Anthony Spadaccini of Fleet Street Films

Anthony Spadaccini, a good friend, and founder of Fleet Street films recently agreed to do an interview with us to help promote his film “Emo Pill”. If you’re a consummate reader here at “Cinema Crazed”, you’ll know we’ve reviewed many of Fleet Street Films’ titles from “Unstable”, to “Monday Morning”, and one thing you’ll notice about Fleet Street is that they not only seek to entertain, but they seek out to do so while making a statement. Spadaccini and I have remained in touch for a few months, and I even have a copy of “Unstable” from him, and with his new film “Emo Pill” in production, we thought an interview seemed proper.

Many of Fleet Street’s films are dramas, but true human dramas that concern real life issues such as AIDS, murder, revenge, and our justification of crimes. Incidentally enough, most of Spadaccini’s work has either been praised or completely hated, and that’s due to the utter realism he strives for. If you’re not familiar with Fleetstreet, then it is the pleasure of “Cinema Crazed” to introduce you to the company, and to Anthony Spadaccini, a humble director whose created many very good films that have received quite an amount of feedback from viewers, and we implore you to buy his films and tell us what you think. Spadaccini fills us in on what’s going on in his life and his work, and boy is it ever a work load.

Hey, Anthony, how are things?
Quite wonderful. How about yourself?

Can’t complain. When was Fleet Street created?
Fleet Street Films was founded in 2004. BPA Productions Group, Inc. (www.bpaproductions.com) is the parent company for several subsidiaries (including Fleet Street Films) specializing in film production, promotion, marketing, funding, and graphic design. I am the owner and CEO of Fleet Street Films, which specializes in the actual film production. JW Graphics Design & Production, headed by Jeffrey L. Watson, works with BPA Marketing International and handles our graphic design, marketing, publicity, etc. Linden House Entertainment, headed by playwright James J. Ward, specializes in the creation of screenplays, scripts, and treatments. LHE also handles our casting.

Where does the title “Fleet Street” stem from?
It just came to me one summer day in 2004. Boston is one of my favorite places to visit. The city is so beautiful. One of the busiest streets in Boston is Fleet St. So, there you have it.

How long have you been in the film business?
I began making movies in 1998. It started out as a hobby. My sister and I were helping our grandparents clean out their attic. I found a 1980s Zenith VHS-C camcorder that was about 15 lb. It was huge! My grandfather gave it to me and I began to shoot anything I could. My sister and I created this female version of Mr. Bean called Fredricka. We shot several short films which would place Fredricka in one misadventure after another. It was fun. Eventually, I got into the horror genre and wrote & shot a horror film entitled Glenville with my best friend at the time, Mike. Of course, we had to have a sequel, so we shot Glenville 2 in 2000.

Keep in mind, this was still while I was in high school, so our resources were extremely limited. We would make frequent trips to the costume store near my house and created all these really cool gore effects. While Glenville was admittedly just an experiment to see if I could actually make a horror film, Glenville 2 was basically a test to see how many gory deaths I could fit into a 2-hour movie. However, a story had been created at the same time, a story that friends and colleagues were interested in. So, the fall of 2000, I began to write the inevitable Glenville 3. But, as everything began to flow from my mind, I realized that this was becoming more than just a hobby. That I was starting to get better at writing scenes and dialogue and instilling interest in my little films. Glenville 3 was the first film I ever made where I had more resources to work with.

The company I was working for at the time offered many opportunities to meet young actors and actresses looking for their big break. Or just looking to die in a horror film. Either way, it worked. We shot Glenville 3 in the summer of 2001. To this day, it is the largest cast I have ever worked with. The script I had written packed many characters and subplots into a 76-minute film and I was proud of that. That this film wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill slasher film. It actually had a good story to it with some interesting (albeit reprehensible) characters. While it wasn’t a great film by any means, I stand by it today as one of the most fun film shoots I’ve ever been on. I consider Glenville 3 to be my personal stepping stone into filmmaking as a career rather than just a hobby. I learned so much from that single film: about filmmaking, directing actors, editing, etc. In 2004, I shot Glenville: Hell’s Homecoming (the fourth Glenville film) and what I learned from that film is this: you have to know when to quit. *laughs*

What inspired you to create Unstable, Aftermath, and Hatred?
It was never meant to be a trilogy. I was at my mother’s house one afternoon and received a call from James Schaeffer. We began talking and eventually came up with an idea about a film concerning a death during a camping trip and the dilemma that the characters face when it’s realized that they may be responsible. One of the characters would be shooting all of this on his camcorder, but we would have to avoid the whole Blair Witch stereotype. Then I began talking about the hate crime angle and how I had always wanted to do a realistic, documentary-style film about hate crimes and their lasting effect on everyday people.

We decided to combine the two film ideas into one and Unstable was born. Aftermath was originally supposed to be a direct sequel to Unstable, shot in a straight-forward narrative. I wrote a script, but eventually decided to re-tool it into its current form after an experience I had in 2004.  For the first time in my life, I met someone who was HIV positive. It amazed me how he just went about his business and was living his life. Even now, there seems to be this misconception that people living with HIV can’t lead normal lives.

I admit, I was a victim of this misconception. So that inspired me to write a story about HIV and how real people deal with the scare. The reckless HIV-positive nymphomaniac character (played by J.P. Clemens in the film) is based on some research I did on the whole bug-chasing scene. It was quite disturbing, but also necessary. Hatred came about one night when actor Steve Brown and I were talking and I mentioned that so many people wanted certain aspects of Unstable explored in another film about forgiveness and moving on with your life. Overcoming the hurt and guilt that you feel, before it’s too late and eats you up inside. One particular subplot was quite promising, so that night he and I wrote a treatment for an Unstable Part 2 (at that time, it was called Hate). Eventually, I decided to drop this subplot, but the story remained solid regardless.

Was it a conscious decision to build a trilogy around issues concerning homosexuality in America?
Actually, it was never my intention to make these films revolve around homosexuality. I don’t want any movie of mine to be a gay movie. Quite the opposite actually. I want every film of mine to be relatable to the audience. Unstable contains an allegedly gay character who becomes the victim of a hate crime, however the film is more about bias and hatred in general. Aftermath’s plot involves a gay character and a bi-sexual character, but one of the film’s main characters is a heterosexual female dealing with the same consequences of her careless actions. Hatred is all about forgiveness and guilt. Accepting responsibility for your actions and moving on with your life. Anyone, gay or straight, can relate to that. Though Hatred is a direct sequel t o Unstable, I chose not to explore a certain back story that involved the gay angle. Not because I was ashamed or anything like that. It was just  a creative decision and I stand by it.

What, did you find, has been the basic reaction to this trilogy in terms of audience or critical response?
Audiences have loved the trilogy. It was a big hit at the Indie Can Film Festival in Toronto this past spring, where all three films were shown. Aftermath seems to be everyone’s favorite, which I can certainly understand. It’s the most relatable of the three films. However, the critics have not shown the love quite as much. One particular critic from a low-budget indie film site reviewed Unstable and gave it an average review, then reviewed Hatred, not realizing that it was a sequel to Unstable, though I had made sure to boldly exclaim this fact in the press kit.

Needless to say, he trashed the film. It’s quite obvious in the review that he had no clue and that this wasn’t his kind of film. It’s not a horror review site, but the site tends to favor films with titles such as BLONDE BIMBO HOOKERS WITH CHAINSAWS. So I consider the source when reading the reviews. I realize that since I’ve made a choice to make films of an unorthodox style, they certainly will not appeal to all tastes. I’ve accepted that. None of the films in the trilogy are perfect, but I am proud of the work we did and am overall very pleased with the response we’ve received.

Do you find audiences have a hard time understanding the purpose behind them?
It depends on who’s watching. Those who can appreciate underground independent films tend to be the ones that enjoy my films the most. Audiences who are coming in expecting a Jerry Bruckheimer or John Woo film will be greatly disappointed. Even if I had the budget, I would never make those kind of big-budget films. Of course, I say this now, since I’m currently unknown. *laughs* But seriously, I am not saying that I am above that. I am not. I’m a low budget independent filmmaker. But I have to believe in every project I ever embark on. If Unstable, Aftermath, and Hatred were shot any other way, I wouldn’t have believed in them as much.

The way I shot them plays a huge part in the actual story. In or der for the audience to get what I was trying to say, they have to be fully engrossed in the story and the characters. These characters have to be real people. The story has to be relatable. I have found that underground independent films contain the most realistic characters. Even if they’re shot on absolutely zero budget. I never set out to make message movies. I set out to make entertaining character studies on realistic characters dealing with realistic events. Some people have questioned the realism sometimes, such as the aftermath of the tragedy in Unstable. How the characters are just sitting around arguing instead of being completely freaked out. Especially my character. But they’re in shock. Those who have experienced shock after a tragic event have been able to appreciate the characters’ non-reaction to the events depicted in the films.

Do you think your films in the trilogy would appeal to homosexuals only, or to a more diverse crowd?
Definitely a more diverse crowd. But the audiences have to be willing to shed their own biases and insecurities and view my films for what they are. These films are about real people in real situations. No one in these films is a stereotype or cardboard cutout. These are films that attempt to touch the surface of human nature. It’s human nature to keep secrets that could damage or destroy something dear to you. It’s human nature to be selfish. It’s human nature to not let something bother you that doesn’t affect you directly. Viewers have told me that even though the actions/inactions of the characters in these films are borderline despicable, ultimately they’re realistic portrayals of human nature. We’re all selfish by nature. Anyone, gay or straight, can relate to that.

The films seemed to be a very personal statement, do negative reviews usually affect you?
I’d be lying if I said they didn’t. As a filmmaker, it’s hard not to take negative reviews personally. It’s my art. My creation. It’s what I do. It defines me. But I take every negative comment, every negative review, every criticism, and I learn. I am constantly learning. Every single day, you learn something new about the filmmaking process. Those who disagree are just lying. You have to be open and willing to admit your flaws and faults and learn from them. And move on. And become a better filmmaker (and person) because of it. And most importantly: be willing and able to take the criticism! If you can’t, then don’t be in this business.

Was the semi-documentary style of your films planned, or just an improvised reaction to a low budget?
Even if we had had a bigger budget, I still would have shot it the same way. From what I gather by listening to the audiences’ reactions, part of what makes these films stand out is the unique manner at which they’re presented. When we shot Unstable, there was one scene scripted but never shot that I had planned on shooting on 16mm, 35mm, or Hi-Def. I was hoping to raise the money to get this particular scene shot. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition. But I still think the film worked regardless. In retrospect, it’s probably best that we didn’t shoot that scene. It would have taken the audience right out of the pseudo-documentary feel of the film.

Was your on-screen persona as a somewhat antagonistic and empathic man pre-planned, or did you build it as you went along?
It was definitely built as I went along. In the original treatment for Unstable, my character was supposed to be much more sympathetic than he ended up being. But that’s the nature of a film shot entirely on improvisation. Everyone’s reaction was natural, since we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. There was a basic structure to the story, but we just eventually let things flow. And it worked for the best. I eventually decided to gradually reveal things about my character as I went along. It’s fun to play dark, deep characters. But not necessarily villainous. Basically, characters with some serious issues. My character in the films definitely has a backstory that the viewers aren’t privy to. I never wanted to make it clear whether or n ot my character was gay or straight or whether he meant to be antagonistic and selfish. One viewer even asked me if my character was actually addicted to conflict, which is why things always seemed to go wrong during parties or weekend get-togethers. There are hints in all three films that I knew what was going to happen prior to the actual conflict.

Is it true people actually thought “Aftermath” was actual home movies turned into a film for your own exhibition?
Believe it or not, yes. People have actually walked out of test screenings. One guy sent me a really nasty email afterwards. I took it as a compliment. It’s a testament to our actors/actresses that they were able to make it so realistic that people didn’t realize it was fiction.

How did you wrangle your sister to star? And, is she a real actress?
She owed me a favor. Just kidding. Actually, Becky read the treatment and thought her character was very interesting. She is very selective with her roles, so I wasn’t sure if she’d come on board, but she did. Even though it was a four-day shoot, we had only one day with her. She did an absolutely amazing job. She’s never had any professional training, but you would never be able to tell. She has acted in several of my films before and will be appearing in a few more within the next several years. She has decided to take a break to focus on her education, so the jury’s still out on whether or not she will pursue an professional acting career.

With her appearance, have you had more guys asking for her number through you?
Oh, of course. I am a big brother first, filmmaker second. So you can guess my reaction. Just kidding. To answer your question, yes I’ve received a few requests from male suitors. Much to their dismay, my sister is happily engaged.

Most of the conflict and fighting during the films seem to happen when you’re throwing a party. When you’re planning an actual party, do your friends re-consider?
While we were shooting Hatred, one of the actors told me that he would never go to a party that I throw. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t go either. Would you?

Are you currently planning a fourth film?
It’s currently in development. The working title is Closure. At first, I didn’t think it was going to happen. The story had been told and I really didn’t have any desire to make another film, which is why I ended Hatred the way I did. I even believe I told you that under no circumstances would I make another film. Filmmakers or actors/actresses say that all the time, then change their minds once they see the paycheck.

I, however, changed my mind thanks to another form of currency. Creative _expression. A continuation to the Aftermath (HIV) storyline (and to a lesser extent, the Unstable-Hatred storyline) has been written by playwright James J. Ward based on a concept I pitched to him not too long ago, just for the hell of it. It’s actually a ve y solid story. I’ll probably still direct.

But my focus is on “Emo Pill” right now. We’ll see. There are other social issues that I have dealt with, including one on an extremely personal level, so we’ve discussed bringing those issues to the screen in the same fashion as the other three. But they would be unrelated to the previous films. I have found that these pseudo-documentary improvisation films are great exercises for the actors themselves and we all enjoy doing them. Some directors are terrified of sequels. There’s this popular theory that sequels can damage careers and hurt or ruin reputations. I think it’s partially a myth. If the story is good and original, then I don’t see any problem with it. Of course, I am just an independent filmmaker right now. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were in Hollywood. Who really knows?

Are you seeking distribution for any of your titles?
Right now, we’re self-distributing Unstable, Aftermath, and Hatred. They’re even available on Amazon.com. They’ve all sold very well. Once Monday Morning has completed its festival run, we’ll definitely be seeking distribution. A Swedish horror distributor contacted me last year about buying the rights to the Glenville series, we’re still working on the details. And my latest film Emo Pill will be submitted to every single film festival out there, so we’ll cross our fingers.

You have a penchant for one word titles. Why?
I’ve always loved one word titles. Every film I make, I challenge myself to describe it in one word. With the trilogy, I decided to tell the story in three words, one representing each film: The birth of hatred during the aftermath of an unstable situation. It’s one story, told in three films. Well, now four, if you count Closure.

How long did it take to film “Monday Morning”?
Amazingly, Monday Morning only took one day to shoot. And up until Emo Pill, it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a film shoot.

Is star Nate Edwards a comedic actor?
Nate is an amazing comedic actor. We were very honored to have him on board. His body of work is extensive, but it doesn’t just include comedic roles. He’s been in TV commercials, feature films, short films, and daytime soap operas. He’s also a lot of fun to work with. He literally had the crew on the floor rolling with laughter at some of the stunts he pulled during the shoot. I don’t know how anyone from the cast managed to keep a straight face. I could barely contain myself from behind the camera.

Is it difficult to create films on such low budgets?
It’s definitely a challenge. Everyone is working for little to no money. You have to keep everybody’s spirits up, even when things aren’t going well. But there aren’t any egos. No one has any room to have an ego. We’re all just starving artists suffering for our art. Post-production takes long sometimes due to the low budget. Editing sometimes can take forever. I have worked with some actors who expect the film to be done and released two weeks after principal photography wraps. That just doesn’t happen.

First and foremost, there has to be patience. Goes right along with teamwork. It starts from the top all the way on down. We’re all there to do a job and, as cheesy as it sounds, we need to all work together. We’re all in this together. Key word is together. No egos. No me first attitudes. Secondly, absolutely no one can complain. Complaints just destroy the morale of everyone else working under the exact same conditions. Thirdly, if you’ve committed to something, commit to it all the way through.

An actor on one particular film comes to mind. He had committed to the film and it was a very crucial role. A majority of his scenes were shot on the final day of principal photography, but he had become very disinterested. He had some party to go to later on with a friend of his and decided that it was more important than the film. He stopped putting forth any kind of effort. It got so ridiculous that my A.D. and I were forced to re-write the entire ending of the film, minus this actor. We wrote a brief exit scene for this actor, shot it, and then asked him to leave.

I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my A.D. James J. Ward. He got me through one of the toughest days of shooting I’ve ever endured. At any rate, very few people have noticed how downplayed the climax of the film is. You’re a notable exception, Felix. Now you know the reason why. Everyone just has to be on the same page. Leave your personal problems at the door. Easier said than done, I realize. But treat it like a job. Only much more fun. Be patient. Work together as a team. Don’t complain. Put forth the effort you committed to. Have fun.

What’s the average budget for one of your productions?
Around 3-5k. Our latest film, Emo Pill, had a budget of almost 8k. Wouldn’t be able to do any of it without my producer / executive producer Benjamin P. Ablao, Jr. He’s one of the main reasons I am even able to make the films I make. He gives me free creative reign, something that most producers don’t do. I am very blessed to have him.

Do you find with your limitations it’s forced you to limit your creativity, or has it flourished because of it?
One would think that it would limit creativity, but I have found that working with a low budget definitely enhances creativity. It forces you to come up with new and innovative ways to tell your story, maybe in a way the audience isn’t expecting or anticipating. If Unstable had been a Hollywood product, it would have been shot as a straight-forward narrative, with name actors/actresses, explosions, car chases, and CGI. Okay, maybe not CGI, but you get the basic idea. Audiences definitely wouldn’t have taken it seriously. We had a treatment, Digital-8 camcorder, some rural property, and big aspirations.

What’s your latest, “Emo Pill”, about?
Emo Pill tells the story of an adopted teenager named Miles Nelson, whose family is the definition of immoral. One day he decides to end it all. Right before he commits suicide, a mysterious angel called The Divine Providence appears and gives him a pill. Miles takes the pill and ascends into a dream world, where his life is absolutely perfect. Exactly the way he wishes it was.

How long did it take to film?
Principal photography lasted two weekends. We wrapped in May.

Are the resident cast members from your other films in this one?
Actor Steve Brown, who co-starred in Aftermath, Unstable, and Hatred (and has also appeared in The Manchurian Candidate, The Stepford Wives, Law and Order, The Jury, and HBO’s Strip Search), plays the Divine Providence. John Larsen, who has made a career out of playing fatherly figures (both good and bad), plays Jack Nelson. Paul McCloskey and Jeff Watson, who both co-starred in Hatred, make brief appearances. But the rest of the cast contains some fresh, new faces. New York-based director Timothy Farmer, who plays Miles, is making his onscreen debut.

He recently directed Philip Seymour Hoffman in a short film called Simply Leon an d was featured on Access Hollywood not too long ago.  He’s an incredible actor and did extensive research on his character. He was a last-minute replacement after I was forced to recast our lead actor, so he had under two weeks to prepare for the role. Denise Smiley, Valerie Thomas, Tanisha Dungee, Larry Scott, Keith Pyle, Barbara Lessin, and David Boleslawski, Jr. are all newcomers. The entire cast did a fantastic job.

You told me you’re in the midst of creating a horror film, how is that progressing for you?
Well, we’re working on two horror films. The first one is more of a psychological thriller with some horror elements. The script has been completed and we’re in the process of tweaking it a bit. It’s deals with the disappearance of a loved one and how it can affect one’s entire existence. The problem with horror movies is that everything has been done before. I don’t want to make a film that’s been done before. If the script is strong with a unique story, I’ll definitely believe in it. But the horror genre lacks much originality nowadays, so I decided to make it more of a psychological thriller.

We’re still working on the details in regards to the other horror film (entitled ‘Head Case’), but I can tell you two things: 1.) the film will be of a n entire different genre than what I am used to and 2.) Paul McCloskey (from Hatred) will be playing the lead role. His performance in Hatred was so creepy that some of the cast and crew of Emo Pill were afraid to talk to him when he was on set (Paul worked as a still photographer and had a walk on role in Emo Pill). Paul’s a terrific actor and I am looking forward to working with him again.

How can readers get a hold of the film trilogy (Hatred, Aftermath, Unstable)?
The trilogy can be purchased on our online store. You can also purchase them at Amazon.com, but ordering through our website is cheaper. They are limited director’s editions, autographed by myself and some of the cast and crew. When I say limited, I mean they really are limited. Once they’re gone, that’s it! So purchase your copy now! *laughs* I figured I’d be shameless for just a moment. But seriously, I put together each DVD package myself. I have always done it that way. In a way, it’s symbolic, since each of my films is a personal journey.

Are you currently sending your films to festivals?
Monday Morning is in the midst of its festival run, including the first annual Estes Park Film Festival in Colorado this coming September. Emo Pill will be sent to film festivals upon completion in August. We’re working on the official premiere event as we speak. We just completed another silent comedy called The First Date, which stars Nate Edwards from Monday Morning. That began its festival run this week. Unstable, Aftermath, and Hatred are already on DVD, but may appear in future festivals this year, depending on a variety of factors.

What are you currently working on, and what do you have lined up next?
Nate Edwards is reprising his role from Monday Morning as the clumsy slacker Trevor in another silent comedy, The First Date. Trevor’s date with a beautiful woman turns into a complete disaster, due to two reasons: his own clumsy ways and a resentful thief. Nate and I wrote The First Date and we just wrapped shooting recently, so we’re excited about the opportunity to continue the misadventures of Trevor.

I’m also writing a full-length mockumentary entitled Therapy. It details the rise and fall of a world-renowned celebrity therapist. Think Christopher Guest meets The Office. I’ve passed certain portions of the script around to people and all I have heard is loud laughter. So that’s definitely a good sign. I’m still writing it, I hope to have it finished by year’s end. We’ve talked about shooting it as either a short film or television pilot first, so we’ll see how that goes. Tanisha Dungee, our production designer on Emo Pill, is head of project development at B.P.A. Productions Group, Inc. She has been tremendous in helping me transform my original concepts into actual projects in-development. We have several planned for the next couple of years, including Therapy, the horror movies I previously mentioned, and some other small short films.

Playwright James J. Ward has also been a huge help. He’s written so many plays that we plan on turning into shorts or features. Two in particular are very strong coming-of-age stories, some of the best stuff I’ve ever read. They’re both very early in development. Besides directing and writing, I’ve also had the opportunity to act this year. Award-winning Cleveland filmmaker Johnny K. Wu directed Swedish pop star Bimbo Boy’s music video for his hit son Drama Queen. I was cast in the lead role and it was such a fun and rewarding experience. I was also cast in Wu’s short film En Passant, which details an argument between two serial killers over who’s the greatest serial killer of all time. I had the opportunity to act opposite Kyle Znamenak (of A Joker’s Card) and it was quite interesting. He’s awesome to work with. In July, I’m headed back to Cleveland for a small role in Wu’s sci-fi feature film The Rapture. Scheduling prevented me from accepting a larger role in the film, but nevertheless I am very excited about the opportunity.

In addition, I have been cast in the horror/action film Infinities Lock, in a rather large role. So, I have definitely been busy and at times, there can be risks of spreading yourself too thin. However, I truly feel that it’s not spreading yourself too thinly if each project you’re participating in is of the utmost quality. I know some actors will accept anything and everything thrown their way. Being a director/writer myself, I know how important it is to make each film the very best you can possibly make it and not just make a film for the sake of another screen credit on that resume. So when I accept acting roles, it’s because I truly believe in the script and the filmmaker’s vision. Or maybe I’m just really bored.
It’s ultimately the filmmaker’s vision that makes or breaks the project. That’s why at the end of the day, the director has the biggest headache. *laughs*

For more information on Emo Pill go to:
http://www.emopillmovie.com
For more information on Fleetstreet, go to:
http://www.fleetstreetfilms.com

Many thanks to Anthony Spadaccini for the extensive interview.