Thursday, July 26, 2012

Directing while he still can: an interview with Jack Marchetti

Posted By on 07.26.12 at 12:39 PM

A diagram of cones and rods in a healthy eye
  • A diagram of cones and rods in a healthy eye
Jack Marchetti is a local computer programmer who's long held ambitions of becoming a screenwriter. Though he's placed in some screenwriting contests and his website notes that one of his scripts is "currently under option," none of his of his work has yet been brought to life. Marchetti's currently working to change that, teaching himself about directing and producing movies so he can realize a crime drama script called "Four of a Kind." It's urgent that he does this soon, as Marchetti has a rare visual impairment called cone-rod dystrophy, which puts him at risk of going blind in the next few years. The other day I talked to him about his condition, smoking weed, and what he's learned so far about independent filmmaking. Our conversation follows the jump.

Ben Sachs: This seems like a good time to be making an independent movie, since the equipment has gotten so cheap. I also see that you're using Facebook and Kickstarter to raise money for the project.

Jack Marchetti: These things convinced me that I could direct a movie if I wanted to. Because I’ve always considered myself a writer. I never really thought about making films—even though when you’re writing, you’re always making it in your head; you kind of self-direct. But I realized that it’s possible to actually do it.

Another inspiration was seeing the actor Ed Burns on Morning Joe, talking about a movie he made called Newlyweds. He made it for about ten grand. He didn’t really pay anyone anything; the money just went toward, like, equipment and wine. The availability of digital equipment and digital editing means you don’t need that much else. And, not only that, but he uploaded his movie to iTunes and Hulu and Netflix—he didn’t even bother to go to a distributor to release it theatrically.

That method works better for him than it would for some nobody, since [Burns] already has a built-in following. But if you make a good enough flick, you can get it out there.

Since movie audiences are so fragmented, you now face a different challenge with distribution. Digital distribution systems make it easier for a filmmaker to reach a built-in audience, but it seems harder for independent filmmakers to gain a new audiences.

I think crowd financing addresses that somewhat. Because I don’t really know anyone who can put a lot of money towards [my movie], I’m looking for tens of thousands of people to put in a dollar [each] instead of asking one person for $10,000. As for building an audience after the fact, I think if you create something of quality, at some point it will find viewers regardless.

Are there any specific effects that you’re raising money for? Like, you’ve figured out that there’s a crane shot that will cost exactly X amount?

There’s a scene at the beginning of my script where the main character hops on the CTA. I wanted him to hop on the Blue Line, then transfer to the Orange at Clark and Lake. The opening titles [sequence] would show the character going through the city, and he’d also be taking the audience into the story. I reached out to the CTA to find out how much this would cost if you got permission and didn’t just do it guerrilla style at three in the morning. I was under the assumption that they had a price for Transformers 3 and a price for the local indie guy who has very limited resources. No, it’s exactly the same. If you’re going to be shooting on a platform, it’s about four grand, and you’ve got to pay a CTA worker for 12 hours at time and a half. If you’re using a train car, it’s about $900. I don’t know if we can do this opening scene as I wrote it. Either we’ll have to scrap it or just set it at one location instead of having him travel around the entire city.

Could you tell me a bit about your condition?

Jack Marchetti
  • Jack Marchetti
I first learned that something was wrong when I was about six years old. I wanted to get glasses then because the kid who sat behind me in school wore them, and I thought they looked so cool. So, I told my mom that I couldn't read the chalkboard—even though I could—and we went to an eye doctor. When he was inspecting my eyes, he saw something that he said wasn’t quite right. He recommended that we go see a specialist. That’s when I first went to the UIC Eye and Ear Infirmary. I still go there today, actually.

In a nutshell, you have photoreceptors on your retinas, cone-rods. They amplify light, they help with your peripheral vision, and they help you distinguish colors. The disease I have [makes them] basically stop working. For me, it started out as severe night blindness. Like, if I’m in a dark bar, I might as well have my eyes closed. I can see light—so, if the TV's on and there’s a reflection on someone’s face, I'll be able see that; but for the most part, I can't see anything [in the dark].

Then, it leads to massive tunnel vision. Your peripheral vision just goes away. In some cases, center vision also goes, so you're almost completely blind. That's what's happening to my brother. My brother's three years older than I am, and he has the same disease. His vision was always better than mine was, but then, a few years ago, he just completely. I don’t know what happened, and the doctors can't really explain why it progressed so quickly. But now, he walks with a cane, he goes to a school for the blind, and he’s learning to read braille.

That was a kick in the ass. It was almost like looking into the future and realizing, "That's going to be me in a few years." I go to the same doctor every year, and I've asked him if that's what going to happen. He says there's really no telling. My [eyesight] could stabilize or it could get worse. I don't feel like it's getting any worse; it's been about the same for the past several years now. But seeing the condition my brother's in made me realize if I want to make my movie—and then see my movie—I might as well try it now while I still have the wherewithal to do it.

Knowing how fragile your eyesight is, are there certain images you consider especially valuable? Are you already thinking about the sorts of shots you need to put in your movie?

Not really. There’s so much else I need to consider. Like, I don't know if I want to have kids—I don't want to pass this down to someone else. My brother has two daughters; and shortly after his first daughter was born, he was feeding her and he couldn’t see her face. That would feel like a punch in the gut to me.

There aren't any specific images I need to see before the lights possibly go out, but there are things I desperately want to do. Like, I wanted to go to Europe, spend some time abroad, and I got to do that last summer. When I was in Amsterdam, a funny thing happened to me. So, the marijuana there is really, really potent, and I don't smoke weed on anything like a regular basis—I've only done it a handful of times in my entire life. But the effect was so strong that I was able to walk around at night without any help. It was like someone turned the lights on.

I went on Google to see if there were any other people with retinal diseases who smoked weed and discovered that their night vision improved. I found there's a Facebook support group for people with these conditions, and some of them discussed improved night vision [under the influence]. I brought it up with my doctor, but he didn’t have much to add.

It sounds like, when you start directing, you should be high all the time, so you can shoot at any time of the day.

It would probably help me see what I was directing. But, then, I've never directed anything before. I've never had to coach actors or command a set. But I think that seeing a director, like, bumping into things and tripping over things doesn't inspire confidence in a cast and crew.

For what it's worth, I hear it worked for Robert Altman.

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