As an actor and stand-up comic in Philadelphia, John Vitali wanted to create a project that would be worthwhile for him and his fellow actors to take part in. So he decided to kick his very first screenplay into production – producing, directing and playing the lead.
“The Demo Crew” tells the story of Anthony Valentine, a man who forms a dek hockey team in order to keep the bond between his friends sealed.
John took a few moments with us to talk about his debut filmmaking experience, the odds of a true indie filmmaker getting their work seen, and the wonders of dek hockey.
When did you start filmmaking?
This is my first film. No shorts, no experimentals, no film school prior to this. I began casting and pre-production in December of 1998. I have been acting since 1993 or so.
Can you tell me a little bit about “The Demo Crew?”
I was/am a frustrated actor in Philly. I intended to provide others and myself with a decent project to sink our teeth into. I began writing “The Demo Crew” around 1996 based on my experiences with forming a men’s dek hockey team called…The Demo Crew. Dek hockey is street hockey played wearing sneakers on a regulation sized, plastic covered rink. I formed the team to keep all my childhood pals from drifting apart. They participated half-heartedly. After losing a game (as we usually did), in my frustration I said to myself, “Don’t these guys care? Don’t they value our friendships? Don’t they want to really compete and build a season or two of memories? I WONDER IF THEY’D PLAY HARDER IF ONE OF US CROAKED?!” Bingo! The story was born. The story is about the camaraderie and loyalty that men develop. Anthony Valentine (played by me) and his pals get in trouble with the local law, and after a suggestion by Sarge (Tony Devon) to form a recreational team and compete in a local tournament, Anthony realizes how valuable it may be to all of them. His pals participate to shut him up until the cruel blow of losing a friend brings them all closer as they dedicate the season to their fallen brother. It’s like “a chick flick for men”. I won’t tell you what happens in the movie, but the real Demo Crew eventually won two championships. It’s not like other fairy tale sports films. It’s more realistic. It’s about average guys taking an average thing and trying to take it to the highest possible level. There’s a love story involved, along with a few other sub-plots. The frustration of trying to get guys to care about the team and later, trying to get people to care about the film project were the two most similar endeavors I’ve ever partaken in. Was it all worth it? I still don’t know.
How did you gather the funds to make the film?
I acquired 22 credit cards and a loan against my home. I did not want to waste a year or two soliciting/begging investors to invest in an unknown filmmaker as myself. Furthermore, I think it’s lame to ask others for money if you won’t take any risk yourself.
Was your experience making “The Demo Crew” a positive one?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! It was not fun, from beginning to now. There are too many reasons to list, but I’ve posted many of them in my “director’s statement” at “The Demo Crew” official website. However, I did learn a lot about all aspects of filmmaking. I guess that’s positive.
Considering the total process, from planning the film to trying to get the finished product seen, what aspect has been most bothersome?
I honestly can’t decide. It’s like taking the stairs to the 10th floor of a building. Every floor is an equal number of steps. Every time you stomp up to the next landing, the next one is right there in front of you. It’s the same with making a film. Every time you complete a phase, the next one is right in front of you and equally as difficult to complete.
What do you think of the current state of the festival circuit? Is it easy to get your film screened?
It’s a joke. There are only a few that will get you any recognition and those are polluted with big budgets and celebrities with a few weird movies thrown in just in case someone says what I just did. The rest of the fests may be fun, but don’t do much for your career. Many of them only accept strange movies that the general public won’t even watch. Roger Ebert once said that Sundance is simply about the best films. Bullshit. I was rejected by Sundance and many others and in my place were films about guys with masturbation addictions and other nonsense. My rejection letters (if they bothered to even send one) called my film the wrong name and were addressed to the wrong name as well. Of the fests I was accepted to, only a few were well run and enjoyable.
Get the rest of the interview in part two of JOHN VITALI HITS THE DEK>>>