The Making of “Santino” – A D.J. Higgins Film in Conjunction with the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum and the National Italian American Foundation
When New York filmmaker D.J. Higgins entered a contest for a grant to be awarded by the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum supported by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and The Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA), he was thrilled when he was advised that he was one of the seven lucky directors/producers to receive this honorable grant. Grants were awarded based solely on the promise of a film’s premise, how it relates to the Italian American experience and the creative potential of the filmmakers.
Elated to be able to contribute to the Italian American tradition themed films to be in contest for winning Best Film at the NIAF gala in November in Washington D.C., he quickly got his usual production team together. However, he needed another crew member, someone who in a matter of a couple of weeks could put a set design together to do justice to one of the lead character’s elegant home and dinner table setting for the important family dinner this film is set in. La Nonna is an affluent and sophisticated Italian woman of distinguished taste (not the mob wife type), and D.J. had a specific color scheme in mind for his set. But who can pull this off in such a short period with only limited funding available, the director asked himself?
When my phone rang one evening and my friend D.J. hit me with this enormous task, I just laughed. While I am quite experienced in entertaining guests for dinner and known for elegant table settings at my home, this was different. It had to be a magenta color scheme, and it had to fit La Nonna’s personality, and I would have to obtain all these items and then transport them to the shooting location, which is about a 40-minute drive from my home. I could have easily said sorry but this isn’t doable with all the other projects and writing assignments I was already working on, but that didn’t even cross my mind. First of all, here was a very dear friend who just received a grant from the Russo Brothers / NIAF and was so honored and excited about this opportunity, and second, wait, THE RUSSO BROTHERS and NIAF? How can I turn such an honor down, especially with my love for Italy, its beautiful people, and Italian food? Add to that the fact that a talented up-and-coming director like D.J. Higgins trusted me with this critical task that could make or break his short film and his chances to win the Best Film award because this room and this table is where all the action happens. There was no way I would decline his request, regardless of what I had to go through to make it happen.
Long story short. It was a Herculean mission, and what made it even more challenging, the table setting called for 8 persons and the décor had to include religious symbols. In addition, a huge box and gift bow had to be sourced for one of the scenes as well as Italian food items and a certain Italian dessert. Not to mention a bouquet of beautiful fresh flowers, again matching the magenta color scheme, which had to be bought the night before the shoot. Spoiler alert, I got it all together.
When I look at the finished film now and see my dishes and my special touches for the room décor, I am extremely proud to be part of this hilarious comedy filmed in Italian with English subtitles. What touched me even more, though, was D.J.’s reaction when he came on set and saw what I had done with the room and the table. I recall his words: “Wow, this looks like a million dollars!” And now I had to protect that beautiful set, too, because in came camera and lighting equipment with crewmembers rushing around and placing their coffee and other stuff on my elegantly set table. It was a small miracle that nothing broke or spilled. Disaster averted!
Lights. Camera. And Action! The shoot took longer than expected because this director doesn’t take any shortcuts. He knows that his work is his calling card. His style of directing is inspiring, gently guiding each actor to how he wants it done. Regardless of challenges put in his way, he stays cool, calm and collected. Even unexpected weather conditions didn’t rattle his cage. He improvised and went with the flow making this particular scene even better than he had imagined before, he said. With the high visibility, this film is poised to have, every detail was selected carefully.
The story of “Santino” and his nonna (grandmother) is about loyalty, love, passion and language. An amusing story, which follows a 27-year old modern-age single Italian man and his beloved nonna who desperately wants to find a suitable wife for him. This 25-minute short film shows the audience what an Italian family dinner is all about – good food and family, even if the family members are of the zany type.
The perfect cast includes Giuseppe Santochirico (Santino), Angela Rago (Nonna), Artie Pascale (Cosimo), Samantha Scaffidi (Michaela) as well as opera singer Cristina Fontanelli and actor / entertainer Tony Darrow, just to mention a few. Also part of the cast is one of the Executive Producers Paul Borghese.
“Santino”, has already been accepted in the prestigious Big Apple Film Festival, which takes place from Nov 1 to Nov 4, 2017, in New York City. My hope is that it wins big across all competitions including the all-important NIAF contest.
BAFF Website: https://www.bigapplefilmfestival.com
NIAF Website: https://www.niaf.org/about-the-niaf/
Watch the Santino trailer below:
Karynne Summars is an author, screenwriter, film producer and freelance journalist. She is a contributing writer for several international magazines. Her feature articles cover entertainment and culture as well as international travel and personal development. Born and raised in Berlin, Germany, Karynne currently resides mainly in New York with additional residences in Berlin and Marbella, Spain. Website: www.karynnesummars.com