MOVIE MAKING IS LIKE PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING, JUST WITHOUT THE PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING : AN INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER TOMMY AVALLONE Image

There comes a time when your path crosses with a person several times over several years and for whatever reason, you never get to meet that person. That’s how it’s been with Tommy Avallone and I. He’s been in the entertainment business in the Philadelphia area for as long as I have been. So, over the past ten years I’ve heard such great things about this musician, movie producer, radio celebrity, and master networker. I’ve heard that he’s seven feet tall, and he kills men by the hundreds. And if HE were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse. Wait, that’s William Wallace from “Braveheart.” But, seriously, Tommy Avallone has had that kind of buzz around his name for several years. So, it’s no surprise that he’s quickly producing his third feature film with notable names in them. Still, I think it would be cool if he could shoot fireballs from his arse. Who knows… maybe the buzz is true, maybe he’s that good.

Avallone’s “Community College,” is a slapstick movie about a couple of guys who’s favorite bar is going to close. In order to save the bar they have to raise money fast. So these slacker drunks decide to actually try to graduate from community college to collect their graduation money from their relatives. The guys reminded me a lot of my friends and I when I was younger. Hanging out at bars, getting in trouble, and course getting inebriated. So if you played beer pong, chugged beer, or made out with a fat chick in a fraternity basement, then this movie could be for you.

Here’s the entertaining interview with the William Wallace of producers, Tommy Avallone.

Two part question: How did you come up with the idea for the movie, “Community College?” And… did you actually graduate from Community College?
I was doing this project where I came up with the idea to take the “Animal House” t-shirt that just says “College” on it, and add Community to it. So it said “Community College”, and I said to myself, “This could be a funny idea for a movie.”

I had all of these ridiculous stories from my community college career that I thought would make a funny story. Here’s one that made the movie. True story… I had this class where the teacher had an extremely thick European accent and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.  So, I went to drop the class, and the only class that they had open that would help me graduate was this business class. But here’s the kicker, it was a class for only deaf students. I thought to myself. That’s perfect…But, they wouldn’t let me take the class. So I had to go to the Dean and ask permission to get in. I said to him, “The deaf kids were allowed to be in my class, so why wouldn’t I be allowed in theirs?” So he let me in.

The class started off great. I never had to take notes because the deaf kids couldn’t watch the sign language and write notes at the same time, so the teacher just gave us the notes at the end of class. And…they even gave me a job. The deaf kids would be talking out loud with their hands and would not know when to stop. So the teacher would have me shake this light to let them know that it was time to stop talking and pay attention again. It was the best class ever.

I had this deaf guy named “Helmet” who sat next to me and would always try to talk to me during class. Nice guy, but I couldn’t understand a word he was yelling and mumbling at me. He was also trying to do sign language to me. The only sign language I knew was “My mom, dad, and cat died. Thank you.” That’s all I knew. Don’t ask me how I even knew that.

In the long run the deaf kids started to do much better in the class then I did. So I dropped it. No regrets though. I ended up running for mayor that year instead and got 8% of the vote. The other guys might have won, but I got on CNN. So who was the real winner? Who was the real winner…?

Every interview I do I always ask the same question. And it’s always my favorite answer. There’s a story behind every movie. And I’m not talking about the plot. Something crazy that happened with the making of the film, with funding, the actors, the producers, etc. What’s this movie’s story?
It’s got to be about the lengthy time it took to complete this film. We started shooting in April, 2005. We shot about fifty minutes of the movie and it and the acting was absolutely horrible. I was doing everything on it. I was directing, working the camera, acting, producing, and getting the lunch. So, I met up with everyone and said we either step up our game, or get other actors. So we did some thing very drastic in comparison to our prior actions. We actually did rehearsals for once. And… we got a Director of Photography, Michael Licisysn, from Mixed Nuts to help alleviate some of the stress off of me. So, out of the first 50 minutes that we shot, we maybe used one minute out of it in the final film. So…we kind of wasted a little time to say the least.

So we started shooting again in 2006. We shot on the weekends. It was going really well, but what really hung us up was all of our cameos: Rich Cronin, Mc Lars, Scott Schwartz and Donkey Lips. We had to wait for each one to come into town to shoot their scenes. And the dates were all over the place. We finally finished shooting in 2007. I was working on the “Kidd Chris” radio show and I really didn’t have that much time to edit. Also, the version of Adobe Premiere that I was editing on was ancient. It wouldn’t let me export anything out to other programs to get outside help. I felt trapped in the old software. Everything with editing was a major headache.

We finally had the premiere in 2009, four years after we initially started shooting. So that’s my story behind the story. So kids… do rehearsals and don’t take on too much, and don’t do drugs!

What did you learn from the experience?
No one should try to do everything themselves. Don’t wear too many hats regardless of how good they look on you. And… you should try to shoot it all the way through, not just on the weekends. So much of the momentum gets lost that way.  I also learned that I probably don’t want to direct again. I just don’t understand why actors just don’t know what I’m thinking without having to tell them. Actors are annoying. I would rather just produce.

How did your filmmaking career start?
When I was younger I had a video camera and a wrestling buddy. We would videotape ourselves wrestling this “He-Man” pillow.  We came up with wrestling  names and acted out scenes with trash talking of course . Eventually we kept acting out the scenes without the actual wrestling. Filmmaking is like professional wrestling; just without the professional wrestling. Does that sound stupid…?

What’s in Tommy Avallone’s future as a filmmaker?
Well, it took me four years to do “Community College.” It was kind of like my senior project. So, I was anxious to do another film. I met up with an old college friend Derek Lindemen.  He was working on a film called “Booted.” I ended up helping produce “Booted”, which had Alan Ruck, Ryan Dunn, and Mark Summers in it. Also, I just produced another feature called “Calendar Girl”, with Corbin Bernsen, and Brian O’Halloran in it.

See, the key to making good movies is putting wrestlers in your movie. Everyone of my films has had a professional wrestler in it. I had Blue Meanie in “Community College”, Jim the Anvil in “Booted”, and Al Snow in “Calendar Girl”.

I ultimately want to get back to writing. I just wrote the first draft of a new project starring an older celebrity. I’ve been in contact with the celebrity and have started negotiations. It’s looking very good. I’m excited to produce another film that I’ve written.

Do you have any advice for any upcoming producers?
Find out what you’re good at and focus on that. Don’t try to do everything.  Everyone has something that they are good at. Mine is networking. I’ve made a lot of really great friends and contacts over the years that I can always come back to in clutch situations. If some one needs a midget, a porn star, or free food I can get them all of those. In exactly that order too…

I also just find that if you treat people the way that YOU want to be treated, that it will payback tenfold. And it always has. I guess working on a radio show doesn’t hurt either.  I’ve made a lot of great contacts through the radio that have transcended into good things.

Who’s your favorite wrestler, and how would you compare his best move to your best attribute in filmmaking?
Hulk Hogan is my favorite wrestler by far.  I was a true Hulkomaniac, and still am. I even have the t-shirt to prove it. So much of what I do in everyday life comes from him. Sometimes I feel like I’m just a wrestling fan who makes movies.

His best move is by far the leg drop. How does that move transcend into my best attribute of filmmaking? Hmmm…(Tommy puts on Hulk Hogan’s theme song “Real American” in the background for inspiration as he contemplates the question). Hulk takes you for a ride every time… He’s very very charismatic… Super charismatic…(Tommy pauses and has a moment of clarity). Now that I think about it… I probably should put more t-shirt ripping in my movies. I’m going to write that down. Anyway, Hulk just gives the audience what they want, all the time… every time. And I think that’s what I try to do. If only I had twenty-four inch pythons I would be a great, great filmmaker. I think that’s it. Did I answer the question right?

I’m not sure how much professional wrestling has affected other filmmakers’ careers, beginnings, and creativity. But, Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite filmmakers and he directed the two time Oscar nominated, “The Wrestler”. And… I believe that had a professional wrestler in it who goes by the name of Brian Hefron, who’s wrestling name is Blue Meanie, who was also in Tommy’s “Community College.” So maybe this Tommy Avallone is on to something. Just maybe…

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