majority of the Narcissist funding came from individuals who have suffered the post-traumatic stress of dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. The biggest reward so far was having a private online screening for those contributors and receiving 95 positive messages in return. I haven’t heard from anyone who totally has not “gotten it” yet but know that no one can satisfy every audience member out there. Everyone has their own opinion about things, which is something to just accept and respect.

SM: How do you go about casting your films? Do you write with certain actors in mind? Or do you create the characters out of whole cloth and then look for the actors that fit the bill? For example, Freak actually seemed like it had to be built around Aaron Merken. Will you always find a part for Angela McEwan? She nearly seems to be your good luck charm.
EC: Ironically, most cast members are good friends of mine and some were discovered in held casting sessions or at film festivals. Years ago I worked with Aaron Merken on a play called Chasing the Twilight and a friendship began. Years later I created a show called Psychic Glitter and cast him as one of the leads which led to writing Freak specifically for him. Ironically, I cast Angela McEwan over coffee to discuss playing the mother role in Psychic Glitter. I just loved her and had to have her! As you know, Angela landed the substantial role of Pegy Nagy in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. She got the part after Alexander Payne viewed a six-month-prior casting tape and wanted to meet her in person. Angela had him over for her delicious homemade cookies and, after a ten-to-twenty-minute conversation, Mr. Payne offered her the part! Years ago I met Brionne Davis at the gym and we became friends. He also gave an unforgettable audition for Psychic Glitter and, even though he didn’t end up getting the part, I knew I had to work with him someday, which lead to Brionne playing the narcissistic role of Rob. When you get to work friends like this, you elevate each other’s talents and it feels like magic. That’s what art is and always should be!

SM: Who are some of your role models in the world of film? Are there any filmmakers or screenwriters you work to try to emulate? If you could have a meeting with any director, living or dead, who would it be?
EC: Wow, so many role models out there. I would have to say David Lynch and Gregg Araki. Their unique work has always encompassed their own vision and voice to me. Lately I’m admiring the skill of James Wan, who directed Insidious and The Conjuring. I love the way he glides into a scene and pulls out of one, which is something I storyboarded and emulated in Narcissist. I would love to meet Gregg Araki someday because I’ve always been a fan of his films, especially Mysterious Skin. I think he would be a great candidate to collaborate with on Twin Flames, the feature script I mentioned earlier.

SM: The last time we chatted you said that, after this film, you might work on “writing the zillion feature length projects I have in my head.” Is that still your plan? If so, will bullying still be a major theme in your work? Or you are you ready to move into other areas?
EC: Twin Flames is the first of the zillion feature-length projects I completed since then! Originally, the first draft was a short script about bullying, but over time a full-length idea came along, turning the story into something a whole lot more. I guess it’s safe to say that my artistic voice is meant to be in stories with underdog characters stuck in a place of undeserved misfortune that eventually get their break in life. That overall theme is where my heart is, and the only way I can create is when it comes from the heart. I will be ready to move into other areas as long as my heart takes me there. Ironically, from creating Narcissist a documentary idea came to mind. One day at a time, right?

SM: You also mentioned a TV pilot that you were shopping around. Any luck with that? Can you reveal any more details about what it is about?
EC: The TV pilot is actually just sitting on the shelf at the moment. I am still open to shopping it around, and there have been thoughts of turning it into a web series. Currently, I want to keep the focus on simply enjoying the film festival run of Narcissist and talking about Twin Flames along the way.

SM: When can we expect to next see your name onscreen?
My name will be on the big screen with the world premiere of Narcissist at the Boston LGBT Film Festival on April 12th at 4:00 p.m. EST—and at several other the film festivals over the next year or two. Stay tuned!

-S.L., 10 April 2014

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