Your new movie Stuck in the Middle - in a few words, what is
Stuck in the Middle is a comedy about a slacker who works in a dead end
mailroom job. He accidentally kills himself in a self-gratification
experiment gone wrong. He winds up in Purgatory and is assigned to work in
the mailroom. There he falls for his boss and with the help of his
dysfunctional co-workers must stop an evil mogul from closing Purgatory
and sending them to Hell.
Afterlife and purgatory have a rich tradition
in religion and literature/film alike - so to what extent do you rely on
previous interpretations of the afterlife, and have you done any research
on the subject?
We didnít do any research. I didnít want it to be based on anything
that was out there already. Basically my uneducated interpretation is we
are in Purgatory, living in some sort of limbo. Things could be better
(Heaven) and things can definitely be worse (Hell). So we are just living
right there in the middle waiting to see whatís next. Real deep, I know.
(Other) sources of inspiration for
Stuck in the Middle? And also, do talk about the writing process between the
two of you for a bit!
Joseph and Billy Pepitone
JOSEPH: The inspiration behind
Stuck in the Middle was my experiences
of going to Catholic school for half my life and working in offices the
other half. I thought setting it in Purgatory gave us the chance to have
no rules that we would have broken anyway. The relationship between
Michael (Stephen Fontana) and Brooke (Penelope Lagos) was based on my
wife, Christine and me. Basically how does a goofy, below average guy
get a beautiful, smart, strong woman? I still donít know how it
happened but it was fun to explore in a film.
The writing process between Joseph and myself is really a back and
forth. Basic premise on paper, then we funnel it back and forth and
tweak characters and dialogue till we feel it is a finished product.
Checks and balances so to speak.
What can you tell us about the
look and feel of your movie? And what does your version of purgatory even
We shot everything indoors because we wanted Purgatory to have that dull
office feel. No freedom of being outdoors. We didnít
want any beauty shots that would take away the vibe of impending doom.
Do talk about your co-director Carlos Duhaime
for a bit, and what was your collaboration like?
A lot of people contributed to this film, but without Carlos Duhaime, this
movie does not get made. I met Carlos by accident. He was filling in for
an editor I worked with at my day job. He was so good we wound up working
together all the time. We talked about films and his desire to shoot one.
I showed him my script and that started the process. He co-directed, shot
and edited the film. He had a two-man crew working with him, so the fact
that this movie not only got made, but also came out as good as it did is
a testament to how talented Carlos is.
Stuck in the Middle being a comedy - what can you tell us about the movie's
comedic approach, and how does it correspond with your personal sense of
Stuck in the Middle is what my brother, my friends and I find funny. A
lot of the lines or situations the characters get into are based on
things I did or said with my friends. We exaggerated some of it, but
itís stuff that made me laugh at some point in real life so we worked
it in. I wasnít worried about who it would offend because we make fun
of a lot of different groups.
A dry, warped sense of humor with no boundaries. Sort of macabre, in a
What can you tell us about your cast, and why
exactly these people?
Our cast was a perfect combination of new and veteran actors that played
off of each other. The lead had to be an exaggerated version of myself and
Stephen Fontana nailed it as soon as he walked into the audition. We
received hundreds of submissions for the lead female role. Penelope Lagos
headshot stood out and I knew she was ďBrookeĒ before she even
auditioned. Cash Tilton had a good audition but he blew me away when the
cameras rolled. We were lucky enough to get the veteran actors through our
producer Jeff Quinlan. He worked with Eric Etebari, Jeanette Roxborough,
Keith Collins [Keith Collins
interview - click here] and Jack Mulcahy on several other projects. They were all
amazing and gave the film legitimacy. There isnít a bad performance in
this film. The supporting actors like Evonne Walton, Samantha Rivers Cole
and Abigail Summa all steal their scenes and even my brother Billy has a
great scene with Etebari.
A few words about the shoot as
such, and the on-set atmosphere?
The shoot went surprisingly smooth considering this was our first film. We
finished in twelve days. The cast all got along real well and was really
patient and professional as we tried to find our way. We had one day where
a mic blew and kind of shut us down. Carlos and I struggled to get things
back up and running, so Eric Etebari who plays Jesus and has directed
several films jumped in. He got things on track and we rolled on from
there. So Jesus literally saved the film.
What can you tell us
about critical and audience reception of your movie so far?
We have gotten tremendous feedback from the film. Weíve had several
really positive reviews and during several screenings we had at festivals
the audience response was incredible.
future projects beyond
Stuck in the Middle?
We have several projects upcoming. We wrote two horror films that star
Keith Collins [Keith Collins
interview - click here] who was in
Stuck in the Middle: The Meat Puppet directed by Joe Valenti
and Gravedigger directed by Doug Bollinger are about to hit the festival
circuit in the fall. And we just finished a comedy script that takes us
back into the afterlife called Jersey Devil. We are talking to investors
and hope to start shooting that in the fall. I will probably direct that
one depending on timing.
go back to the beginnings of your careers - what got you into filmmaking
in the first place, and did you receive any kind of formal training on the
I have written and directed promos for television networks for many years.
I loved having a job where I could be creative. I always wanted to try
Stuck in the Middle was the opportunity to do that. I didnít care if
that was the only one I ever did, as long as we made it. Luckily we have
been able to make a few more and itís been a really rewarding experience.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
Stuck in the Middle?
Not much... there is none.
Stuck in the Middle is our introduction into the
You two have also written
the novel Soul of a Yankee with one another, right? So you just
have to talk about that one, obviously!
Soul of a Yankee is a Christmas
Carol/It's a Wonderful Life-type story
revolving around the life and career of former New York Yankee Joe
Pepitone, who happens to be our uncle. He is taken on a ride through his
life by "good angel" Lou Gehrig, and tempted by "bad
angel" Babe Ruth. It's a fun book with serious overtones and a life
lesson to be learned.
How would you
describe yourselves as writers and filmmakers?
I consider us writers first.
Stuck in the Middle was a perfect movie for
us to make first because it didnít require us to be great directors.
There werenít many locations or set ups and the cast just got it and
ran with it.
The bigger stuff we are writing we will leave in the hands of more
writers, whatever else who inspire you?
Kevin Smith is my favorite writer. He tells stories that you can relate
to and about people that you probably know. And itís just funny.
Thatís how I want to write. I think Mel Brooks is the one of the
greatest comedic minds ever.
Iím really into Christopher Nolan at the moment. He did an incredible
job reviving the Batman franchise and he really makes you think when
watching his films. I have also rediscovered Ian Fleming.
JOSEPH: Airplane, Chasing Amy, Boogie
Nights, and Rocky.
The Dark Knight-trilogy, Jaws, Superman (1978), the
Rocky-saga (except for 5), Airplane, Young Frankenstein.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
All the current big budgeted CGI action movies that have taken over the
film world. I was always a big action movie fan, but Iím not seeing
anything new. They lost me.
Batman and Robin, Superman 4, Jaws 3 and 4, and anything named
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
think we covered it all.
for the interview!
you for having us!!