Filmmaker Feature: Frank J. Avella
Name: Frank J. Avella
Discipline: Writer/ Director
Production Company: High Voltage Productions
Screenplay: Fig Jam
Logline: TINDER HOOKUPS are stressful in non-pandemic times, but Brenda and her late-night visitor are about to find out just how crazy things can get in the age of Corona.
Festival(s): Atlanta Comedy Film Festival 2021 (Official Selection)
City you’re based in: Garfield, NJ
Short Bio: Frank J. Avella is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright. FIG JAM, his short film, won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the 2021 Paris Independent Film Festival and won the Best Narrative Short Award at the 2021 New York Neorealism Film Festival. Frank’s screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, MULTITASKING, FIG JAM) have received 34 major awards at Film Festivals throughout the world (16 countries) and have been selected/winners/finalists in over 160 Fests/Comps to date.
Favorite Quote: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.” Jack Kerouac
Interests/ Hobbies: Photography, Theatre, Ancient Rome, All things Film
Film was my first love but I started as a playwright out of grad school, and during lockdown returned to film after I realized that those in power in the American theatre might claim to want to tell different and diverse stories, but it is all talk.
What are your upcoming and active projects?
CONSENT, a screenplay that delves into the life of a queer teen growing up in a small town. LURED about the persecution of gays in Russia. SCREW THE COW, a lunatic Hollywood satire. These are completed full-length scripts. LURED is ready to shoot and has half financing in place. I am currently seeking a producer. I am also developing a thriller about male postpartum depression as well as a highly personal project about an Italian family that spans decades from WW2 to the Reagan years.
What type of stories interest you and why?
Since developing my play about the Catholic sex abuse scandal, VATICAN FALLS (which we hope will finally get a world premiere later this year) I tend to lean toward politically and socially relevant work. I still love a good comedy but my comedies are usually wild and very satiric and would have a difficult time getting made in these uber-sensitive times (that and I’d probably get canceled). So until we can grow back a sense of humor as a culture…
What is your genre of choice?
I love genre-blending and then blasting, tbh. Taking genres and then subverting them. There is no reason to ever have to stick to one. None whatsoever. In real life, we can go from elated to devastated in a matter of seconds so why not in film?
How are you creating a path for yourself in this industry?
I am doing my best to try and get my work noticed. I had the great good fortune of making my first short film, FIG JAM, this past spring. We had a wonderful producer come on board and finance it and I had incredible creatives who helped make the film something to be proud of. It’s a nice calling card. My screenplays have been winning awards at Festivals and via contests. Now, it’s time for me to make my first feature, LURED, which I am working at. In addition, I’d love to get CONSENT made at a grander level. There are roles in that script that I know could interest major talent. The trick is getting it in the right hands. Does anyone out there want to help?
What inspires you as a storyteller?
Inspiration often comes from the least expected places. But I also tend to get inspired when I get angry. The Catholic Church constantly getting away scot-free with the rape and torture of children, for instance. How do we accept that and go on with our lives? How do alleged good Catholics keep putting money into those baskets? So I wrote VATICAN FALLS. And I have been working on that play for 15 years now. We’ve had 7 different promised world premieres in 4 countries canceled. But I remain steadfast. Oh, and LURED was written trying to understand why a government would scapegoat gays for economic reasons? And not give a damn. And what might be a last straw where a group of the decimated would finally say no more.
How do you prep for a film, from writing to being on set?
Well, my only example so far was FIG JAM and it was FAST. And during COVID. But we managed a camera rehearsal weekend which was so helpful because I was able to work with my two lead actors and cameraman and besides figuring out blocking, really hone the script–figure out what dialogue was necessary and what could go. That was incredibly helpful since the shoot was very short and it would leave little time for that. It was a vital step.
What is the first thing you do when you get a script?
Well, since I’m the one writing it, I usually gather a group of kick-ass actors together to read it out loud and then… rewrite it!
What are a few lessons you’ve learned from your recent project(s)?
Hire artists who want to be part of the project, not just people looking to fill up a resume. Try and add an extra day to your shoot if at all possible. Have more conversations with your post-creatives before post begins so everyone has an idea of what will be expected. And be in control of the set–at all times.
What practical tips do you have for indie filmmakers (budgeting, marketing, directing)?
Trust yourself and your vision. Ask for advice from those you respect, but in the end, it’s your vision.