Listener with a lens
09/21/2017 03:08PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
Sometimes in filmmaking, judging the availability of light is not the only timing issue that can screw everything up.
Earlier this year, in a response to an idea that had been rummaging around in his head for several years, filmmaker Gordon DelGiorno called his assistant and told her to see if baseball legend Pete Rose lived in Las Vegas.
DelGiorno, who began Film Brothers in 1999 with his brother Greg, was anxious to kick in on a new project, and although the Pete Rose Story -- or saga, or tragedy or whatever word one feels is most appropriate -- has been well-told, DelGiorno felt that every documentary and film project related to Rose was a shoddy repeat of its predecessor.
Rose was banned from Major League Baseball in 1989 after an avalanche of evidence proved that he had bet on the game, and since then, he has been the fodder of media speculation and discussion, particularly over whether his exploits on the field supercede his behavior off of it. While some contend that his more than 4,000 career hits deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, others say that he should carry his crime to his grave.
DelGiorno wanted a chance to tell the real story.
"I thought, 'Nobody has ever done a great interview with Pete Rose,'" DelGiorno said from the kitchen of the Avondale home he shares with this wife Cindy and their two small children. "The questions in all of the documentaries sounded all the same. My feeling was, 'Why isn't he in the Baseball Hall of Fame? You have wife beaters and murderers in the Hall and suddenly, this guy is the poster child of bad behavior? It was like a crucifixion."
DelGiorno received a phonecall from Rose's business manager. Yes, Rose was living in Las Vegas. Yes, he would be open to an interview. Accompanied by a cameraman, DelGiorno flew to Las Vegas, and visited Rose.
"The first question I asked Rose was, 'Do you think you're being used by Major League Baseball, Pete?'" DelGiorno said.
Absolutely, Rose answered. The interview was on.
"Then he said that when the Reds (Rose's long-time team, for which he played and managed) want 45,000 in attendance for Bobblehead Day, they call him, but he's not allowed near the batting cages or in the clubhouse. He told me, 'All I would do if I were allowed in would be to teach the young kids how to be better ballplayers.'"
In the video, you can hear Rose's voice crack.
The conversation continued. Rose was candid. DelGiorno had the old ballplayer's trust. He listened mostly, the way good interviewers do, and when he got back to Avondale, he put together a two-minute synopsis of the interview and pitched it to the filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who owns the rights to the Rose story. The Spurlock people were interested.
And then it happened.
Just weeks after the interview, a statement was filed in federal court in Philadelphia this summer that claimed Rose initiated and maintained a sexual relationship in the 1970s with a girl who was not yet 16 years old.
The film project remains on hold.
* * * *
The world that filmmaker Gordon DelGiorno lives in now bears little resemblance to that which surrounded him when he first began his film company 18 years ago. From nearly every angle of the DelGiorno home are the reminders that the kids are in charge here: Framed collages are filled with the magic marker meanderings from a young son and daughter. Pens and crayons and writing instruments protrude from a half dozen containers. More drawings and photos of birthday parties drip down the refrigerator.
In between the toys and the obligations of parenthood, DelGiorno, 50, has moved his company to the forefront of the local video production spectrum, with nearly 500 projects to its name that include commercials, short films, documentaries and a few feature-length films. In the last few years, despite Greg now in New York as a set builder for television shows and Gordon doing the bulk of the business, Film Brothers has gone from being a very reliable local presence to a road warrior. In addition to doing video work in Las Vegas (the Rose interview is only a part of his work there), DelGiorno has gone to Nashville to create a documentary about the singer-songwriter phenomenon in that city. He traveled earlier this year to Cinch Buckle Ranch in Broadus, Montana to interview a woman about her family and its history. He returned to Las Vegas for another project in September.
"From the beginning, we have been, first and foremost, storytellers, and I think we brought that to our business model," DelGiorno said. "It can be a television commercial for a pizza joint or a car dealer, or a documentary about an artist, everyone has stories, and it's our job to tell them. The trick is to tell the story, and get to it quickly."
DelGiorno stopped to take a phonecall from a client about a video he's creating for a non-profit organization. To watch him negotiate his way through the caller's requests with ease is to reflect on his humble start, 18 years ago, when he spent $5,000 on his first camera in order to make his first film. There are no film schools listed on his resume, no summers spent fetching sandwiches for Bogdonavich or Spielberg or Soderbergh. To acknowledge the career that DelGiorno has made is to have seen the cultivation of soft skills, melded with a desire to create work that tells good stories.
DelGiorno connects people to opportunities. His Rolodex of actors, producers, writers, technical engineers and major players is likely thicker than any of his peers and, at a time when the Delaware-based film and video production business can be compared to a school of sharks clamoring for a single fish, it is normal to see DelGiorno's competitors working alongside him on projects -- camera operators and sound and light people.
"Everybody who knows me in this business, knows that I am a collaborator," DelGiorno said. "I work with my competitors, the right ones who can say, 'Let's work together,' instead of those who choose to horde things for themselves. It's a collaborative energy that's helped me get to where I am now. Somehow, probably through having developed a thick skin over the years, I've been able to handle a lot of egos and gotten them to all work together.
"Unlike a lot of people who look at competition as a threat, I welcome it."
He has also learned how to listen. Those who listen, he said, tend to be the best storytellers, and he uses the skill when he's behind the camera, guiding the many interviews he does through the process of LAMA: Listen, acknowledge, make a statement and ask questions.
"In high school, I was very shy around girls and I didn't know how to talk to anybody, but through time and teaching, I learned how to be a better communicator," DelGiorno said. "You just have to be able to ask people questions and do it in a non-intrusive way. It's a way to get the nuances and move the conversation forward, and open doors. It's creating the ebb and flow."
When DelGiorno lived in Wilmington, very often when he would leave a job it would linger, given his proximity to the work. Now, the half-hour ride he makes from Avondale to his workspace at The Mill in Wilmington clears his headspace.
"The distance I drive from Wilmington to Avondale has made me a more patient person, and a better filmmaker, because it's slowed me down," he said. "When I was living in Wilmington, I would pop open a laptop at a coffee shop and there was always someone coming up and striking up a conversation. The noise never seemed to go away. Living in Chester County definitely comes with a lot less distractions. Being a father and a filmmaker can only make your stories more rich. With that, I think my work has become more mindful."
Ten years ago, Gordon and Greg DelGiorno got the crazy idea to begin their own film festival. "Named "Festival of Shorts," it was originally screened at Theatre N in Wilmington and has for the past several years been held at the Delaware Art Museum, and features an eclectic group of short films by filmmakers around the world -- including "God of Love" by Wilmington filmmaker Luke Matheny, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2011. Now in its tenth year, the annual festival will take place at the museum on Oct. 6 and 7.
His projects are now either in production or on the table. One of them, six completed 22-minute episodes of "Getting Even," was originally produced in 2003 as a film about senior citizens getting revenge. DelGiorno calls the story "'The Golden Girls' meets 'The Sopranos'" -- and he's currently trying to get it into the hands of investors.
In 2015, he created the 30-minute documentary "Slavery's Children," produced by Michaelangelo Rodriguez, that told the intimate story of four Delawareans who lived through -- and triumphed from -- varying types of slavery: A gay man abused by his boss; a transgender; a young girl told white fairy tales by her slave owner family; and a woman who told the story of how she was sold into prostitution by her mother as a child.
"When the woman was nine years old, her mother pimped her out as a prostitute, and when I first heard of story, I thought about my kids," DelGiorno said. "I thought about the brutality of it. I thought about a little baby living out of phone booths and laundromats with her drug addict mother."
He listened as the woman told her story, and he kept the camera running, as she took him to the beach where as a child she was sexually assaulted 30 years ago. The camera captured the woman reaching down to the beach and pulling up sand. The camera caught the woman raising her arms toward the tumbling waves of the sea.
"In the end, my job is to get to the emotional need when I interview someone, even if it's a client who is selling bricks. 'Tell me your story,' I ask them," DelGiorno said. "It's been a weird, weird ride -- a long and strange trip and in a lot of ways, it's scary.
"But mostly, it's been beautiful."
To learn more about Film Brothers and the Festival of Shorts on Oct. 6 and 7, visit www.filmbrothers.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.