Interview with director Gabriele Di Sazio

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I think there are probably two moments that made me realize I wanted to tell stories through Cinema. The first one, when I was a teenager. In my High School we had Cinema classes taught by Ugo Barbara – a journalist, screenwriter and novelist – and later by Marco Amenta, a film director. I was already interested in Cinema, but getting in direct contact with that world really helped me make the decision of becoming a film director. The second moment happened in London. I was already attending a film school at the London College of Communication. During a class we watched a movie: Faces by John Cassavetes. That film, which is still one of my favorite movies, moved me deeply and changed the way I see Cinema and life. After that day, my films became much more intimate, and I gave myself the chance to be sincere with myself and others like I had never been before.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I don’t think it’s essential, but I think it can help. I know as a fact that attending the American Film Institute made me a better director, more confident and skillful, and – even more important – it gave me the possibility to meet a number of amazing filmmakers I will probably collaborate for the rest of my life.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I think getting started is a bit harder. But by getting started I don’t mean simply directing a short film or two. I think I got started 3 years after having made my first short film; at first in fact I did not have a clear understanding of what I was doing and why. If you’re actually getting started, it means that you’re accessing your innermost reasons that led you to tell stories and, as a consequence, to tell yourself. But telling oneself is not easy, neither is being honest, and – at least from my perception of what making Cinema is – when you understand how to be honest, then you’re just getting started. After that you won’t be able to stop.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

The most important lesson was to learn to look after myself. I’ll be honest: the shoot was mostly a nightmare. Because of a very difficult pre-production, on the first day I was very tired and I soon got a fever, which forced me to make sure I would sleep and eat well. That gave me a lot of strength for the second half of the shoot.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Well, one of the elements that I was really attached to was the nationality of the character of the Mother. She was in fact supposed to be Italian and speak with an accent. However, I had been lucky enough to attract the interest of Beau Garrett and working with her became a priority. We did not have enough time for her to learn the accent so I had to give it up. Another quite important scene I fought for – that was supposed to happen towards the end of the movie – involved the main character, Vincent, and his friend walking in between two still trains. In a moment that was supposed to be cathartic, I wanted the two trains to start the engine and move, transforming that claustrophobic corridor they were walking through in a very wide space as the train disappeared. Closure becomes openness. Unfortunately our budget would not allow something like that to be 100% safe, so I gave up the idea and I decided to express the openness in another way at the very end of the film. Which in the end turned out to be the best choice.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Using the same actress for two roles – Mother and Prostitute – was probably the most difficult artistic decision because it completely changed the tone of the movie. It certainty made it much more surreal and risky. But I’m very glad I made that decision.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

The members of my team were all either AFI students or related to AFI in some ways. Which is – as I mentioned before – the great advantage of film schools. Keeping the relationships strong is one of the most important parts of filmmaking. A strong collaboration helps so much make a strong movie. In order to create good collaboration it’s very important to be open towards everyone. It’s very easy to be too much in love with your own ideas, but sincerely listening to your collaborators not only makes the collaboration work but can really take the movie to the next level.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I think audiences want to be moved; to believe in what they are watching and emotionally participate to it. However I don’t think the filmmaker’s role is to worry about what people want. As a director I worry about being moved myself and believe in what I’m telling. If I manage to do that, I think audiences – or at least the right audience for your movies – will react the same way.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

My last short film – VINCENT – is the only movie I’ve ever sent to a film festival even though I’ve made at least another 15 films. And that was not a smart move, because what a film festival gives you is visibility, and the more visibility you have, the more possibilities you’ll have to meet people that will believe in you and help you with your projects. I’m not sure what’s the way to get the most out of them but when I find out I’ll let you know!

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I think being honest is the best way to be original. I don’t think anyone should wonder if they should go with something more fresh or to stick to safe Cinema because the only question filmmakers should ask themselves is: how do I go deeper? Is this really me? Is this really us?

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

Besides the more obvious technical and creative aspects, a very important element is whether you feel safe with that person. Surrounding yourself with people you feel safe with is very important.

  • Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.

I would not recommend a writer to think like a producer, but to write freely. Later they’ll find out whether they can rewrite and accommodate the budget. If they can’t, they simply need more money. So keep looking and keep writing in the meanwhile.

  • How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?

I often write my scripts. When I don’t, I’m usually very involved from the very beginning to the very end. As a director I think I need to believe in the writing and find myself in it. I expect a writer to know that if I don’t understand or – for whatever reason – I’m not comfortable with something, I simply can’t direct it.

  • If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?

I would make a Limited Series about an 8-year-old kid ending up in the place where people who commit suicide go. It’s a Drama which is supposed to also be quite funny (even though I hesitate to call it a Dramatic Comedy) and is about nostalgia, love and home.

  • What does the future of film look like?

I’m really not sure. In some ways it feels like there’s going to be more and more content, which is good. I just hope people won’t stop going to the theater to watch movies.