Remember the scene in “Ed Wood” when no-budget filmmaker Ed (Johnny Depp) and his crew haul ass from a location because the cops are coming and the filmmakers don’t have a shooting permit? Well, indie iron men Joe and Dan Masucci have looked down the barrel of that same situation many times without panicking.
Case in point: The shooting of “Graceland,” a mock episode of “The X-Files” that the Albany, New York-based team made in 1999. Joe, the producer and cinematographer, and his younger brother Dan, the director and sometimes actor, were taping a night scene in the Empire State Plaza, a large public space adjoining the stomping grounds of New York’s state government. No big deal, right? Well, maybe not till you mention that they were shooting a gunfight. With real guns.
Not long after the actors whipped out their pieces, several squad cars descended onto the plaza, and out spilled about a dozen cops poised to pull an Amadou Diallo on the Masuccis and their team.
The intrepid auteurs eventually convinced the heat they were shooting video, not people. But from their perspective, the kicker to this story isn’t that they got away with their hides. It’s that they got away with their shots. Because, you see, when they heard sirens coming, they didn’t tell their actors to stash the guns. They told their actors to hurry up in case the unit got shut down.
“To Dan and I, it’s like ‘We want to make our movie. We’re not hurting anybody,’” Joe says. “And if a law or two is broken, society will survive.”
“We’ve found that sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission,” Dan adds.
The Masuccis apply their bravado to every aspect of their movies, which are produced and distributed under the banner of Fountainhead Pictures (www.fountainheadpictures.com). They’re never afraid to ask actors, extras, crew members or anybody else to work for free. They’ve talked their way into countless locations, and even, on one occasion, landed a tiny product-placement deal. (Can anyone say free brewskies?) In fact, few can touch their audacity for scoring free production values. They actually built an entire short, the comedic “Murphy’s Law,” around the opportunity to film a house being burned down as part of a fire-department exercise.
What they haven’t burned are bridges. Over the course of the last decade, the Masuccis have slowly but steadily built a family of friends, actors and fellow filmmakers, all of whom happily answer the call whenever the brothers decide to roll tape.
“Some people go out with their buddies to bars, and we don’t do that,” Dan says. “When we get together, we’re making a movie.”
Joe recalls that actor Pierre Franklin Radimak, a veteran of several Fountainead flicks, called the set one time to say he was running late. “He’d just been in a car accident, and his first call wasn’t to his family — his first call was to Dan’s cell phone on the set,” Joe says. “After he was released from the emergency room, he drove straight to the set. That kind of dedication is really hard to come by.”
Taking the anti-Hollywood route wasn’t the Masuccis’ first choice. In the early ’90s, Joe was admitted to the American Film Institute to study cinematography, but money woes forced him to bail on AFI before his first semester was through. He settled into a career as a computer technician while Dan settled down to start a family.
After Joe’s abortive AFI tenure, he and Dan tinkered with various video formats, but they really hit their stride when DV came along. Their “X-Files” episode, for instance, has moments that approach the cinematic richness of the real thing, and DV has allowed them to sharpen their storytelling as well as their technical skills.
Get the rest of the story in part two of SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER>>>