Close-Up chats to the director behind the winner of our Best Short Films Of 2022 award about his short film ‘A Better Half’, the challenges of shooting films related to mental health and the world of being a playwright.
Q: Hi Marco, welcome to Close-Up Culture and congratulations on winning the Best Short Film of 2022 on our short films list! Your short film ‘A Better Half’ is a moving and though-provoking piece and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. What was the inspiration behind the piece?
Hi! And thank you so much! At a time when patriarchy is finally being scrutinized, I felt encouraged to tell a story about one of its most tabooed dysfunctions. The story of Sean and Paul is a different take on a variation of patriarchy which is hardly discussed. I think the film takes a path that’s rarely traveled… Patriarchy teaches men to conquer at all costs, to achieve without looking behind, to live without a heart, and to avoid taking responsibility by never apologizing for anything.
A Better Half is a film that I felt I really needed to make, and I tried to do it for a long time. In the end, it took four days to write and four years to finish. It was not only hard because at that time I was very much involved with theater and plays, but also because it was hard to find the right people with whom I could take this journey. Very hard. Eventually, the right opportunity arose, and the right collaborators came. I still can’t believe that I was able to be on set during a pandemic.
Q: How did you manage such a sensitive topic of mental health, and what would you wish for this film to portray to the wider audience?
I always try to devote myself to stories that can challenge the audience’s beliefs. And my own as well, when I embark on the journey to tell them.
When I was writing and making A Better Half, it felt as if the film was rewriting me. It was a great experience and a powerful reminder of what film, theater, art, and writing can do and should do… to transform pain and secrecy into light, into community, and into understanding if not acceptance.
A Better Half is a film about denial and responsibility. About the bravery of speaking up, against silence, secrecy and shame. And about the painful path toward healing and forgiveness. I can only hope that the audience will stay with the experience of Paul and Sean for longer than 18 minutes. I hope that my film will be a catalyst to always remember to tell the truth! Always!
Q: What was it like to collaborate with the cast, which features the impeccable acting of Darren Pettie, Chris Stack and Marisa Tomei?
It was just incredible! We shot the film in Spring 2021 when we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a whole year in pandemic, and everyone was so excited to be at work on a set!
I already had the pleasure of working with Darren and Marisa on Broadway for the revival of Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo (I was the dramaturg.) While I’ve always admired Chris Stack, he’d been always on my mind to play the complex role of Sean.
What really made it special was that Chis and Darren were longtime friends already. The three of us were able to spend some time together before the shoot, not necessarily rehearsing, just getting to get to know each other — our intentions, our ambitions, our weaknesses… We also spent time navigating the script and its subtext, discussing the characters, their past, their trajectories, etc… That personal time together was really a blessing. Trust and confidence are necessary ingredients between a director and his actors, and only time off camera can give you that. So, we took it!
Q: Did you face any challenges whilst creating the short film and, if so, how did you work around these?
So many challenges, of course! Filmmaking is a life choice, and no matter how prepared you are, directing a film is about adjusting to situations while maintaining a clear vision. The biggest challenge was probably right after we finished production and we were about to enter post-production, the executive producer disappeared with all the money leaving everyone unpaid.
Needless to say, I had to seek legal advice. Thanks to a lawyer I consulted, I learned this was a common occurrence in the industry. I was stunned! I decided to hold off on post-production as I didn’t want to finish the film while most of my crew was still waiting to be paid. So, I had to find all the money by myself, and thanks to many generous friends and colleagues I was able to pay all the bills and finish the film. It was a devastating time, filled with uncertainties, panic, and doubt, but ultimately the film won out! In retrospect, those hardcore months were the best film school I could have possibly attended!
Q: Where did you take inspiration from for this film? Can you think of any directors or filmmakers who inspire you the most?
Andrea Arnold. Asghar Farhadi. Jane Campion. François Truffaut. Lucrecia Martel. John Cassavetes. Derek Cianfrance. Chloé Zhao.
Q: You’re a playwright alongside being a director and filmmaker – and have won many awards for this including the SIAE Prize for Best Playwright in 2011. Would you say that your two artistic passions go together, or do you think each requires their own, special skillset?
I used to think they were very similar, until the work itself proved me wrong. They are two different mediums, with two completely different skill sets. Theatre revolves around the word, cinema around the images. As a playwright, I’ve always been concerned with language and structure, while I feel incredibly liberated with films, as if I have lifted the lid of my creativity pot!
Q: If you had to sum up your career as a director in just 3 words, which would you choose and why?
Stage. Screen. Desk. (No matter the order, but always ad libitum!)
Q: As we’ve just entered a new year, can you tell us about any upcoming plans or any projects you have in the mix? Also, have you thought of any ambitions for the next few years that you wish to speak on?
I’m currently in post-production with my first feature film Best Place, produced by Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon at LD Entertainment (Judy, Jackie, Ben is Back, and many more.) Brazilian star Marco Pigossi in his first big American role is leading the cast, which includes Tony winner Bill Irwin, Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Emmy nominee James Bland, and Spirit Award winner Mya Taylor from the iconic Tangerine.
The story follows Lourenço, a Latino undocumented immigrant who falls in love with an African-American man while living in Provincetown, Massachusetts. These two young men feel like outcasts in a country they struggle to call home. Theirs is a story that celebrates connection and intimacy in a society and a community that don’t often encourage that, but Best Place is also a story of an education into the illusions of the American dream and the realities of the LGBTQ community, not immune to racial tensions. Ultimately, Best Place is a tale about belonging to a country, to a community, to someone else, and to oneself.
Hopefully, the film will have a great festival run and hit theatres early 2024. I also just finished a screen adaptation of one of my plays, and I’m about to embark on the journey of writing my next feature film.
I couldn’t hope for anything different and better for the years to come. To be constantly inspired, and to find strength and resilience in everyday work; to be surrounded by wonderful artists to collaborate with, and to be able to keep telling the stories of which I’m blessed to be the vessel.