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Getting Out in BLACK & WHITE

Michael Corrente Speaks About His Debut Film "Federal Hill"

By Sarah C. Dry

Michael Corrente, writer and director of the new black and white independent film, "Federal Hill," sits over coffee at Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square Dressed in a sharp houndstooth jacket, with the dark hair closely cropped, he speaks confidently to The Crimson about his debut film.

The Harvard Crimson: Do you regret having made this film independently, on such a limited budget?

Michael Corrente: Oh no, no, no. If I hadn't done it independently, we wouldn't be here talking right now. I had every offer in the world to do it otherwise. But of course they wanted the guys to ride off on a white horse in the end. It had to be shot in color; no gay bashing scene; Nicky couldn't die. Pretty much sanitized bullshit is what is would have ended up. The worst thing that could have happened to this movie is three million dollars.

THC:What was your budget?

MC:We shot this for $80,000. We started shooting with, like, $40,000. Every Friday I had to raise fifteen grand to pay the crew. Every Friday, in between takes: Can I have the phone, please? "Hey Joey could I borrow, you know."

THC:Why black and white?

MC:I shot it in black and white because that's the way we thought growing up. Those stories are my life, how I grew up. There weren't a lot of choices. It was boom, or boom, this or that. Color would have made this movie like a lot of other movies. It separated it in a sense. It also made you focus on these guys and what they were going through, not on what color Ralph's shirt or Nicky's shoes were.

THC:This film is the first of three you've written set in Rhode Island?

MC:Actually, the next film I'm doing is a movie of the play, American Buffalo. I've been meeting with David Mamet, and we'll be turning that into a film.

The other two films that I've written are about growing up in Providence. One is a kick-boxing story about two brothers that I knew growing up. The other is sort of a political thriller that deals with the banking crisis that took place in Rhode Island. Any one of this could stir up a lot of shit in Rhode Island--and will. As if this didn't.

THC:How do you feel about putting people you know on screen?

MC:How do I feel about it? what most writers do is talk about stuff they know, and where they come from. I can't see me making a movie about WASPs from Minneapolis anytime soon--not that it wouldn't be a great movie, and that WASPs from Minneapolis are not wonderful people.

THCDo you see yourself as any one of the characters in "Federal Hill"?

MC:Yeah. I'm obviously more like Nicky than like Ralph. My brother is Ralph. That scene on the highway when they're smashing the windshield? That happened. That was me holding his legs.

THC:Who are your influences?

MC:My influence in the film industry visually is probably Vittorio Di Sica, and obviously Scorsese. But if I could grow up to be a filmmaker, I'd like to be Hal Ashby. Hal Ashby is, like, my hero. But the influences?--obviously, the Italians.

THC:How Italian are you?

MC:My father is all Italian, and my mother's all Irish.

THC:A powerful blend.

MC:Exactly.

THC:How was directing your first movie?

MC:I'd directed theater for years. I worked with these actors like it was a play. I rehearsed `em for six weeks, and then rehearsed another week on the set. We did most of those scenes in one take, maybe two. That's because we reached the shit out of it.

We got to the set, Ritchie [Director of photography Richard Crudo] would set up. It would take him four hours to light a scene, and we'd do it in one take. I'd say, "Okay, let's move on to the next set up." And he'd say "What are you talking about? That took me four hours." I'd say, "I know, and it looks great, too. We wanna go shoot the next scene, Ritchie."

THC:How do you think kids from Harvard and Brown will react to the movie's portrayal of an Ivy League woman?

MC:Somebody made the argument that the character Wendy--who happens to be my wife--who looks great and drives a Saab, is not really how those students are. I said, "You're out of your mind. You've obviously never been to Brown." I grew up on Federal Hill. I used to go out with those girls, and they did wear pearls and drive Saabs. That's why the guys from my neighborhood were so attracted to them.

They were these little princesses up on College Hill that you could never have. They would come into the neighborhood all the time, looking to fuck around with some, you know, sexy young Italian guys. What was in it for them to lose? They had the best of both worlds, and so did we. You got into trouble when you started falling in love, though. That's where the rub came in.

THC:What about the ending?

MC:The ending for me is...you can't aspire to that shit all your life, and think you're gonna change with one fell swoop because you meet a girl who goes to an Ivy League school. Most of these guys were looking for Mrs. Right and she is looking for Mrs. Right Now.

THC:Are you saying that there's no way to get out?

MC:Of course there is. I got out.

THC:Is it so important to get out?

MC:I don't really know if it's important. I know that it works for me. There are a lot of guys who never get out. And others have gone on to be doctors, lawyers and brain surgeons--not many--but there are a few. Most of my friends are dead or in jail. That's the way it went. I don't want to be the spokesperson for tough Italian kids trying to get out of their neighborhood through cinema. The ending of the movie is: that's the way it goes. What it is.

THC:Any advice to young filmmakers?

MC:yes. Get a gun and steal as much money as you can! Advice to young filmmakers? I would say just keep going. It's got to start with the written word. If you have a good script, and you believe enough in it to make the sacrifices to get it made, there's a chance you'll have something. But it's got to start with the written word. Everything else is secondary. You've got to have a great story.

THC:One more question. The mob in Providence and this story--

MC:That's assuming that there is a mob in Providence...

THC:--Assuming that there's a mob in Providence, how do you think they'll react to the movie?

MC:I think the mob in Rhode Island is a thing of the past, just like this movie. This movie could go from the sixties to the nineties.

THC: When is it set?

MC:You tell me. Whenever. And I think that the so-called "mob" in Rhode Island is also ambiguous and passe. Those guys aren't doing that stuff anymore, as far as I know. It's a thing of the past. There were no rumblings. Everyone would think someone was gonna come up and say, "I'll bust your legs." None of that happened. They supported me. The people on Federal Hill were very supportive. This film never would have happened without the support of those people, the Italian-Americans. Never.

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