Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Turning to Tarantino for Divine Providence

There are two reasons why writer-director Anthony Ambrosino chose to make Quentin Tarantino a key part of the narrative of his feature debut Sleather, set to world premiere on August 14th in his hometown state at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in Providence. One was the undisputed indie film poster boy qualities of QT's meteoric rise from video store clerk to two-time simultaneous writer and director Oscar nominee. The other was more personal.

"Tarantino is one of my favorites," Ambrosino shares via interview with FilmStew. "I saw Pulp Fiction six nights in a row at the Park Cinema in Cranston when it first came out. I would be proud to be a top result in the near future when someone searches on Google for Quentin Tarantino Rhode Island." (Right now, some very random, unrelated results pop up.)

Providing some glorious inspiration

The basic storyline of Sleather is one we can all related to: caught between a current job at Audio Hut and a safe, conservative possible future at a local bank, Linus (Michael LoCicero) is instead encouraged by his two best friends to pursue his dreams. He decides to take them up on that challenge and eventually winds up trying to put into the hands of QT a copy of a personal screenplay.

The inclusion of Tarantino in the narrative and possible appearance in some form at the climax begs the obvious question: Did Ambrosino and his 989 Project producing colleagues get in touch with the filmmaker to obtain some sort of permission?

"A few messages were left with his management but no one ever returned our calls," Ambrosino explains. "So we said, 'Screw it!' We assumed we couldn't afford for him to play himself at the end anyway, but wanted Quentin to do a VO cameo in the movie."

Although Ambrosino has produced several other features and found substantial work more recently as a crew member on local shoots, the festival premiere of Sleather represents a welcome and wholly unexpected full-circle return to a labor of love. The goofy 89-minute comedy was shot entirely in Rhode Island over a period of two years, at a minimal cash cost of just $23,000.

"Over the last few years, we've watched the [Rhode Island] festival grow and gain notoriety as we were wrapping up production," Ambrosino shares. "We were pretty nervous that they had gotten too big for us."

Writer-director-producer Ambrosino

"In 2008, I had produced a film called Tricks of Love," he adds. "We had cast several name actors (Vincent Pastore, Natasha Lyonne) and I thought between the local connection, the cast and the technology (it was one of the first area films shot on the RED camera), that we would definitely get in. But we didn't."

"So when they accepted Sleather, we were stunned. We had a completely local cast - some of the cast are not even actors - and made the film for less than half of what was spent on Tricks. But someone saw something they liked. We are now one for three with RIIFF, as a short film we made and submitted in 2005 was also rejected."

As far as the meaning of the title Sleather, Ambrosino responds with the same level of plot-protecting secrecy that he applies to questions about whether Tarantino or an actor playing QT show up in the film. "A lot of people ask us about the title," he admits. "It stems from a pivotal conversation in the film that I'd rather not share with the audience. However, we have jumped through hoops to get the word out that Sleather is neither a horror film nor of an "adult" nature. Once we're rated, we'll probably end up with a PG."

Or perhaps, if Ambrosino is really lucky, a QT.


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