Friday, August 7, 2009
SIN, SIN AND MORE SIN: An Interview with Tony Marsiglia
Any fan of the soft core genre of film said a silent thanks when Michael Raso came on the scene in the late 90’s. His company, Seduction Cinema, soon blossomed to include many little offshoot companies that are now under the umbrella name of Alternative Cinema (www.alternativecinema.com). But this isn’t about Michael Raso. This is about a man who joined forces with Raso to create a unique stable of films in the soft core film world.
This is about Tony Marsiglia.
Tony’s roots are from the stage, but he learned that the impermanence of live performing wasn’t doing it for him. He wanted something more.
The more began form as the film PHOENIX which is only now being released on a double DVD disc from Alternative Cinema with his latest release, the harrowing SUZIE HEARTLESS. The films between these two bookends are as unique as their director.
From the intriguing DR. JEKYLL AND MISTRESS HYDE which showcased a performance from the young Misty Mundae which was unlike anything that she had done before, to the intimate SIN SISTERS that brought Chelsea Mundae into the scene with her sister in one of the most bizarre tales ever told. Then came the epic LUST FOR DRACULA which reinvented the Dracula story and made it something that only Tony could have envisioned. Add in SINFUL which comes across as something ripped from today’s headlines with a surreal twist and CHANTAL, a reimagining of the Nick Phillips classic of the same name that takes what was done before and brings it to a whole new level.
This is the legacy of Tony Marsiglia and I was lucky enough to conduct an interview via email where Tony was more than gracious in answering my long list of inane questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tony Marsiglia.
Douglas Waltz – What first attracted you to film?
Tony Marsiglia – After working so long and hard on several stage productions, the ‘lasting’ product of film intrigued me. Some of the best acting I have ever witnessed was on a stage to a room of one hundred, or less, people. That really angered me. Film was the obvious solution
DW – All of your film work has been released by Alternative Cinema in one or more of its incarnations. What is it about this company that brings you back to them again and again?
TM – Mike Raso. Mike Raso keeps me coming back! He was the only one that truly believed in me as a film maker and did, and continues to make possible my visions. Without him I’d only have home movies. I am only ad that due to the present market we are not available to shoot features the way we once did. Mike Raso had an incredible vision. He wanted a very specific group of artists to be like a family. To make films and only make films. I was completely on board. Sadly, his dream fell apart for a variety of reasons which had nothing to do with his generous want to make movies. I’ll be forever thankful to him and can never forget that golden time of shooting Chantal and Lust For Dracula back to back. When it felt like this would be all that I’d be doing.
DW – So, has Alternative Cinema turned out not to be a viable option for your films in the future?
TM – Impossible to say. How films are marketed and sold these days, mainly due to the Internet, is still in a state of uncertainty. Makes it scary for the film maker and distributor. What I DO know is that I trust Mike Raso. We’ve built a strong understanding. If that were to fall, I probably would too.
DW – In Dr. Jekyll and Mistress Hyde, you take the classic story and change it into an obsession with releasing people’s inner sexuality. Was that something you were trying to explore above and beyond the basic story?
TM - That film was mostly written by the brilliant Bruce Hallenbeck. All the elements were there. I made very few changes and Misty and Julian made it fly. It was a difficult shoot, my first with Misty, but it remains one of my best experiences.
DW – One of the extras on the film was a huge, rambling, behind the scenes thing that was probably as long as the movie. Was that your idea?
TM - I had nothing to do with that. Haven’t even seen it, but I do understand that fans of the film might enjoy some ‘backstage’ antics. Anything that will help the film to be seen I am behind!
DW – For this film what were some of the challenges that you had to overcome to get it done and in the can?
TM – Juggling locations are always a headache and we did a lot of that. It was intensely cold at many of the sites. Misty hates the cold and isn’t bashful about letting you know! However, the crew and the cast were so excited and challenged by the impossible schedule and the script that their enthusiasm kept it alive.
DW – What was Julian Welles like on the set of Dr. Jekyll and Mistress Hyde?
TM – Hot! I picked her up from the airport for that shoot and drove her to her hotel and was beyond drawn to her immense, overt, yet mysterious, sensuality. I don’t know how else to put it. Only a tiny portion of that makes it to the screen, thank God, for the other actresses.
DW – For me, this was one of Misty Mundae’s first films where I saw an actual actress shining through instead of just a pretty, naked girl. What did you do to draw such a performance out of her?
TM – Misty is amazing. The best. Such honesty and so much fun. I remember one shot, in Julian’s office, Dang, my DP on the feature, had to call me over and look through the lens at Misty. Beautiful! If I only had one actress to ever work with, it would be Misty.
DW – Sin Sisters comes across as a quick and dirty little flick. Did that have any bearing on how the movie was shot?
TM – I would love to do a commentary on that one. Three day shoot. Awful conditions. I remember that we were shooting Misty’s big speech knowing she had to be at the airport in half an hour. It was pretty brutal, but great fun.
DW – To me it looked like the shoot was incredibly hot, and by hot I don’t mean sexy. Was the temperature up there? Misty almost looked burnt in a couple of shots.
TM – That was such a crazy day. We literally took two days to shoot all the easy stuff and ONE day to shoot all the impossible stuff in and on the drive to that cabin in the mountains. We were all very hot at that 13th hour, yet knew we had to complete an incredible number of shots. And then, somehow, drive down that mountain and get them to the airport. INSANE! But I really wanted to get that movie made. I was very proud of the script that had been put together in days and the sisters were so cool. And, Andrea (Davis) always so patient and radiant. WOOF! Again, it would be so much fun to do a commentary with the three of them.
DW – What were some of the challenges in shooting this kind of movie?
TM – Knowing that you pretty much had to get the performance in one take coupled with the fact that the actors and crew, all three of us, were exhausted, made for moments of nervousness. Nonetheless, I have been pushing Mike Raso to make a sequel!
DW – How would the sequel work in your mind?
TM – Andrea is not really dead, of course, and plots an even more diabolical destruction of the sisters. Raso! Do you hear me?
DW – How was it to work with such a small cast?
TM – Smaller is always better in regards to cast and crew. Smaller is always better!
DW – Lust For Dracula was interesting in that the entire cast was female. Was Julian Welles supposed to be a man, or was it just a side effect of the drugs she was feeding Mina?
TM – Mike Raso initially had always wanted to make a vampire picture with an all female cast. He gets all the credit for that inspiration.
DW – Darian Caine was naked for a lot of this film. Was that a conscious thing to present Dracula as a free spirit?
TM – She just looks so beautiful and is so free being naked. I love that! And yes, Dracula is Jesus.
DW – was Misty going for annoying in that one shoot up in the attic? Her voice for that part was just like chewing glass. And, remember, I LIKE Misty!
TM – That room was about 110 degrees, no air conditioning, and I knew I had to get Misty to nail that character with that endless monologue. I wanted something alternatively strangely close in temperament and as far from her Chantal character as possible that would shoot the next week.
Those were my happiest moments on the Lust For Dracula shoot. Working with Misty in that miserable, hot attic. It remains my favorite Misty performance. I know she probably hates it, dunno, but it is my favorite. She was so sweet and delicate and the moment when she understands her betrayal…no one can act that better than Misty. Woof! I really miss her.
DW – How was Andrea Davis to work with? And, do you think she might work in more of a leading role in the future?
TM – She has a nice role in my latest feature, Suzie Heartless. Have tried for years to convince the powers that be to make a feature with her as a secret agent. Still waiting!
DW – Anything weird or significant that comes to mind with this shoot?
TM – Yeah, it was pretty cool how the half sisters in real life truly seemed to be in the film like sisters. Wish I had dirt to report, but nope! They were always sweet and helpful to each other. Even when the last day turned out to be a twenty hour shoot!
DW – Sinful was released next, but Chantal was shot back to back with Lust For Dracula What was that grueling schedule like for you and the actors?
TM – Perfection! That was the time when we were all truly working as a team. Mike Raso, the producer, even came down for a visit! I truly believed that there was nothing that could stop us as film makers.
DW – With Chantal you were redoing a Nick Phillips film. What is your opinion of Nick and his films? Have you seen very many of them?
TM – No, I have only seen Sylvia, which I hope to remake. From what little I have seen I can only emphasize with what must be his drive to make features under impossible circumstances.
DW – You have a part in Chantal as the guy running the fleabag hotel. Was that a part you conceived for yourself or was it one of those situations where you ran out of actors and decided to do it yourself?
TM – The guy scheduled never showed up! I painfully recall looking at my watch as his call time grew close. By two AM I knew I had to fill in or the scenes would never be shot. Sad, as there was a lot of stuff I had to cut because we ran out of time. Regardless, I do cherish the screen time with Misty. It was a delight!
DW – Did you play the hotel manager like you wanted or were you just channeling the actor who hadn’t shown up?
TM – I always know pretty much what I want from each role. These are low budget films. Time does not allow for much characterization and rehearsal.
DW – Sinful seems to be taken from the front pages of the newspaper. There is always some whacked out story about a woman cutting out another woman’s baby. But you made it seem a lot more stylized. Why go for that look instead of something more grounded in reality?
TM – Quite the opposite! The film is probably the most truthful film I have made. Very little of it is ‘made up’, re: the style. I wanted it all to be from Lilith’s (Misty Mundae) point of view. The film’s reality is hers.
DW – This brings us to Suzie Heartless. For me, this film was brutal and unrelenting. Whenever the lead actress got naked I felt more than a little dirty knowing what her situation was. What brought you to making such a bleak film?
TM – Suzie Heartless is a film that I have wanted to make for a long time. Originally with Misty! It was all taken from the real life experiences of several hookers who I used to drive from one hotel to another in my taxi driving days. It’s all outlined in the commentary for that film
DW – What was the decision to make it without her speaking any dialogue as well?
TM – Originally, it did have dialogue in the first draft of the script and I found that it only got in the way of her story. The loneliness of her not being able to communicate with words added to the texture of the film. I can’t imagine it any other way.
DW – That actress (Wendy McColm) comes across as so sweet and innocent in everything else she has ever done. How did she react when she realized what the script was going to call for?
TM – Wendy was awesome. No one can touch what she did in that film. I was just a lucky cinematographer. Why Wendy McColm is not a major ‘Hollywood’ name eludes me.
DW – Your films have a few themes that run through them. What is it that you, as a director, are trying to say with your movies?
TM – That you don’t get a second chance.
DW – What is next for you in the future?
TM – Currently, I am producing a play that I wrote, direct and act in. It is called Sprung and I will make an HD version of it between the stage run. It’s a play about addiction and I am very proud of it.
DW – Okay, finally, let’s say that you have unlimited funding to make any movie you want. What would it be?
TM – The XTRA, a film about twins that’ll require some special effects that I currently cannot afford.
Now for the mindless questions;
DW - Any children?
TM - I have 3 dogs that I love almost as much as I love my wife. Yet, she and I hope to have a child soon. I think I’m finally grown up for that - and finally have a mate that is of the same mind. Funny how time changes things. I've made some horrible mistakes in my life. Hurt a lot of people. Much more than I was ever hurt. So many regrets. Luckily I have a weak memory. Don't think I could live with myself if I thought about my past too long.
DW - What are some of your fun things you like to do with your free time?
TM - I really enjoy going to malls, shops, anywhere really and eavesdrop on people conversations - great fuel for the starting points of a new story.
That and finding anyway possible of getting out of my head and enjoying life.
DW - What film maker most influences your work?
TM - I admire anyone who finds the energy & money of putting a film together - on any scale!
But - Reza Abdoh. A New York/LA theatre writer/director. All of his productions were simply breath taking. No film I have ever seen (or play) has ever matched his audacity, inventiveness and outright genius.
He died of AIDS a few years back. So sad that it was theatre - so few were there to witness his art. And those that did - as audience members or actors have a special connection. I think of his productions all the time - and rarely go to the theatre anymore as nothing can match the outright electricity he brought to the stage. His death was a horrible loss to the stage and the screen. He made one film.
DW - What is your favorite film?
TM - Wow - if I had to pick one - stranded on a desert island? Oh easy - Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D - I cry every time! Text book acting and direction.
DW - Book?
TM - That David Mamet book on acting - reminds actors of what the real job of acting is!
DW - Meal?
TM - Steak!
DW - And finally, for shits and giggles;
Coffee or tea?
TM - Coffee - a full pot - every morning!
DW – Tony, thank you for your time.
TM – Not a problem, Doug.