During the 6th Tribeca Film Festival I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing some of the participating filmmakers, actors, producers and festival executives. What follows is an excerpt from the interview with Salvatore Stabile, writer and director of “Where God Left His Shoes”.
Durante el 6º Festival de Cine de Tribeca tuve el placer y honor de entrevistar a algunos de los cineastas, actores, productores y ejecutivos del festival. A continuación, un extracto de la entrevista con Salvatore Stabile, escritor y director de “Where God Left His Shoes”.
Pablo Goldbarg: When did the homelessness theme trigger in you the need to make a movie?
Salvatore Stabile: Well, first, the creation of the movie… I really wanted to make a movie about a family, first. I never intended to take the cause of the homeless. I was always intending to make a movie about this family. About a family who is struggling to survive in the darkest time of their lives, and they come to realize that in the end, as long as they have each other, they will be OK. That’s what I started with in the script stage. The whole thing about homelessness, which is the theme of the film… when we started shooting the movie, we started to receive donations for clothing, then people started sending toys, furniture, and then food, and then gift cards, because we’d asked people and we told people that we’re going to help some homeless people out. And what happened was that we ended up getting a warehouse full of all of that stuff. And at the end of the shoot the most rewarding thing for me was that the day after we finished shooting, myself and four other crew members of mine got into this truck, we loaded the trucks up all the stuff and we started to go around New York City and pulling up to homeless shelters and just giving it away. And it was the best experience of the film for me. That was the most rewarding. Shooting a movie is wonderful, and working with John was wonderful, we had a great crew, we had a great cast, but there was nothing more rewarding than seeing these people, the thankfulness in their eyes when you hand over all these jackets, and food and clothing, and then from there we decided to continue to charity, and we’re going to continue to do it this year hopefully, and also we’re donating… I’m donating part of my back end for sure, my producer, all back ends towards homeless, so we figured it, you know, we are trying to make some type of difference, and hopefully that helps.
P.G.: It’s very interesting to see that Latinos are struggling in your film, and Italians are trying to help. I wonder, in a city like New York, how important is what the immigrants are doing. Beyond family values, what is the role of other cultures in this city and in the U.S.?
S.S.: I never wanted to make a movie about race. Being Italian I thought that I couldn’t come at all on Latino culture because I’m not Latino. We started with the fact that it’s just a movie about a family. So many Italians are portrayed in movies as gangsters and bad guys. I never intended it to be a comment on race or culture, you know, that we have an Italian-American that is trying to help them, because there is another Italian-American who didn’t want to help them. Essentially from the beginning I tried to find the best actors for the roles around John. You know, the film has made a statement without me intending to make a statement, and I think that could be taken as something that is beautiful. Hopefully people take different things from it.
P.G.: It’s a truly independent film. I know that you were working with the “Made in NY” incentive. Can you please tell me how it was working with all kinds of support, not only from the city but from churches, other organizations and locations? How was the “indy” experience?
S.S. People think New York is a difficult place because the traffic and people. I made two films and I worked on various television shows that were shot around the city, and I have friends who are independent filmmakers. Every time I shoot New York it’s the most welcoming experience, from the Mayor’s Office to locations. Everybody tries to make it possible for you to achieve your vision. And it’s very, very easy to shoot here. It allows independent films to flourish. I mean, everywhere you point your camera you have a beautiful shot. So, the city itself lends a beauty that you can find nowhere else. You cannot replicate New York anywhere else in the world. And the Mayor’s Office… we had, I think, fifty locations on a 25-day shoot. I had the best location manager who was working with all the offices. We never had a problem. There wasn’t one problem whether blocking off the street, cars, there was nothing I’d seen from the director/producer stand point that was a problem from the city. The other thing: we had so much support from the Trinity church who helped us. We made donations to their church, and they also helped with the homeless. When you connect to the right people in the city, there are so many people who want to help, and when they’re given the opportunity to help, that’s where the city shows how generous it really is. You really need to pin people down. “Hey look, I need your help, this is our cause”, and I think people are overwhelmed and happy to do it. But if you don’t approach them in a very direct way, you know, they just go on with their day and they forget. The support we had from Trinity church, the Mayor’s Office, the MTA… Albertine Anderson who runs the Film Division for the MTA was so accommodating to us. We had two children on the subway, so we needed special security. I hear stories of so many filmmakers “stealing” shots on subways, but we didn’t want to do that and put the kids in jeopardy. So, we made sure everything was done properly, and without her office we wouldn’t haven been able to do it. As you know, the train is the most important part of the film. I mean, the subway scenes in the beginning and the end, through out the middle. To me, growing up in New York city, the train is a home, 'cause you travel on it so much, it’s almost like your living room for two or three hours a day, so it was very important to me to film it correctly, to have full access to the train, and they provided that, and I’m very grateful.
P.G.: Your first feature (Gravesend, 1997) was ten years ago. You wanted to have some kind of maturity to make your second feature, and we see it. How was dealing with the expectations and patience, and how did you know that you were ready?
S.S.: I knew, after I made my first film, I heard enough filmmakers saying “the first one is important in a sense of getting recognition, and people will see what kind of talent you have, but your second film, if you mess that one up, you know, that’s the one that could really, really hurt you”. When I finished my first film I was nineteen, twenty years old. I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing. You know, I had some instinct. Everything was made with instinct. When the film came out, I received a lot of praise and a lot of negativity, and I handled both really well. I talked to my producer and I said: “you know, it’s very important to me to get an education. I made a film that showed some promise, but I really, really needed to learn my craft”. And I spent five to six years just writing for TV shows, and staying behind people who were very talented. And the reason I chose television is because you’re always in production, you’re always behind a camera, shooting thirteen or twenty-two episodes a season, and I’ve always been privileged to work with some of the best people on TV. I worked on shows like Rescue Me or The Sopranos or numerous other shows. When I wrote the script I was looking for something that I believed in. I didn’t want just to make a movie. I had several opportunities over the years to make many films on Hollywood or horror films, but I always wanted my second one to be very personal. Something that no matter what anybody says I’m sure this film will be praised, and will be criticized but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter to me, because I made a movie that is about something that I believed in. It’s so special, and it’s such an important cause behind it… no matter what anybody says about it, it could never be a failure. So, the wait for ten years was a great thing for two reasons: one, my craft. Two, I chose the right piece of material to do and really to continue my career. So I’m very fortunate.
P.G.: Thank you very much for your time and your movie. I can tell you that the shoes were on your set. I'm sure.