Gerry Ferretti is a filmmaker, playwright, actor, and singer who is best known as the writer and director of “The Mark” and the founder of The New York Long Island Film Festival (NYLIFF) that annually showcases films with ties to Long Island and/or the Tris-state area.
Gerry started out working in local theater, then wrote three murder mystery dinner shows that have been performed throughout New York since 1991 and after writing numerous screenplays, converted his screenplay for “Bridge The Gap” into a musical play. From there, he produced a feature length film titled “The Mark” which tells the story of a hitman who gets contracted to hit himself! Gerry also created the “Nobodies” comedy web series that was delivered in talk show format. Gerry is also an active songwriter and band member in The Mutant Kings.
This year, NYLIFF is taking place in Seaford. Gerry recently discussed his career and the film festival via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for writing and why did you gravitate towards the theater first and foremost?
Gerry Ferretti (GF): I actually knew I had talent as a writer in my childhood I just never believed it was something you could actually pursue. I come from a family that generally pushed monetary gain over passion and for many years believed anything in the arts was something you pursued “on the side”. I began to act on my passions after high School (was too shy during HS) and then became more involved in theater, again believing that since there were local playhouses that film was too lofty a goal.
MM: How did you get involved with making murder mysteries and how did you go about getting them staged?
GF: My theater involvement made me fall in love with acting so I began to take classes. Eventually I auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and when I got in I began to re-evaluate my career choice – at the time I was a young real estate broker. From this point on I pursued acting in earnest and met a producer of murder mysteries who cast me in the lead role of Inspector Clouseau. We worked together for a year or so and then he moved out of state. So, I sat down and wrote my own murder mystery. An Italian comedy called “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” It became a huge hit and I ended up writing 2 more scripts. After 10 years performing these shows all over New York, I moved on to other projects, but on occasion I still put the shows on for fundraisers etc.
MM: When did you first get interested in making movies and how did you get the funding to start producing?
GF: Movie making has probably been the underlying goal my whole life. Sometimes you just have to reach the point in life where you realize, HEY, I can do this! I had written a few screenplays following my murder mystery success and after meeting a Long Island filmmaker, he and I decided to produce my script for “The Mark.” We were pursuing name actors and were on our way to getting started, when we came to an impasse on how the story would unfold. We had agreed that if either of us wanted to break the contract before a certain point in production, that we could. It is the tough part about this business, knowing how to separate what “will make money” from “how you passionately feel the story should be told”. I figured that while I still could, I was going to hold true to my vision, and we parted ways. Of course, now I was back to square one, with no money and no idea how this would proceed. But one thing I was sure of was that I was making this film! As a recent cancer survivor my entire outlook on life had changed and I was not going to be denied. I reached out to friends in the industry, actors, cinematographers, and anyone and everyone who could help, donate a location or even just feed us! I am most proud of the work my cast and crew did on this film. “The Mark” is a first time ultra-low budget feature, funded by myself and a close friend who took a step of faith in me, when even family said I was crazy and didn’t believe. I am very proud of what we accomplished.
MM: What are the major differences between working in theater and movies?
GF: Theater you have to be BIG, and project, and reach your audience. Film picks up everything. It’s about close-ups and every minute detail. I am someone who is comfortable both on stage and in front of the camera. But the camera is forgiving. Screw up? Just do it again. But on stage? You don’t have that luxury. They are both full of energy, just a different kind. And directing is different for both. I have directed stage and screen and have had such wonderful experiences with both. I love working with actors and helping them find the character/moment/emotion/comedy. The whole creation process is what I love more than anything.
MM: What led you to start the New York Long Island Film Festival (NYLIFF) and what are the challenges associated with keeping it going?
GF: Well basically I believe talent is being overlooked because of technology. Technology is a wonderful thing and has opened the doors to so many people being introduced to this industry, but I find many filmmakers are more concerned about what camera you used, what editing software, and what your budget was/special effects were etc. I feel story has often become secondary. In mainstream films as well. I think martin Scorcese just got a lot of grief for expressing similar notions. Many film festivals won’t accept films that aren’t up to a certain budget level. I use this analogy. Elvis walked into a studio in 1954 with a guitar slung on his back and became the biggest star the world has ever known. Today, he would be told to come back after he spent thousands to record a perfect, polished demo! It’s similar in the film industry. So, I am hoping NYLIFF will open doors to creative artists and storytellers, create networking options and give opportunity to the next diamond in the rough filmmaker or star with a story to tell.
MM: How did you decide on the categories to award and the genres?
GF: My judges and I worked tirelessly to review each film submitted and discussed options that would be fair and would recognize the work, without establishing a “best” mentality. I feel the same about the Oscars. Determining a single best film is abstract to me. The diversity of tastes and opinions lead me to want to forge a field of recognition. I am certainly not an “everybody gets a trophy” guy, but I think with the sheer numbers it is often random opinion and politics that determine who is best. I wanted NYLIFF to stay out of that.
MM: How do you find the films to screen and how many are featured annually?
GF: We created a website, www.nyliff.com and put the word out on social media and Film Freeway, which is a network that helps promote film festivals. We are screening just under 40 films and shorts, but received dozens more than we had room for. We actually had to add time to the festival, because we had such a great response. We are already planning a bigger event in 2020.
MM: Is there a red-carpet event associated with the opening and how many venues are the films shown in?
GF: We have a step and repeat setup with a red carpet at the Seaford Cinemas and there will be photo ops throughout the festival. We will be opening on November 7th at 7 pm with a snacks and refreshments red carpet opening at 6pm. All of the films will be shown at the Seaford Cinemas from 11/7-11/9 and The Mark will be the kickoff event the night before on 11/6/19 at 7pm. The festival is five blocks and each block has a feature film and numerous shorts. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights run 7pm-930pm and Friday and Saturday afternoon from 2-430pm.
MM: Which films have made the biggest impact on you and why?
GF: Without a doubt “Rocky” is the film that influenced me the most. The underdog, the hopes and drive that make a person aspire for more. The hardships we endure and the ways we overcome. Add a love story and there you have it. Rocky captured it all, and Sylvester Stallone’s story has kept me motivated my whole life. I am not a star struck guy, but I would love the opportunity to meet him one day or maybe even work together!
MM: How do you hope the NYLIFF evolves and expands in the future?
GF: We have big plans for NYLIFF and are planning events in other towns as well. We are just hopeful it continues to grow, provide opportunity for filmmakers, the community and everyone who is passionate about this industry.
MM: What is coming up next for you?
GF: Rest! ok…maybe five minutes, then back at it. I am in pre-production of a short film called “Essence” that I wrote and will be filming over the next few months. I am writing a sequel to “The Mark” and I plan to get back and do a few episodes of my comedy You Tube series “Nobodies In Cars Running Errands” – a spoof of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” and the off-shoots “Nobodies Talking Baseball” and “Nobodies talking….just about anything” you can look these up on You Tube. And I also have a band. The Mutant Kings is my band which I created from the play I wrote called “Bridge The Gap,” about four musicians who reconnect in their 50’s after decades apart, and they have a hit song. But when the song hits, everyone thinks it’s recorded by four 17 year olds, not 55 year olds! I wrote all the music for the play and now the band plays out doing covers from the 50s to today and originals. And of course, the week after the festival we will be getting to work on NYLIFF – 2020! So, yeah…I’ll be busy. Hopefully I will see you in a theater, a cinema, at a festival or catching our band somewhere.
To learn more, visit www.NYLIFF.com for more info and a description of the festival.