Thursday 1 March 2012

Interview with Carlo Petraccaro

Carlo Petraccaro is an Adelaide-based filmmaker. He has been actively involved in filmmaking for almost twenty years, and is best known for the feature film Offside (2009). 

His career has known both success and setback, but he has persevered cheerfully, and helped many others along the way, including me. 

I wanted to know more about the things Carlo has learned on the journey, so I asked him these questions.

* You were born in Adelaide on 22 November 1962. Your parents had migrated to Adelaide from Italy in the 1950s. Can you tell us a little about them.

They were your typical Italian immigrants. They both worked in factories to support the family and set their children up for a new life, one they never had, with an education and a professional job. My father died of cancer when I was 20, but my mother worked on a press in the Clipsal factory from 11:00pm till seven in the morning. She would get home, make breakfast for us, go to sleep, get up about lunch time, watch Days of our Lives, and do the housework. This is what immigrants do all around the world. I learned a lot from my mother. She was an exceptional person.

*Your mother was a big movie fan and you often watched films on TV with her. What were some of her favourite films? Did you get to see many Italian movies while growing up?

The Nutty Professor (1983)
My mother loved Romance and Comedy. I think the romance provided a fantasy substitute for the youthful fun times she, and many immigrants, didn't have. And the comedy, well, everyone loves a good comedy. I remember Jerry Lewis movies would make her cry with laughter (literally).
   In the 1970s, My Mum and Dad would take us every Saturday night to the Italian cinema on Magill Road. We saw Italian movies, and Hollywood movies dubbed into Italian. It was a great time for me. Mum would dress me up in a suit. At interval we would have cakes and gelati. As you can imagine, going to the movies was a great experience, and the movies I saw were incredible. They had a profound impact on me.

* At Thebarton High School, you experienced the prejudice most children of European migrants endured in the 60s and 70s. You responded by embracing your cultural heritage. Sport, music, motoring, food. What is your history with soccer?

Thebarton High was predominantly a "wog" school. We had no football or cricket team. We played soccer at recess, lunch time, and after school. We played on old tennis courtsno grassand about twenty kids piled onto the ground. We all followed the local Aussie rules footy league, as well, but what shocked me (and still does today) was the hatred and the prejudice towards soccer. I was a big Formula 1 and motorbike racing fan, but the hatred towards soccer drew me towards that sport. I took strength from the hatred and the prejudice. Funny how humans work that way.
   In 1973, I was in year six at school. The ABC telecast the first live coverage of the European Cup final between Ajax and Juventus at 4:30am in black and white. Because of my Italian background, I supported Juventus. They lost. That day at school I copped it from the non-Italians (Greek, Croatian, English, etc) for losing. That had a big impact on me, and I hate Juventus to this day for that loss.
   So my association with soccer is about reacting to the prejudice. I kept playing and having arguments about it. It created a bond for us as ethnics. It made me realise that someone else's fear and prejudice can be your strength. (There's a theme for a film in there somewhere.)

* I know you own a Lamborghini Miura. Tell us a bit about your association with Italian sports cars.
A Lamborghini Miura, from the opening scenes of The Italian Job (1969)
It's a 1/18th scale model, and was given to me as a gift, so it has sentimental value. Italian sports cars and motorbikes were one of the greatest sources of pride for a kid of Italian origin. Wherever you go in the world, the names of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, etc., are respected and revered names. Just about every kid and adult male knows who and what Ferrari is. This was a great source of pride for me. I'm always surprised when people associate Italian culture with pizzapasta, wine, and coffee. I'm sure that even Federico Fellini is more significant than those.

* The Godfather was released  in 1972. Where did you first see that film and what impact did it have on you?

Wow! I saw that film with my parents at the Italian cinema on Magill Road in about 1975, when I was in year 7. It was dubbed into Italian, and even though the dubbing was bad, the power of the images and the violence and the tension was all there on the screen. It made me realise that film affects people. For that two hours I was in another world. I felt things that I might never experience in real life. I'll never be a New York gangster, but I could feel and sense what it would be like, while watching that movie. That's what great movies do, they move you. They can make people feel something they knew nothing about before. That's a lot of power.

* Your first foray into the world of entertainment was as an actor. How did that come about and where did you perform?

I wanted to start making films, and then I saw an advertisement about an amateur theatre play. I thought I'd try acting; learn what a script looks like, how actors ply their trade, and that this would help me make films. 
   It was the Tea Tree Players in Tea Tree Gully. I drove for about an hour to get the part, and I was lucky I did. I learned a lot, and it was one of the best times in my life. I used the experience, and the ideas I gained, to start writing my first short films, and used some of my fellow actors in them.

Offside: Lots of women like Charlie...
* What prompted you to give up acting?

Well I haven't given it up yet, but my acting range is limited. I don't have the talent that good actors have that can do any role. I have done some acting in recent short films and will always give it a go, if I think I can actually do the role justice.

* During the 1990s, you made a string of short films. What were the key lessons you learned at that time?

I learned valuable lessons about editing (that last rewriting of the script, once it's filmed). The cast: how a script can be interpreted so differently by actors, and the crew. What you thought was obvious, everyone else sees differently; that was such a valuable experience. Learning how you have to compromise, because of time, money, physical logistics. And discovering that sheer will power is sometimes the key to completing a shoot.

... but Charlie fancies this aloof and mysterious blonde.
* Meanwhile, you earned a Bachelor of Economics and a post-graduate Diploma in Accounting at Flinders University. These led to a job with the South Australian Treasury Department. You were working there at the time of the state’s biggest ever financial disaster, the collapse of the State Bank. How did you become involved in that?

I was the Management Accountant for SAFA, the financing arm of the South Australian Government. I signed the thirteeen cheques for $99,000,000 each, which were deposited into the State Bank to keep it liquid. After that I was involved in the accounting of the bail out. Nothing exciting really, just plain old number crunching. But it was an interesting time to be working in the state government.   

The boys like football...
* During the 2000s, you worked on a script called ‘Second Generation.’ What was the central idea of that story?

It was the idea that the first generation of migrants worked so hard to establish a foundation, for the benefit of their children, the second generation; but the second generation didn't appreciate their work, and sometimes just squandered it.
   The first generation were just "wogs;" they didn't really belong. The second generation were supposed to be "Aussies" and be part of this new country, but they were not. They were still "wogs;" they were expected to assimilate, but they found themselves stuck in a no-man's-land; neither Italian, nor fully Australian.
   Then all of a sudden everyone started acting like us: drinking espresso coffee, cycling in lycra, eating Italian food, and playing soccer. It was a weird feeling.
   The film idea was based around the confusion we felt, and the middle class mediocrity that my friends and I found ourselves immersed in. 
   The time for that film has passed, I believe.  

... but they're having trouble with their boss, who fancies Charlie.
* After an hiatus from filmmaking, you were suddenly able to finance a cheapie feature film in 2009. How did that come about?

As with everything else, it was just luck or fate, depending on what religion you've been influenced by. My friend Terry Rogers had done some film work for Urtext Studios. He mentioned that they were ready for a low budget feature. So I had a meeting with Matt Salleh and talked about my script for Offside. The film had a low budget feel, and because of it's soccer content, we figured it should receive some support from the local soccer community. Which it did. Fasta Pasta and Un Café Bar were willing to help sponsor the movie, and away we went. 

The heavies bet $50,000 on the outcome of the final.
* You completed Offside with support from the local football community. Numerous local businesses and individuals contributed in practical ways to the funding. The film generated a great deal of community interest, but was only shown locally a couple of times, never gaining a wide theatrical release. How are you addressing this disappointment?

I addressed it very badly, and then, with time, I just had to move on. 
   With hindsight, I should have tried to get a name actor on board, to generate more interest. The practical reality is this: in South Australia, only government-financed independent films make it onto local cinema screens. The cinemas promote those films in order to keep up government funding. It's a catch-22 situation, one which local independent film makers should be aware of. 

It's a suburban Adelaide soccer movie. Of course it involves a shootout!
* Years ago, you had an idea for a screenwriters’ group in Adelaide. The idea was fulfilled in 2010, when a group was established under the leadership of Stuart Sturgess and Ruth Estelle. That expanded to two groups in 2011, and three in 2012. You continue to be involved in mentoring inexperienced writers. Why do you do that, rather than simply focus on your own projects?

It's selfish because it improves me as a screenwriter. I have learned a lot just by talking and debating other writers. You learn what works and what doesn't very quickly. Trying to explain why someone else's film idea doesn't work, and what they can do to improve it, can clarify the principles in your own mind. You better know a bit of what you're talking about, or you'll get jumped on straight away. So it really benefits me more than any one else.
   And helping others actually does feel good.

* Final question: List ten of your favourite films of all time.


Kathy said...

I love that shot captioned: "Lots of women like Charlie." Is there any way we can get hold of a copy of the movie?

Henry Sheppard said...

'Offside' is a cult movie that's hard to find these days.

I heard a rumour that it's going to be recut and released as a webseries, but I don't know if that's true.