I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Iemma about his new film, Stitch. You must see it!
This is part one of the interview:
Michael Carosone (MC): Mike, I thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to do this interview with me. I am excited to interview you about your film because it is an exciting project with an important cause. Many people do not know about my passion for film. As an undergraduate student, I studied film. I worked in the independent film industry in the late 1990s, when it was booming in New York City. I organized the Brooklyn Film Festivals in 1998 and 2000, and was given the National Italian American Foundation's Youth Award for Entertainment, for organizing the Brooklyn Film Festivals and the Italian American Filmmakers' Showcases. And for NIAF, I facilitated a seminar on the negative stereotypes of Italian Americans in films. So, I am delighted at any chance that I have to write about the art of film.
Michael Iemma (MI): My pleasure! Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my work with you!
First, tell us about yourself as a student filmmaker.
Definitely! Right now I am about to start my senior year as a Film Production major at Emerson College in Boston. Almost done! My concentration will be in Producing; however, my love for making film definitely centers on writing, directing, and cinematography. To shed more light on myself as a filmmaker, I'm going to copy a brief snippet from an all-too-intense bio of myself: Michael's style and narrative interests often live in a world of the obscure, in which recurring themes of family, imagination, and the wonder of childhood intertwine with loss, nostalgia, and the pain of existence. Concepts, he believes, that pertain so deeply to growing older, discovering who we are as individuals, and to our eternal search for a link back to our childhoods. Intense, I know, but in general a pretty darn good synopsis of what I make.
No, not intense, but passionate. I like that. From where did your passion for film come?
MI: Ever since I was child I have had an almost obsessive love for movies. And within reason, my parents never really stopped my brother and me from watching what we wanted. When I was three years old, for example, my mother brought me to the movie theater to see Jurassic Park. It's still one of my personal favorites. So for most of my life I have been exposed to a large variety of content. And being someone with an extremely active imagination, I loved it all. It nurtured my creativity. And I think I also came to rely on films as a bit of an escape from whatever had been troubling me at a certain point in my life. Early on I think they allowed me to venture off into other places when my family didn't have the financial means to physically do so with us. And then later on, movies helped me through a variety of other growing pains. So over the years I developed a very personal relationship with storytelling. I think it's one of the greatest tools we have to communicate and connect with each other. To share our experiences, console each other, shock, frighten, and teach. And films are one of the most dazzling vessels used to communicate those stories. The actual film making came later, though. I had spent several years doing musical theater before I ended up at Berklee College of Music in the vocal performance program. At the time I had been trying to win scholarship money, and I gravitated toward every film-based scholarship I could find. I started writing lots of little sketch films for Lipton Tea and other businesses running these scholarships, and something just clicked. It felt right. It was the most liberated I have ever felt in any form of personal expression. And it just snowballed from there.
What are your aspirations for your film career?
I think ultimately my aspirations are to become successful within the industry while also maintaining my integrity, honesty, and personal style, which is easier said than done. The film industry is tough. Oftentimes creative minds are completely at the mercy of who controls the money. And the money has a lot of say in what the final product is going to look like. Being an individual who generally creates non-mainstream, outside-of-the-box content, I foresee obstacles in my future regarding this. I want to acquire the pull within the industry to be able to make whatever it is that I want to make. But I could never compromise the honesty of my work to suit what the mainstream deems acceptable. I'd rather use my creative power to try to make change rather than avoid conflict for the sake of profit. A combination of all of this--this is my grown up Christmas list.
I have no problems being labeled a gay writer; actually, I welcome it. So, I always ask this question of LGBTQ artists. Do you label yourself a gay filmmaker, and are you fine with that label? Why or why not?
This is a super interesting question. In general, it was not really a label I had given myself previously. I have always felt that I am much, much more beyond my sexual orientation. And I feel as though labels, in general, can be very problematic, as they seem to help to contribute to maintaining the very confines that my film hopes to break down for the LGBT community. But used in the right context, I definitely welcome it as well for several reasons. And now that it is becoming a part of my identity as a filmmaker, I really like it. I grew up in a very small Italian-Catholic town. I don't think I need to elaborate any more on that topic for you to understand that growing up gay for me, like countless others, wasn't the easiest thing in the world. I spent many years of my life fearful of sharing who I was with others--always holding back, hiding my tracks. And then one day I realized, "Shit, I'm denying myself a full life to humor the prejudices of people around me! How messed up is that!?" When it comes to life, I think we have one shot to make the most of it. So from then on I was done with feeling bad, and done with hiding. I am very proud of the fact that I'm gay. So in this way, I embrace a title such as this because "Hell Yeah! I am a gay filmmaker who is going to tell my stories about my life." Our community has been denied this freedom for far, far too long. And here I am one successor of the multitudes of LGBT activists that have fought hard to give me the right to simply say, "I am a gay filmmaker." I will proudly and thankfully accept that title.
I could not have said it better! Now, tell us about your film.
My film is called Stitch, and it's a short, all-for-charity, coming-of-age story about a young man who discovers a way to return to a false, idealized version of his past when the changes occurring in his life are threatening to take away the people and places who and that he loves the most. Massively inspired by similar life crises that I had been going through, the film pays homage to this odd gap between childhood and adulthood that seems to be a universal period of confusion for most people. It's a story about the process of learning to accept change; about the lengths we go to in order to preserve what we love; and about learning to let these treasures go so that new opportunities can enter our lives. The entire film will be presented through stop-motion animation. And beyond its narrative structure, the film offers a powerful message regarding the removal of the stereotyped and prejudice lens through which mainstream media perceives gay life. In addition, all proceeds from the film will go directly back into LGBT charity endeavors.
For those who don't know, what is "stop-motion animation" and why did you use it for your film? What is the significance?
In a nutshell, stop-motion animation is a process by which inanimate objects are physically manipulated frame-by-frame and photographed to create movement, like in The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline. So you move the figure, and then take a picture. Move the figure, and then take a picture. Repeat several thousand times, put all the pictures together, and you have brought these objects to life! Stop-motion animation has always captivated me. Growing up, I loved the aesthetic quality of animated pieces, like The Nightmare Before Christmas and the old holiday specials that were created with stop-motion. They all had that great "hand-crafted" look to them. You knew that those small figures, those scaled-down whimsical sets actually existed somewhere. And the imperfections within the animation only made them more special, more unique, and sort of creepy. As a kid it was like seeing your toys come to life. Nowadays everything is about achieving that "clean" look. Animators work tirelessly to get computer animation smoother and smoother, and somehow I find myself kind of turned off by it. I have always been a nostalgic person. I am very obsessed with the past. And I find myself, as a filmmaker, constantly wanting to return back to stop-motion because of all of those nuances that made it so special. Because of that distinctive aesthetic that now has become nostalgic in itself as the medium fades away. The film has a lot to do with childhood, with returning to the past. In keeping with the theme and plot of Stitch, the entire film will possess a visual quality reflecting upon the heightened and endless manner in which a child observes the world. I find I often return to elements of my childhood for inspiration: hunting salamanders until sunset, making forts in the trees, running home to beat the darkness into your mother's arms--so simple and yet so unforgettable. Every day was a new adventure. My team and I could not imagine any better way to capture the spirit of childhood and the nostalgia of growing up other than through stop-motion.