Written and Directed by Joe Dull, a faculty member at the University of Central Arkansas' Digital Filmmaking program, Luigi's unites the talents of Mike Gunter, director of photography, set and costume designers Scott and Shauna Meador, composer Paul Dickinson, and cast members Chris Fritzges and Bob May, all UCA faculty members. UCA film program students made up the rest of the crew. The film has a fine cast, expert direction and accomplished crew and just the right seasoning of humor, drama and romance.
Q: Did you have a story burning to get out and was Table at Luigi's that story?
A: Luigi's has been a long time coming. I've toyed with the idea of a chef who could create people's dreams for about ten years. The first script was written about seven years ago, while I was sick in a cabin in Idyllwild, California. I'd get up and write for an hour, sleep for two, then write for another hour. At the end of three days, I had a script. We first produced Luigi's as a play in Santa Ana, California. Then, about three years ago, we had the idea to produce a feature film as a part of our curriculum, so I dusted off the script, and spent about a year re-writing it. We shot it in one month, July, 2009.
Q: What was your goal in producing Luigi's?
A: Our goal, beyond telling the story, of course, was to give our students the opportunity to work on a feature length film. Our film program includes plenty of opportunities for students to work on short films with other students, but a feature film shooting for 26 days is an entirely different experience. Most student films shoot for a single weekend or two, and students only get a chance to wet their feet and barely get comfortable in their positions before the shoot is finished. With Luigi's, our students had to truly learn their craft. And they were able to work side-by-side with their professors while doing so.
Q: You spent a year revising the script. What challenges did you face and what changes did you feel were necessary to improve the script?
A: The script re-writes opened it up from a stage play to a feature length screenplay. The rewrites also helped flesh out the characters. The earlier scripts had a much lighter tone and a more conventional, happy ending. But the characters in those earlier scripts felt less real to me. In addition, some major plot points were completely turned on their ear, which hopefully created a much fuller, true-to-life experience for the audience, as true-to-life as a fairy tale about a magical chef can be. I wanted the audience to really get a feel for a guy who had never been held accountable for the way he lived; a guy who could simply mold the world to his way of thinking.
Q: From first camera roll to having a film in the can took less than twenty months. Isn’t that impressive?
A: Making Luigi's was a very difficult joy. We were wonderfully fortunate that the University and city of Conway embraced what we were trying to do. All of our meals for cast and crew were donated by local restaurants, and many others generously donated locations and supplies. They even blocked off and wet down their streets. I spent fifteen years in Southern California, the Mecca for filmmakers, and had to move to Conway, Arkansas to make a feature film! Who knew?
Q: What methods/techniques did you use to accomplish that?
A: We were able to shoot the film so quickly by working 10-15 hour days, six days a week. What helped our schedule the most, besides our hard-working, dedicated crew, and cast who really knocked it out of the park, was our set designer Scott Meador. He designed a dining room, which our crew built from bare wood in about a week. Having that major set piece available any time we needed it, with a light grid above it, really helped speed things along. We also had a very meticulously planned schedule that made the most of what we had available to us. And my wife, Kat, who is one of the greatest producers on the planet, kept us motivated and moving.
Q: What about editing and "post" work?
A: While the shooting schedule was just under a month, it took five months of editing to picture lock on December 19, 2009. We then started scoring the film in early March, which was recorded with the Conway Symphony Orchestra, who donated their time. At the same time, my sound sound and visual effects teams created the sound design and cleaned up the film, then my colorist made everything look pretty. We held a Conway special preview of Luigi's on April 19th. The red carpet premiere drew over 500 people, complete with televised interviews of the stars, crew and other key people arriving in limos.
Q: Your film uses fantasy to address love, abandonment, despair, isolation and finally hope. Why did you choose these thematic elements?
A: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about growing up and how to avoid it. The theme of the film comes from that. Most of the people who come to Luigi's aren't moving on, but should be, which dovetails with our chef's ego, he's not growing up and no one around him will either. But sometimes, someone so amazing falls into your life that growing up and moving on isn't such a scary thing anymore. That's our chef's journey, with abandonment, despair, and isolation, along the way.
Q: Can you go into your casting process? Why did you choose these particular characters to convey the messages in Luigi's?
A: We were fortunate with casting, which involved calling in some friends. The lead, Frank Romeo, came from California. He had originally starred in the stage version of Luigi's and we brought him out for rehearsals and filming. The rest of the cast was all local from Arkansas. Chris Fritzges, who played Stephen, is on the faculty at UCA with me, while most of the rest of the cast came through local auditions.
Q: What lessons have you and your students learned in making Luigi's?
A: The making of Luigi's was a long road. Directing a film is difficult enough, and teaching the crew at the same time was a really demanding job, two jobs really. What helped that a lot was the great team we had. Mike, Scott, Shauna, Kat and I really helped each other and everyone picked up a lot of the slack along the way. Also, having made films in Southern California is a great experience, but I really learned what's possible for filmmakers here in Arkansas, which only helps me to help my students make their projects as strong as possible. One of the things we hope to do differently with the next film is to take two days off a week and use one of those days to meet with students in small groups and individually. This will help enhance the educational portion of the process, and also offload some of that from the set into a less busy situation. The students were really the beneficiaries on this film. Just watching what's happened in our program since shooting the film; their films are so much more organized and thought out. They really came together as a team for Luigi's, and applied what they learned with us into their own work. It's been wonderful and amazing to watch.
Q: How will winning Indie Fest's Best of Show Award help you in your film career?
A: Winning the Indie Best of Show was a great surprise! Again, we made Luigi's to give our students the opportunity to work on something like this, and winning the Indie is a great feather in our cap. It also built up the resumes of many students now entering the workforce. We're really excited and proud!
Q: How will you continue to promote the film? And what are your hopes for larger distribution?
A: We're currently shopping Luigi's around. I'll be attending the Los Angeles Market in November to meet with distributors, and we've also recently begun sending it to festivals. We're still waiting on word from the majority of those, so there aren't a lot of confirmed showings, yet.
Q: What writers/directors do you most admire and why?
A: "I've always loved the work of Steven Soderbergh. Seeing Sex Lies and Videotape inspired me to make movies. From huge studio films to small independents, Soderberg's works are testament to a deep desire to make meaningful films.
Q: What's next for you? Any new projects?
A: I have a couple of short films that should be completed by the end of this year. One is a little espionage parody about two students breaking into a professor's office to fix errors they found on their essays. The other film is a musical that I've been working on for about ten years. It's about a friend, an amazing performer, who overcame a life-altering accident to entertain audiences. It will be a partial documentary about her and what she's had to overcome. The documentary will play directly into the musical where she will sing and dance for 15 minutes. I've also just completed the first draft of what will be the next feature for my students. We'll start filming in the summer of 2012.
Professor Dull can be reached at: jdull (at) uca.edu