EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Screening in the Emerging Visions program, writer-directors Marco Ricci and Michael Canzoniero‘s feature debut, “The Marconi Bros. is having its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival. Starring Brendan Sexton III, Dan Fogler and Jon Polito, the film follows brothers Anthony and Carmine Marconi, who have spent their lives in the family carpet business. Their opportunity to escape this life occurs when they meet a Long Island wedding video businessman. indieWIRE talked to the directors about their film and their goals for SXSW.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
Mike Canzoniero: I’ve known I wanted to be a filmmaker as long as I can remember. Of course, like a lot of kids from my generation, George Lucas‘ “Star Wars” was a pivotal moment in my life. In fact, some of the first films I made were shot on Super 8 with “Star Wars” action figures. My cousin and primary collaborator, Marco Ricci and I made dozens of films together before we finished high school and continued to collaborate all through our collegiate and post-collegiate years. I studied film at the University of Notre Dame and received my graduate degree from New York University’s Graduate Film Program where I was awarded the Martin Scorsese Post-Production Grant and the Princess Grace Award for best graduate level film. After graduating, my cousin Marco and I began a small production company to pay our bills and acquired enough equipment to continue making our own films. The most successful short film we wrote and directed with our own cameras and editing system was entitled “Hyper” and premiered as part of the Centerpiece of the 2003 New York Film Festival where it opened for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Punch Drunk Love“. The film played at over 30 festivals domestically and abroad and won numerous awards including Best Online Film of the Year and Best Short of the 2004 Aspen Shortsfest.
I’ve always tried to find a way to support myself (and now a family as well) that would help me grow as a filmmaker. This meant taking jobs in a variety of roles including Digital Cinematographer (on Jim Sheridan‘s “In America“), Editor (on Sarah Scheck‘s “Slippery Slope“), Location Sound Mixer (on Brett Morgen‘s Oscar nominated Documentary “On the Ropes“) and even as a PA (on Santana’s “Smooth” video). I also helped pay my way through film school shooting wedding videos with my cousin Marco, which became the basis for our first feature film “The Marconi Bros.”
What was the inspiration for this film?
MC: The true inspiration for this film were the people Marco and I encountered as assistants in the Long Island wedding industry in the mid to late 90’s. I could not believe my eyes as I watched the stories that unfolded at each and every event. From the alcoholic photographers to the philandering Maitre D’s, it all seemed like a comic movie and wasn’t long before we were outlining our first draft.
As we were writing the script, the characters evolved into people we began to write the film for, most notably the brilliant comedian Dan Fogler who had become a good friend and collaborator on several shorts and screenplays. We are also are big fans of the Coen Brothers and wrote the role of Lou Burns specifically for Jon Polito because of our love of his work with them on “Miller’s Crossing” and “Barton Fink“.
As a funny aside, the title of the film was first coined by our sound editor about Marco and myself while we edited a short film down the hall from “The Big Lebowski” picture cutting room at Sound One in NYC. The editor began to jokingly refer to us as wanna-be Coen Bros. with an Italian twist, and pasted the “The Marconi Bros.” on the front of our broom closet sized office.
The script seemed to take an eternity to finish, we were well into the seventeenth draft before we raised our first dime. Fundraising was also laborious and took over a year to get us into production. Several big name actors were attached at various stages of the development, but we now realize A-list actors are only in your film when he or she shows up on the set, and despite what they or their agents tell you, it usually comes down to your money and their time. My new rule of thumb, is to not believe anything until I have it in writing.
Marco Ricci: Mike and I paid our way through film school working with various wedding videographers on the Long Island circuit. We were instantly attracted to the behind the scenes drama that unfolded at every wedding. Between the frazzled maitre d’, the divorcee waitress who brought her kid to work, and the valets who smoked up in their valet hut, we found a wonderful tableau against which to set a film. The most exciting of these characters always seemed to be our bosses – frustrated Hollywood cameramen and arty showboats that had no problem making the video the center of attention. They called cut during toasts, cursed out priests, and left a path of destruction at every wedding all for the sake of getting “the shot”.
As cousins, Mike and I were also interested in doing a film that portrayed our shared experiences in a large Italian family. In our family everything was shared and discussed over boisterous Christmas dinners, first communions, and family vacations. Finances were even pooled in an investment club, which met semi-annually (men in one room, women and kids in the other). We wanted this loving, yet somewhat stifling world to be the basis for the relationship between Carmine and Anthony and their family.
As for Carmine and Anthony’s journey, there is a strong relationship to our own personal journey – an artistic desire, a desire to make your own mark in the world, and the juggling act that goes on working and living with a person whom you want to simultaneously punch and hug.
The title came from when we were doing sound on our short film, “Pishadoo.” We had a cutting room down the hall from the Coen Bros. in the Brill Building, the hub of the New York Post Production world. Our sound editor said we were the low-rent Italian version of the Coen Bros. and started calling us The Marconi Bros. – the name stuck.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
MC: Because my cousin and I are co-writers and a co-directors, making a film together is often awkward initially, and only after we find our roles on the set and in post-production, do we start doing work that trumps the ability one of us might have had on his own. But I feel the entire filmmaking process is collaborative including working with casting directors, cinematographers, editors and mixers. The sooner you realize your own limitations, the better you become at making movies. At this stage of my career, one of my biggest goals is starting to build that team of collaborators who will work with me on all of my future projects.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
MC: Raising money is always tough, but personally I feel that locking the picture is the most excruciating part of the process. For me, it usually takes a perfect screening where I feel the entire movie works from start to finish and nothing takes me out of the movie. This is only slightly harder than finishing the script (only because you know you’ll change your script when you shoot and edit). Both experiences seem to take Marco and I longer than is typical because we not only have to please ourselves but also please each other. This is why we call our production company Slowpoke Films.
Since being accepted by SXSW we have been getting lots of emails and calls from distributors wanting to see screeners of the film. But our plan is to hold the movie tight to our vest until the Premiere. As a small wedding comedy with a big budget look the film is only fully appreciated with a full house on the big screen.
What are your goals for the SXSW Film Festival?
MC: A great premiere in a great space, media exposure and reviews, possibly a sale (or at least the generation of some quality buzz) and then lots of BBQ and beer.