Back in the 80’s, I ran Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret in Toronto, helping build the network of clubs across Canada and acting as agent for the amazing stable of stand-up comics represented by the YY-owned Funny Business Agency. One of those comedians was Frank Procopio, a handsome young Italian Canadian with a wry sense of humour and great writing chops. Skip ahead some 25yrs and I find myself again representing a Procopio, this time it’s Frank’s son, Joseph – a budding young filmmaker who starting making short films at age 9 and started winning international short film awards…at age 9!
Over the past few years, I’ve watched Joseph grow as a writer, director and an excellent casting director, too – he seems to know instinctively which actors can bring his stories to life. Frank co-produces with him and after 12 short films, over 40 int’l film festival awards and being named one of Canada’s top under 25’s by Maclean’s Magazine in 2011, at age 19, Joseph is now working on his first two feature film scripts and is already in talks with leading LA industry professionals. I figured it was time I sit down for a chat with this uber talent.
Starting at such a young age, were you aware that it was not “normal” for 9yr olds to be writing and directing their own movies? I had no clue that what I was doing was not normal. I just grabbed a video camera, started putting together my own little stories and began editing them on Windows Movie Maker. Thanks to my parents, I had computers and video cameras around me my whole life; I just saw them as the tools with which to tell a story. Watching movies with my family on a weekly basis inspired me to want to try making ne of my own.
Were you ever bullied or teased by your classmates or friends? I was the class outcast because I was making films when the other kids were playing hockey or baseball. As a kid, I didn’t play as much sports as my friends – I was doing a lot of film work on my own instead playing team sports. I had a few good friends and I guess they were okay with it; thankfully they weren’t making fun of me because I saw life through a camera.
How did your parents come to understand your need to make films – were they supportive and encouraging? My dad was always talking to us about films, telling stories and everything just fell into place. My parents brought me to point where I knew how to tell a story and that was how they really supported me, apart from providing the equipment and acting as crew (and my mum’s “craft services” is the best!). I didn’t have to wait for film school to learn how to write a script, light a scene, or how to polish an edit. My family supported me from the beginning and helped make my dreams a reality.
When you received your very first accolades and awards, what was your first reaction (if you remember)? When I received my first award for my very first film “Nine Times Eight” at TIFF, it felt like I was as the Academy Awards. I couldn’t wait to go back home and start filming another story. It felt as if I really was part of show business. I remember that night, when I got home, all I did was stare at that crystal award and I couldn’t believe that TIFF gave one to me.
Over the past 9 years, you have created some soulful, emotional shorts that were more mature in subject matter than your years. How would you explain your own capacity for “feeling” them, understanding them, then capturing these emotions on camera? All I was doing was filming exactly what I was feeling. For example, in my film “Drive” I was worried about my future and what would become of me, just like many teenagers do from time to time. And then when I started dating, what I felt after each breakup became my next film. I’ve continued to grab the camera to express how I felt and to get it out of my system.
While most young emerging filmmakers insist on making shoot ‘em up/bang-bang, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll movies, you have chosen to focus on story-driven and character rich scripts that you’ve written yourself – please explain your rationale behind this decision to go against the grain. All of my stories are rooted in the same emotions that I felt while I was growing up, for example: when I realized that I would be parting ways with a good friend who went away to university, I wanted to write about the possibility of meeting her again one day and what I would be feeling. That thought became the basis for “Sundae”. (see on-set stills below)
Your latest and last short film, Sundae, has already captured a major award (Rhode Island Film Festival 2013) and is slated to be screened at many other int’l festivals and the upcoming TIFF Short Film Fest – do you feel that Sundae is the perfect final short film in your repertoire? Sundae was the largest of all my projects and I wanted to create a “calling-card” film that would deliver an original screenplay, performed by ACTRA talent, shot on professional camera systems and edited/coloured/mixed at Technicolor. I wanted to deliver Sundae so that the only difference between this short film and a feature film was the page length of the material.
As you now move on to writing your first feature film script, do you feel all the previous work done has prepared you for filmmaking on a grander scale? My last four screenplays have allowed me to explore plot structure, character, and arc development which is now making the writing of my two feature screenplays much easier than I anticipated. Lately, I’ve been feeling that I can’t contain the stories in only a few pages and feel ready for the long form so I can really get into my characters.
Do you currently have any interested parties for your feature script(s) and/or who are your “mentors” moving fwd in your career? I’m currently in talks with a noted Hollywood mentor and well-known filmmaker with whom I hope to work, and I should have an announcement early in 2014. So watch this space for news!
Joseph’s Fast-5 Q&A
Favourite film? Forrest Gump
Favourite director? Steven Spielberg
Favourite period or style of filmmaking? 1990’s
Favourite actor/actress? Michael Caine
First purchase you plan to make once you hit that first big Hollywood payday? A bungalow on the Universal Studios back-lot.
Keep up with Joseph’s career via his website www.josephprocopio.ca and follow him on Facebook: ProcopioFilms