Three visionaries, three stories to tell, three new films—it seems we’re having a Hollywood moment. Someone, please, turn down the lights.
Is the Diamond State becoming the Popcorn State?
Three new movies, made in Delaware by Delawareans, are captivating film buffs. “Bells on the Hill,” “20 Minutes” and “Mayor Cupcake” are different styles of movies—documentary, short form and feature-length—that tell different stories about different parts of Delaware. Behind the movies are very different filmmakers: a barber, a former gang member and a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur.
They all have one thing in common: They are part of Delaware’s independent film community, which is thriving in spite of a financial situation that is, at best, uninspiring.
“People can have stories, creativity, skills and that’s all great,” says Film Brothers’ Gordon DelGiorno, a producer of “20 Minutes” and “Mayor Cupcake.” “But what it takes to get the cameras rolling is one thing: money. Delaware is one of only six states that does not have a tax incentive program for film production companies.”
“Over the years, several film incentive bills have drowned in the state’s legislature,” says Ric Edevane, president of Delaware Independent Filmmakers. “We have all of the scenery a producer could want. But without a state tax credit, Hollywood studios are not finding it financially logical to film in Delaware.”
That’s not stopping the storytelling. Independent filmmakers are writing, directing, producing—and funding—movies made in and about Delaware.
Page 2: 20 Minutes
When professors at Yale University request a private screening of your film, you know you did something right.
“20 Minutes” is a short film written and directed by G. Lloyd Morris and produced by his wife, Dawn Morris. Made with $20,000 that the Wilmington couple funded from their savings and credit cards, “20 Minutes” is captivating audiences at film festivals, schools—and prisons.
The film has been screened at the 2010 Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, the 2010 Atlantic City International Film and Music Festival and upon request to an audience of urban ethnology professors and students at Yale University. It has also been screened at Young Correctional Institution, the Ferris School, Grace/Snowden Cottage, Mowlds Cottage and other transitional houses and juvenile detention centers.
What is so interesting to such disparate audiences? “20 Minutes” is 20 minutes in the life of Evan, a young man just released from Young Correctional Institution after serving yet another two-year term for drug dealing. Given another chance at a new life, Evan sets off on foot, running through the streets of Wilmington to his brother’s house. But on the way to start his new life, Evan is confronted with his old life and its temptations.
What has intrigued audiences is the human drama portrayed in the fictional story of an all-too-real reality: the never-ending circle of recidivism that cripples men, women and the people who love them.
“20 Minutes” was shot at Third and Lombard, in and around Riverside and Rockford Park in the streets of Wilmington. But the story really begins in the streets of South Central Los Angeles, with G. Lloyd Morris.
“My husband was a gang member,” says Dawn. “He watched friends and family go to prison and to early graves. And then he decided to change his life.”
G. Lloyd did that by getting a job with the Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles, working as head of outreach for a program with at-risk kids. He married Dawn, a Dover native, in 1999. They have three children. In 2001 the couple moved to Delaware, where Dawn, now 43, is the marketing director for Delaware State Parks. After earning a bachelor’s of science degree in behavioral science from Wilmington University, G. Lloyd, 39, is in his third year of a master of fine arts program at Temple University.
While going to school, G. Lloyd worked as a counselor in Wilmington’s Child Development Community Policing Program. “My boss asked me to create a public service announcement,” G. Lloyd says. “I wanted to make it look like a film to make it really effective. He let me do it, and it got mad reviews.”
“It gave us the reality that we have the opportunity to use film to educate and entertain,” Dawn says. “G. Lloyd had the stories inside of him. They were just looking for a way to come out.”
“20 Minutes” is an action-packed, suspense-filled story that took G. Lloyd one day—and all of his life—to write.
That suspense fills the film is no coincidence, given that suspense films are G. Lloyd’s creative influences. “I love Alfred Hitchcock—love. His writing and directing? That is good, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Also, I loved ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I watched that all the time as a kid. You never knew how an episode was going to end. I love that feeling of ‘It could go this way. It could go that way. What’s going to happen?’
“In modern film, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is one of my favorites. It’s so compelling how Jonathan Demme, the director, depicted this psychotic genius and made him alluring even to the woman.
“But the best might just be ‘The Sixth Sense.’ Dawn and I saw that when we were first married. I remember sitting in the movie theater and watching the wedding ring roll across the floor. Oh, man. I had never heard of M. Night Shyamalan, but I remember saying, ‘Whoever made this movie, he is one of the best in the business.’”
What actors would G. Lloyd like to work with? “Christopher Walken,” he says. “You have to understand, ‘The Kings of New York,’ even more so than ‘The Godfather,’ is my all-time favorite gangster film. In that movie, Christopher Walken, he just owns those streets.”
Different streets of a different Wilmington neighborhood are the focus of “Bells on the Hill.”
Page 3: Bells on the Hill
Bells on the Hill
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. In 1997 Dr. Herbert T. Casalena of the Knights of Columbus, a charitable and fraternal organization affiliated with the Catholic Church, approached Gus Parodi—a somewhat lapsed Catholic but a proud Italian-American and lifelong Wilmingtonian—about a project. “They wanted to do a small film that traced the history of the church and its impact on the neighborhood,” Parodi says.
That neighborhood is Wilmington’s Little Italy, and that church is St. Anthony of Padua. The church, its schools and senior center stretch from Ninth to Tenth streets along DuPont Street. Those streets are home to the annual St. Anthony’s Italian Festival, which takes place over eight days in June and draws thousands of people to the neighborhood.
Those people—their faces, families, stories, food and music—fill “Bells on the Hill.” What began as a small film became a three-year project for Parodi. With almost no budget and no professional filmmaking experience, Parodi enlisted Matt Swift as a creative partner and set out to make a movie about Wilmington’s Italian-American families, their neighborhood and the church they built. They started with a priest.
“We went to see Father (Roberto) Balducelli, the 97-year-old priest at St. Anthony’s,” Parodi says. “He’s a walking history book. I’m telling you, the man knows and remembers everything. Everything. We interviewed him several times, then we went into the archives at St. Anthony’s. There were thousands of pictures. Thousands. Then we talked to people from the founding families: the DiSabatinos, the Fortunatos, the Fendozas. Then we went to guys on the street and interviewed them. We said it like this: ‘Who are you and what’s your family’s history in Little Italy?”
All of that film—35 hours worth—became a 77-minute documentary. The movie premiered to a sold-out crowd at Theater N in Wilmington in July. “So after three years of work, we put the thing up on the screen and we didn’t know what people were going do, how they were going to react,” Parodi says. “Let me tell you what happened. People laughed—and they cried. We had a lot of tough guys crying in the movie. We struck a chord, and that chord was nostalgia. The movie is about us, our neighborhood, our heritage. They stood up and applauded for two minutes at the end of the film.
“And me? I couldn’t put my hand on just one feeling. I was dissatisfied, because I was still wishing that we had done small, tiny, microscopic things to make it better. I was proud, not of myself, but of the community, the families, the Italian-Americans, the parts of Wilmington depicted in the film. I think that’s how everyone in the audience felt, like it was a little bit of all of us, our heritage, right there on the big screen.”
So how did Parodi, 72, a barber by training, become a documentarian? Parodi had no experience in movies or television, but he had a lifetime’s worth of storytelling.
“The very first thing I remember writing was when I was 8 or 9 and it was for a class assignment. There was one particular nun—a real knuckle-cracker—who was all over my back to finish this writing assignment. So I wrote a story about finding a penny, and I wrote about the entire life of this penny. I thought for sure that I’d get into trouble writing about something like a penny. But the nun, she loved it. She thought it was fantastic. I was a little kid, but it made a big impression on me that she liked my writing.”
Parodi also filled his imagination with books, TV shows like “The Lone Ranger,” and lots and lots of movies. “A bunch of us kids would go to the Park Theater at Fourth and Union and pay eight cents to see a double feature. I loved ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ with Bogart and ‘Going My Way’ with Bing Crosby. But my favorite was ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ with James Cagney and the Dead End Kids. ‘Ma, ma, I don’t want to die!’ And the guy in the crowd says, ‘Rocky’s yellow.’ Ah, I loved it.”
So when it came time for Parodi to tell the story of his own neighborhood, he was well versed in narratives of heroes and tough guys, kids and Catholics, and the women who brought them all together.
Meanwhile, in Dewey Beach, a movie was being filmed about one particular woman and the town she brought together.
Page 4: Mayor Cupcake
Do cupcakes and politics mix? They do in “Mayor Cupcake,” the feature-length film in which a small-town baker brings her homespun smarts to the mayor’s office in Bridgeville and revitalizes the town.
Shot in Dewey Beach, Bridgeville and Georgetown, the movie stars Lea Thompson, of “Back to the Future” fame, as Mary Maroni, a.k.a. Mayor Cupcake. Thompson’s daughters are played by her real-life teenage daughters, Zoey and Madelyn Deutch, and her husband is played by Judd Nelson, star of many films, including the ’80s classic “The Breakfast Club.”
There is even a scene in the movie where Zoey Deutch stands on stage at the Bottle & Cork and sings the “The Breakfast Club’s” title song, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” as a meta-reference and homage to Nelson.
But “Don’t You Forget About Me” could be the title song for the creative journey of Alex Pires, the writer, director and producer of “Mayor Cupcake.”
“I wrote a story about my mother, who was uneducated, unsophisticated and naïve, and grew up as one of eight children in a small town in Massachusetts,” Pires says. “She never knew her father. He died when she was born. And in that part of the Northeast, if you didn’t have money, they buried you on the far side of the cemetery, on Pauper’s Hill, with only a numbered disc, not a gravestone, because gravestones cost money. When we would go visit my grandfather, we had to go to the Pauper’s Hill side and find that disc. It was humiliating.
“So the original story was about a woman who earned enough money to move her father off of Pauper’s Hill and into the cemetery. She had to get permission from the cemetery, from the Catholic Church and other officials. It took her years and years to do this, but, my mom, she finally got her father moved into the cemetery.
“That story became a story about a woman who works in the bakery at Jimmy’s Grille and is angry because her grandmother is buried in Pauper’s Field in Bridgeville, and she wants to move her. And then, through a series of events, she becomes mayor of Bridgeville.”
If Jimmy’s Grille, the Bottle & Cork and the name Alex Pires sound familiar, it’s because he owns all of them, plus The Rusty Rudder and Northbeach—and now Highway One Pictures, a film production company. Though the 62-year-old has found fame and fortune in restaurants, music and as a high-powered attorney, it’s the movies that have always captivated Pires’ imagination.
“There was a movie theater near our little town in Massachusetts, and we went as often as we could. All of those post-World War II movies, those are still my favorites. There’s a movie called ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ that really touched me. Also, ‘Marty.’ Hell of a film. ‘On the Waterfront’—I’ve seen that 30 or 40 times. Seriously.
“I think of movies as friends. The actors reveal their secrets to you. You’re sitting in the dark with these characters, and they learn things about themselves and go through experiences—with you. It’s a relationship.
“For example, there’s a scene in ‘On the Waterfront’ where Brando, the big tough guy, is in love with a woman and is trying to get her out of a situation, but he can’t. She says, ‘I know you would help me if you could,’ and she touches Brando’s face. He collapses in front of her, just a pile of mush. And you feel what Brando’s character feels. I mean, that’s great stuff.”
So when Pires sat down to write his own movie, he found inspiration in his mother’s story and in the character-driven movies of his childhood. And he had the money to fund the filming. With a budget of $300,000 that came from his own pocket, Pires set about bringing “Mayor Cupcake” to life. Screenwriter Art D’Alessandro fleshed out the script, Hollywood big shot Neil Roach handled the cinematography, and Seth Flaume edited the film.
Pires is in talks with Lifetime, ABC Family and other networks to use “Mayor Cupcake” as a TV movie. “My hope,” he says, “is that the movie would launch a TV series.”
That would be icing on the cake.
Lights, Camera, Delaware! | Where to Catch Independent Films
Hearts And Minds Film
With the motto “civic engagement through the cinematic arts,” this Wilmington-based organization features documentaries that address social issues. The new must-see is “Twin Poets: Why I Write,” in which twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha use spoken word poetry jams to awaken and inspire Wilmington’s violent, poverty-stricken Riverside neighborhood.
If something is happening in Delaware’s film scene, producers and brothers Gordon and Greg DelGiorno know about it. Want to make a movie, star in one, or watch one? Head to the company’s Website or Facebook page to get all the latest information.
Delaware Independent Filmmakers
G. Lloyd Morris, the DelGiorno brothers, Ric Edevane, Bill Page and other Delaware filmmakers belong to this professional network of writers, directors and producers. Trying to get a movie made in Delaware? Contact DIF.
Newark Film Festival
Held annually in September (Newark) and early October (Wilmington), both festivals feature big budget releases and indie flicks. Check out the Website for new, independent flicks.
Rehoboth Beach Film Society
In addition to The Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival each November, The Rehoboth Beach Film Society holds monthly screenings of internationally flavored movies. The Website has a complete schedule and other information for film buffs.