Filmmaker Q&A Thomas Della Bella

by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

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DCP:
When did your love for cinema begin?

 

Thomas Della Bella:
My love for cinema began at a very young age.  I grew up watching films like Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I specifically remember my Mom having to buy me multiple copies of Batman Returns because I used to watch it on repeat so many times that the VHS tapes used to wear down.  I really connected with Danny Devito’s Penguin and that film still remains one of my all time favorites.  I watched a lot of dark films growing up. I wasn’t the type of kid you would find watching Barney or cartoons in the morning.    

   

 

 

DCP:
What are some films, of any genre, that have impacted you the most and influenced you?

 

TDB:
As mentioned above - Batman Returns was huge for me growing up.  The visuals, the characters, the music and the story truly resonated with me.  I can literally recite that movie word for word frame to frame!  Ha!

 

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is also one of my big favorites.  It is one of those films that just kind of gets under your skin early on and stays there. The crescendo of the music, the cinematography and the acting is really just fantastic.  I’d say much of the cinematography in this film and Barry Lyndon  are big inspirations to what I strive to achieve on camera in my films.  I am a big fan of using long slow zooms and slow dolly/stedicam shots with wide lenses to build tension.

 

DCP:
Who or what inspires you?

 

TDB:
Stanley Kubrick is a huge inspiration on the craft side of filmmaking for me.  Everything he achieved in each of this films truly raised the bar from film to film. 

 

I’d also like to say that Tim Burton has always been a huge inspiration to me as well.  I love that from the opening frame of any of his films you immediately know that it’s a Tim Burton film.  I also really admire the team of collaborators that he has built over the years that really helps define his films.  I hope to one day jump into dark fantasy type films down the line! 

 

And finally I’d have to say that my Grandfather - Thomas Rosano has always helped to inspire me in my career.  I remember a few years back when I was in a Criminal Justice program in college and all I wanted to do was make films.  So one day, I had lunch with my Grandfather and told him that I wanted to leave the program and pursue filmmaking.  He was so incredibly supportive along with my family.  But, he said to me that day - “Find something you love and you will never work a day in your life.”  That thing for me was film - And one week later I was enrolled in a filmmaking program! 

 

DCP:
Can you talk about your film The Remains, what it's about, where did the story stem from, and the process of what it took to make it?

 

TDB:
Well, The Remains is a huge homage to the haunted house genre.  The film follows a family that moves into a Victorian house after their Mom passes away.  Soon after moving in, the two kids in the family find a chest in the attic while playing hide and seek.  They discover a slew of items including a pocket watch, a creepy doll and a old camera.  Essentially what follows is that each item attaches itself to a family member and slowly starts to posses them while pitting them against each other.

 

The story actually stemmed from a short film that I directed as my Thesis film in film school.  The short was a 13 minute film called Open House that we actually shot at the same location.  Essentially what happened was that I knew I wanted to make a horror short but I wasn't sure exactly which direction I wanted to go.  Then one day a friend of mine posted a picture of the house on instagram and I was stricken by its creepy beauty.  I am a HUGE sucker for Victorian houses and I asked her where it was.  She gave me all the information and I drove over to meet the home owners. They were so welcoming and were happy to show me around inside.  From that moment I crafted my short film based on what was available to me inside the house.  I raised $5,000 on kickstarter from friends and family and we were off to the races.  I’m super proud of the short and it did really well in the 2014 film festival circuit.

 

Now let me mention, that as I was in school and making the short - I was interning at Blumhouse Productions out here in LA.  They are basically the king of horror films with movies like Insidious, The Purge and Paranormal Activity.  So, as I PAed on their films and answered phones at the main desk I worked on my short. When it was finished, I showed it around the office and someone really loved it.  That someone was Chelsea Peters who at the time was Jason Blum’s assistant.  She immediately set me up to meet an independent producer named Eric Fleischman.  We grabbed lunch, chatted about the short and he asked for a feature version.  I quickly wrote the feature and his genre production company Diablo Entertainment run by himself and Sean Tabibian really loved the script.  A few months later we were in production and everything came together at rapid speed!  

 

Now jumping into actually making the film.  Let me start by saying the film was shot in 14 short days on a micro budget.  I was able to hand pick all the crew heads a build a true dream team to work with.  I brought back the DP of the short film who is so incredibly talented.  His name is Derrick Sims and it was truly a pleasure working with him on both films.  He basically moved into my apartment for two weeks during preproduction so that we could plan all the shots and lighting together full time.  We were so on the same page from pre-production to production that we developed a kind of short hand to communicate.  I was also incredibly lucky to pull an amazing cast together with my casting director Lindsey Wessimuller.  Todd Lowe (True Blood), Brooke Bulter (All Cheerleaders Die), Hannah Nordberg (General Hospital), Samuel Larson (Glee), Dash Williams, and Lisa Brenner (The Patriot) were all truly fantastic actors.  They are each so talented in their own way and I was really lucky to get to work with them.

 

DCP:
Do you yourself believe in the paranormal? Have you ever had an experience?

 

TDB:
I would say that I definitely believe in other realms and different manifestations of energy.  I don’t know that I believe in bumping into a ghost like you would see in a film but I truly believe that when something horrible like a murder or something evil happens at a location that it leaves it’s mark.  And that mark can be picked up by certain people.  I also believe that people with unfinished business that pass away suddenly leave certain fragments behind that influence their loved ones.  I’ve never had a paranormal experience myself but I have definitely had instances when the hairs on the back of neck stand up and I feel like someone is watching me. I think all of that type of stuff is considered paranormal.

 

DCP:
What are some important lessons you learned during the making of your first feature film?


TDB:
I learned that being a director on a feature with such a small budget was basically being a constant problem solver.  Every time something went wrong it was just my job to figure out the best solution as fast as possible.  On the next film, I’d love to have a bit of a longer pre-production.  I think the prep we had only lasted about two weeks and that went really fast.  I was only able to have one table read with the actors beforehand and that was difficult.  Many of the performances on set I was only able to get 2-3 takes of maximum because we had to keep moving forward with the schedule.  Thank the gods my actors were so talented!  And then also being the editor on the film - We would wrap each day after 12-13 hours and then I would rush home to edit the days footage to make sure everything worked.  The homeowners sold the house before we started production so once we wrapped filming new homeowners were coming in.  That basically meant no pickup shots weeks after.  Luckily, we didn't need any pickup shots at all and 98% of the footage we shot made it into the film!  I think only 1/2 a scene was cut out from the original script. 

 

DCP:
What is one thing about yourself that people would be surprised to know about you?


TDB:
Hmmm, that’s a tough one.  I’d have to say that my two favorite genre’s in film are horror and fantasy but, I do have a soft spot for Broadway musicals being from NYC. My mom used to take us to a lot of shows.  Specifically plays written by Mel Brooks that starred Nathan Lane.  That really opened up my love of everything musical.  So I think somewhere down the line, I’d love to give directing theatre a chance.  Not to mention that I break out into song at least 2-3 times a day while I’m at home or in the office.  My family and girlfriend think thats hilarious every time it happens.

 

DCP:
Can you talk about any projects coming up in the future?


TDB:
Yes!  So right now I am developing two different scripts.  I have a film called Cataclysm that is basically a sci-fi survival film set on a spaceship.  It follows a family of asteroid miners in the near future and things take a turn for the worst really fast.  The second project I’m working on is essentially a modern day spin on the exorcism genre with a big twist. Other than that, I am always looking for writers to collaborate with and hope to find some great scripts that are already written!  

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