TAEM- Screenwriting is one of the most important tools in creating a successful show or film, and here at The Arts and Entertainment Magazine we like to present that factor to all of our student readers. I’d like to present a pair of brothers from my home town, New York City, who have honed their skills to come up with a new film which has just been released on Blue Ray. Their names are Joseph and Billy Pepitone, and the film they have produced is called Stuck in the Middle.
TAEM- Joseph, you have worked in Hollywood for some time. Tell our readers about your first experiences there and how you first prepared yourself for your career.
JP- I’ve been working in television for over 15 years and it was difficult starting out. Everyone views everyone as competition so its very rare someone is going to give you an opportunity. That’s why I wanted to make this movie with my friends and people I trusted. I knew I wouldn’t get a lot of push back and could make the movie we wanted to make without anyone telling us we were going to far.
TAEM- Billy, you are a retired police officer from New York City. My own uncle served on the force in the Bronx in a station widely known as Fort Apache. What made you choose writing as a second career?
BP-Fort Apache. Wow, very famous precinct. Writing is something I always enjoyed, going back to doing book reports in elementary school. The only class work I actually enjoyed. Police work opened my eyes to the many different people who exist, incredible real-life characters-some of whom you couldn’t make up if you tried.
TAEM- Joseph, we understand that you have won a number of recognitions for your work. Please tell our readers about these.
JP- I have won two New York Emmys for my writing. It’s really a great feeling hearing your name called and being recognized for work you have done. I always thought awards didn’t mean anything until I won one. (laughs) They are actually pretty cool. We also won a few awards for Stuck in the Middle at the Downbeach Film Festival and that I am most proud of.
TAEM- Billy, tell us the theme behind your film and the genre that it is written in.
BP: Stuck in the Middle is a religious office comedy. It takes place in Purgatory and pokes fun at both office life and some religious traditions with a lot of pop culture references thrown in. We are both Catholic so we just put a twist on some of the people we knew. It is definitely not some deep, spiritual message we are trying to get out there. It’s just a funny, ridiculous take on the world we know.
TAEM- Billy we learned that the two of you have formed your own production company. Please tell our readers about it.
BP- Yes, we call it Diamond Jesus Productions and it’s based on the t-shirt that Jesus sells in Stuck in the Middle. We are writers first, but we wanted to have a company that could produce the films we write. We have a bunch of talented people that we could bring aboard when we are ready to start production.
JP- We had an amazing cast. Stephen Fontana is “Michael Cheevers.” The character is essentially an exaggerated version of myself and Stephen totally got who the character was. He had the look and personality of Michael. Penelope Lagos plays “Brooke Lynne Monroe” who is my favorite character in the script. We received hundreds of submissions for this role but Penelope was meant for that role. She played the part perfectly. Cash Tilton plays “St. Peter” and he auditioned well. But when we started shooting, he blew us away. I was wishing I had more scenes for Cash because he was that good. The rest of the cast came from our Executive Producer Jeff Quinlan. He had worked with some great actors and we were lucky to get them. Keith Collins is “Todd Levy” who is the villain. Keith is really intense, but has a great manic comedic style. He nailed it. Jeanette Roxborough is the foul-mouthed “Denise Holobinko.” We originally had Holobinko as a cranky older woman, but Jeanette was just too awesome to pass up. She had to say such obscene dialogue but her deadpan delivery made the scenes even funnier. Eric Etebari turned “Jesus” into a rock star. You have never seen Jesus portrayed this way and probably never will again. And Jack Mulcahy is “Leo Balmudo,” the Ronald-Reagan obsessed alcoholic. My brother and I didn’t know if the character should be doing an imitation of Reagan or not. Jack just took the ball and ran with it and it was so much more than we had scripted. He’s just a pro. There were a number of great supporting roles that stole scenes. Evonne Walton, Abigail Summa, Samantha Rivers Cole, even Billy is great as “Moses.” There isn’t a bad performance in this film.
TAEM- Joseph, Tell us how the both of you came up with the concept for the screenplay and what was the biggest influence for its creation.
JP- Stuck in the Middle is a perfect example of write what you know. I spent the first half of my life in Catholic schools and the other half working in offices. We just combined those worlds and put it in Purgatory to give us a unique setting. The comedy comes from just things we have said or situations we have been in that we found funny. We wanted to write a script that made us laugh and our friends laugh and hoped the audience would enjoy too. And they have. But it never would have been a reality if my co-director Carlos Duhaime didn’t come on board. He shot and edited the film and was able to bring our vision to the screen. It was a great collaboration.
TAEM- Was there any difficulties in writing the screenplay, and how were you both able to overcome them ?
JP- This was our first attempt at writing a screenplay so just figuring out the right pacing and beats was difficult. But I also think it helped because we weren’t prisons to the “right” way to write a script. We just went ahead with total ignorance. No rules, complete freedom and it worked. A happy accident.
BP- Stuck in the Middle has been distributed by R-Squared Films and is available on Blu-Ray on Amazon.com. The reaction has been great. It won Best Comedy Feature at The Downbeach Film Festival and we have received several great reviews. We sold out on Amazon the first day. I don’t think they were prepared for this little movie to do so well.
TAEM- What are the future plans for the both of you and do you plan a sequel to the film ?
BP- A sequel depends on how well it sells. We have some ideas of where we want to take the characters, but right now that’s on the back burner. We hope to start shooting a new comedy called The Jersey Devil this fall. We also have two horror films that we wrote called The Meat Puppet and Gravedigger that are in Post Production.
TAEM- Joseph and Billy, we want to thank you for your time with your interview with our publication. We also want to wish you much luck with this production and all your future endeavors. Please promise to keep us in the loop about its success, as I am sure that our readers will be rushing out to grab a copy of it for themselves.
JP: Thank you. We really appreciate the support.