The Other Side, The Filmmaker
by Salvatore Cento
The video was already making the rounds and I was late to the party. Two seemingly normal looking men in a normal looking kitchen making a normal plate of macaroni and cheese. I was at a loss. With over two thousand upvotes on Reddit, what was so endearing about this? Caving into my curiosity, I followed the yellow brick road.
Two friends talking about what they were cooking, reviewing the finished product and cracking jokes in the meantime. But sitting there for a while, listening to the banters being thrown back and forth about how too much salt was put in and being witness to the consequential freak out, I can see why people were mesmerized. They were enthralled not by how the hosts of the show recounted the savoriness of the cheese or by the description of the macaroni but by the pleasant genuineness and brick-a-brack of two friends, gathering around a stove to talk with the food tended to be just a backdrop.
While the bigger one, Junt, was dressed from head to toe in what seemed to be a gimmick for the show’s likeness, donning a chef’s apron and a chef’s hat on his head, the other host, Frankie was dressed in normal clothing. Scraggly hair all around his face and mismatched clothing to boot. Why should one dedicate his wardrobe to the show, be dressed for the part when the other one doesn’t feel the need to? With a little more of an investigation spurring in me, the answer came quickly enough. Besides being the creator of “boxmac”, the name of this weekly Youtube show, Frankie Frain was also the creator of four independent films, with the latest one, “Having Fun Up There” attaining two achievements, one for best writing and one for best film in New England.
An online personality who commits full Sundays to making off the cuff reviews on macaroni and cheese was also an award winning independent film maker? Someone who devoted an entire day during a week to filming off the cuff reviews for mass produced mac and cheese was also the same person who made movies that were featured in film festivals all around the United States? Besides shocked, I was fascinated yet again. I wanted to learn more about this side, his film making body double. The one who garnered ideas and made them into reality, what exactly made that side of him tick with creative energy.
Here are is a short interview that I conducted with him to help me get closer to that answer. —
What were a few of your favorite movies growing up and what made them special to you? Why did they stick after all this time? Do they have any influence on how you make your films now?
I grew up in a family that didn’t love movies. They didn’t hate them, certainly, and they had a favorite or two, but they didn’t understand them. So until I got a little older (12 or 13 or so), my taste was really whatever we owned on VHS. One of the films series that had a big impact on me at a young age (about 6) was Rocky, the first of which is still my favorite film to this day. That’s a film that I appreciated differently in multiple phases of my life – as a little boy, it’s just pure inspiration and large colorful characters. As a teen, it spoke to the angst of not knowing what you’re going to do for the rest of your life and wanting to be given a chance. When I got a little older, I was able to appreciate its indie film roots, the texture of the film, and the very subtle directorial choices. Other films in my tween/teen years that really impacted me were Troma films, South Park and the other works of Trey Parker, Kevin Smith of course, Kubrick, Darren Aranofsky, Christopher Guests films…I learned convention in my childhood years, and then these films came along and broke them in exciting ways, which I really sparked to. And then of course once I went to film school I was exposed to everything and anything.
In your opinion, what would you say is the most minute detail in the filmmaking process that could potentially make or break a movie?
I would say the ability to manage and maximize time. Even films with seemingly endless budgets and production schedules are limited and racing against the clock. I’ve been on a lot of sets with less experienced directors who just waste the time away and get what they need. Even meticulous planning, a fabulous script, and incredible cast will all be for naught if you aren’t actually able to shoot it properly and get what you need. Being able to get everything I need in the time allotted has been the most important thing I’ve had to learn over the time I’ve been a filmmaker.
You’ve probably heard that directors are craftsmen of storytelling. With your latest work “Having Fun Up There”, what was your moral or message that you wanted the viewer to grasp after seeing it?
We just wanted to offer a look at someone who’s so unlikely to succeed commercially with his art that he has to come to peace with a new paradigm (i.e., work a 9 to 5 and continue with his music simply because he loves it). So often, we’re given Cinderella (or Rocky!) stories about people who looked like they just weren’t going to succeed, but through a stroke of luck and their own pureness of heart, they’re reach the brass ring. Our main character will not reach that brass ring. In fact, there were a number of areas of his life he’s unlikely to improve. The movie is about finding micro rewards in why you do things (maybe it reaches ONE person and you get to impact them) and accepting your shortcomings.
It is commonly said that everything is a rehash of something and nothing is technically original now a days. What do you do to keep that stigma away from your creations?
Well I’m glad you think I’ve done that successfully! I’ve honestly just seen enough bland, boring, common stuff that it’s kind of in my blood and I can feel something be boring and stupid long before we try to do it. And with feature films (which are such commitments), I don’t embark on one of those unless I feel really confident that I’m saying something that either hasn’t been said before or hasn’t been said that way before.
With all sorts of outlets available for showing your creativity, what made you choose film-making as the template to express yourself?
Well over time, I’ve expanded quite a bit past filmmaking – we podcast, create animations, I’ve written a book, we write a lot of the music for our films. My gateway into filmmaking was animation (I saw the South Park style, heard it was done with stop-motion construction paper, and assumed maybe I could do that), and once I was using a camera for stop motion, I wanted to use it for other types of projects. But filmmaking, more than any other media I can think of, is compromised of just about every artistic talent. So if we want to accomplish something that involves music and animation, for instance, I can collaborate with musicians and animators to do It.
If there was, can you remember a single prominent and pressing inspiration that made you say this is the path I want to walk down regarding making films?
It had to have been when I saw Cannibal! The Musical. I had always wanted to either be an animator or a novelist or any one of the creative arts that most children spark to, but that was the first time I watched a film and didn’t see the film itself, but saw the actors and the creators laughing and having a good time working on a project together. I just had to find my own merry band of creatives and do something like that.
With all the content you have made and produced over the years, how do you want people to perceive the man behind the movies?
I would love for people to see the work, see that, while it was always hard work and required a great deal of commitment, it never required massive resources or anything other than the desire. I guess I’d like for people to think of me as a prolific creator who didn’t let the normal bullshit stop him from producing and expressing. For those who respond to the work, I hope they view me as a unique voice that they can rely on to express the truth as I see it.
How do you know when it’s time to step back and say this is done, my editing is complete, there’s not much more I can do to make it better than it is right now?
This is actually an area I take pride in – I am NOT a perfectionist. I’m a lot more interested in getting the thing shot and edited and posted/exhibited, learning some lessons, and moving onto the next one. Episodic work, like the web series we do on YouTube, are very helpful in getting into that mindset. Obviously feature films require some level of perfectionism, because they belong to the world after you release them and will forever represent that idea/moment in time. For Having Fun Up There, it went VERY fast. We shot that movie very conservatively (probably 2 or 3 takes maximum per camera set up) and the script itself was short, so there wasn’t much to with the material once it was edited. However, I did Sexually Frank over the course of about 2 years, where I got opportunities repeatedly to workshop it and reshoot it and make it better, which I absolutely think was to the benefit of the film. So I don’t know that there’s a right answer. Taking more time and care is obviously useful, but there’s something to having momentum and calling something done.
What is your creative process like when coming up with a script? Where do the ideas come from? Experiences that occur in your life, suggestions from others, just snippets of imagination, etc?
It’s normally the marriage between a concept I’ve been thinking about (with A-Bo it was radical leftism, with Sexually Frank it was romantic/sexual relationships, with Having Fun Up There it was art vs. commerce) and biographical events. So normally the foundation of the story is built based on the concept I want to explore, but all the details (location, characters, dialogue, situations) are borrowed and stolen from my life. I’m not sure I would otherwise be able to pluck complete fiction out of the sky.
If you could have a single a list actor or actress to star in an upcoming movie of yours, who would it be and why?
A: I just Googled a list of A list stars and I’m not all that excited about any of them, but I kind of love Charlize Theron. She was in an awesome Jason Reitman movie a few years ago called “Young Adult” which has a very Having Fun Up There vibe to it, and I loved her character work in that.