Joe Cecchini is the writer and director of the short film “A Trip to the Ocean,” which premiered at the Gasparilla International Film Festival this week. A Tampa native, Cecchini chatted with CL about making movies.
CL: What is your occupation/job title?
Joe Cecchini: Filmmaker/Filmmaker Assistant.
How old were you when you made your first movie?
How many movies have you made?
Depends on what counts as a "movie", and what you count as "made." My biggest movie that I was an Associate Producer on was Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. My latest short film that I wrote and directed is "Shower" starring Charlie Saxton [who co-stars with GIFF presenter/ award recipient Thomas Jane in HBO's "Hung"].
What themes do you like to explore and why?
I try to keep it simple: relatable characters in interesting stories. But with themes, I'd say betrayal and regret; desire and coming to terms with reality.
What's your earliest movie memory?
I have always loved movies. I remember crowding around a tiny TV on a military post in West Germany to watch a bootleg copy of Star Wars. I remember watching Tron and Condorman so many times on VCR that I committed every line and movement to memory.
When did you realize you wanted to make movies?
I was working in finance in Tampa, and I made a short movie for our firm's year-end conference. It made a bunch of inside jokes about working in our office, just some silly stuff. The massive ballroom filled with employees roared with laughter. When the whole room erupted with applause at the end, I knew I was working in the wrong business.
Who are your major influences?
I love John Carpenter, Mel Brooks, Steven Soderbergh, P.T. Anderson, Takeshi Kitano, Joe Carnahan, but also my most important influence is my boss, Todd Graff, a gifted filmmaker.
I wrote and directed, but with the edit, I had a ton of help. My editor Julie Garces was a dream, a true partner, and then I got additional critical help from Kathryn Himoff and Todd Graff in making the story work.
How long did it take to make?
I came up with the idea in 1998. I wrote it 2000 and had it completely shot down. Then 11 years later, I dusted it off, re-wrote it and finally found the will to make it. I was able to piggyback a lot of its production on back of a feature I was working on, Joyful Noise, so it terms of office space and equipment and post help, I was really fortunate.
What did you shoot it with?
We shot it with Canon's 7D, 5D and 1D. My cinematographer was brilliant and weird (like all great DPs!). He came from a still photo background and really made it way better than was possible with my hack tendencies.
What inspired the script?
The script was inspired by an afternoon jerking around with my best friend, Rayford Rodriguez. We came up with a rough idea for a script and tried to shoot it that day. It didn't come together. Our "actress" kept laughing, but I held on to the idea and later fleshed it out.
What moment in this movie are you most proud of?
I'm really in love with the performances. Anna, Angela and Ky did just such amazing jobs. And Daryl, our villain, he was really a true revelation. When I think about how good they are as actors, I am reminded how I largely failed to properly showcase how brilliant they are.
What's your directing style?
I try to be as collaborative as possible. I tell my crew and cast at the outset that I am a very weak director and it is up to them to help me make up for my shortcomings. It is important for me that everyone puts their creative stamp on a piece and is therefore fully invested. In the end, I know I have final cut and final control, but I try to remain confident that I don't have all the answers and let in as much input as possible.
What was the most challenging part of making this movie?
I scouted the outdoor location a few Sundays before, and it was dead. No one around, nice and quiet. On the day of the shoot, a Sunday, for some reason, there was a warehouse that was in full operation. We had to cut for sound over and over again. We ended up not getting anywhere near all the shots I wanted. But my producer, Hugo Saenz, calmed me down and got me focused and we made it happen.
How has Florida or Florida culture influenced your creativity?
This story was born in Florida. Tampa specifically. Sulphur Springs to be even more specific. I think Tampa is very much in my heart and affects much of my outlook and sensibilities. I like what I like and I don't have too much pretense about it. Sex and violence and drama laid bare outside in the bright sun. That's Florida.
How has the indie film industry changed — better, worse?
It has changed for the better in the accessibility of technology: Digital cameras, easy-to-use editing programs, LED lights, cheap sound recorders like the Zoom; all make putting together a decent product easier. Now marketing and making any money, that's another story.
Is there a bigger audience for indie films?
Yes. I think the marketplace has decentralized in general. There's a niche out there for everyone. It's just about finding your audience and giving them what they want.
What are you working on next?
I'm writing a feature that's in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but in the action movie genre. I'm also producing a short that's a modern take on Don Quixote. I'm also helping Todd in his search for his next project. Very close on a few big features, but it doesn't happen until it happens.