NYFA: Tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you into film production?
Julie Pacino: I’ve always had a passion for filmmaking. As a child I was always making little shorts with my friends and writing stories to act out. I remember visiting film sets as a kid and always being incredibly intrigued by the alternate reality that I was stepping in to. Making movies and watching movies was always very therapeutic for me. I liked being sucked into a story, falling in love with the different characters and ultimately learning something about my own desires and myself. I feel very fortunate that I knew from an early age that I wanted to work in the film business.
I met my producing partner, Jennifer DeLia, in Austin in 2009. After sharing some of my writing with her, we decided to collaborate on a short film that I directed called Abracadabra. Jen produced it and acted in it. She was such a solid creative producer and my experience on set was invaluable. After working so well together on Abracadabra, we decided to start our company Poverty Row Entertainment. Jen had just started shooting her directorial debut feature Billy Bates and when she shared some of the footage with me I was blown away by her style of storytelling. It was, and is, unlike anything I’ve seen before; so unique, visceral and expressive. There was still work to be done on BB. Footage to be shot, money to be raised and all of post-production left. So, Jen and I finished producing the film together, screened it at some festivals, and secured U.S. distribution. The movie is set to come out in theaters this November and I could not be more proud of how it turned out.
We’re currently in development on a feature about the life of Mary Pickford entitled, The First, starring Lily Rabe, Michael Pitt and Julia Stiles. As a production company, we have produced music videos and commercials as well. The short format work we do is so much fun. It’s great to be able to work on something from start to finish and have that on-set experience. I learn something new every time.
NYFA: What drew you to NYFA as an aspiring filmmaker and producer?
JP: I grew up in New York and always knew about NYFA. I love how NYFA attracts people from all across the world. I also remember reading on the NYFA website that students get to make their short films on an Arriflex 8mm camera and I was like, “Okay sign me up.” The idea of learning how to shoot on a film camera seemed like such a great opportunity to me since seemingly everything is digital now. I love the silent b&w shorts I made at NYFA. I met some close friends there as well!
NYFA: What lesson in particular did you learn while at NYFA that you continue to apply to your professional career?
JP: I learned a lot at NYFA but I would say the most important thing was something they told us on the first day of classes—“The more sleep you lose during pre-production, the smoother your shoot will go.” Preparation is so important if you want to have a successful shoot. As a producer, making sure that you’ve got all your bases covered and anticipating any potential problems is really the key. Of course, there are some things that you just can’t plan for and then it’s all about how you deal with the stress, how you troubleshoot and how you come up with a solution. That’s the challenging part, but who doesn’t like a good challenge?
NYFA: Some of the projects that your production company Poverty Row has produced actively tackle issues of gender, sexuality, identity, and how these universal issues relate to art, such as Billy Bates and the upcoming film about Mary Pickford. What draws you and your producing partner Jennifer DeLia to these themes?
JP: We love to explore the psychology behind our characters. Billy Bates is the portrait of a tortured artist who’s in the thick of reconciling his past and dealing with his inner demons. He’s able to channel those feelings into his art and create something tangible. Similarly, The First is also a portrait of an artist. Mary Pickford is experiencing the beginning of film as a creative medium as well as what it means to be the first celebrity of all time. It’s about how she processes the world around her and how she uses her inner turmoil to fuel her creativity. We all deal with insecurities and struggles when it comes to any type of identity so these themes are very relatable. It’s an opportunity for us as filmmakers to offer our perspective on the creative process and what it means to overcome adversity and initiate change in oneself.
NYFA: Poverty Row’s upcoming production of Scott Organ’s play Phoenix is a story centered around a one-night stand that evokes a compulsion in the male lead, Bruce, to re-connect with his one-off paramour Sue who states that they never can repeat the experience. What themes in Organ’s play attracted you to bringing it back to the stage?
JP: We read a lot of great plays before making our decision this summer. Phoenix ultimately presented the most opportunity for character exploration, and felt the most open to interpretation and development. Scott Organ is such a talented writer. His material is subtle, but with really fascinating nuances for Jennifer DeLia (director), Julia Stiles (Sue) and James Wirt (Bruce) to sink their teeth into.
The play explores sexual identity and the journey of these two people discovering what it means to get to know one another. There’s a lot of projecting that goes on in relationships and Phoenix is a nice reminder that connecting with someone and truly knowing who they are shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are also some really interesting themes about the nature of the universe and how fate affects our lives.
The fact that it’s a two-hander is exciting because the audience gets to spend time getting inside these character’s heads. It’s dark and deep but at the same time, very funny.
NYFA: You’ve worked with James Wirt, who plays the male leads in both Billy Bates and Phoenix. What about him as an actor has drawn you to casting him?
JP: Jimmy is so fun to watch because you never know what he’s going to do. He brings an element of surprise to all of his roles and that makes him electric, especially on stage. He’s able to translate his character’s internal conflict into something that the audience can relate to. He’s got something special and is a rare talent. One of the best out there right now!
NYFA: On a similar note, Julia Stiles stars opposite James in Phoenix. What do you feel she is able to bring to this production that other actresses might not?
Julia is a true professional and so collaborative. She started in theatre, she’s done Shakespeare, she’s done Mamet, and so her experience really shows. Her presence on stage is astounding. The way she uses her body to express, as well as her ability to bring the words in the script to life, is unique and exciting to watch. On top of all that, her and Jimmy have great chemistry so it’s a perfect fit for the show!
NYFA: Do you have any parting words of advice for NYFA students hoping to form their own production company?
JP: Filmmaking is a long process. Patience and communication are very important skills to work on. As filmmakers we are responsible for the images that we put out into the world, so make sure to tell stories that are meaningful to you… Oh, and don’t forget to have fun.
Nicholas Jabbour presents PHOENIX Off-Broadway, starring Julia Stiles and James Wirt.
Producers: Poverty Row Entertainment, Rian Patrick Durham and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
PHOENIX will be at the CHERRY LANE THEATRE, in the West Village. Performances begin July 28th, and it has a limited run through August 23rd. PHOENIX is written by Scott Organ and directed by Jennifer DeLia.