Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Princeton NJ. My parents moved to this country shortly after WWII.
My mother from the small hill top town of Pettoranello in the Molise region of Italy and my father, from Isernia in the same region. In a fortuitous chain of events, someone from my mother’s town found out that Princeton University was expanding.
With that expansion, the need for masons, woodworkers, landscapers, and craftsman exploded. So many people migrated to the US, that Princeton/Pettoranello are now known as Sister Cities.
How were the Arts introduced to you and at what age?
The arts have always been a part of my family. My father was a wood carver and did restoration work in the Vatican before moving to this country. My mother designed and made clothing.
My sister studied art. I just wanted to make people laugh. I remember lip-syncing to opera as a kid. My first acting role came in grammar school.
How did your career as a Filmmaker begin?
My first venture into filmmaking came in 2000. I had recently moved to Los Angeles and found that most people talked about what they wanted to do, yet did not take steps to actually do anything.
I came up with the idea for a short film, approached a close friend and fellow actor, Patrick Hillan, my future producing partner, Laura Delano, and we set forth to make it happen.
My first short, Going Home, was the result. This was well before the digital explosion and the film was shot on 35mm.
Did you have formal training?
No, but the experience of working on Going Home and shooting on 35mm became a year long crash course in filmmaking.
It gave me the basics of process and visual storytelling. I have always believed that one can learn only so much with any formal training.
Aristotle was quoted, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” For me, working with talented people who are professionals in their fields while absorbing real world knowledge was invaluable.
Did you have a support system when embarking on your creative journey?
I have always been lucky to have people around me whom I respect and am humbled that they continue to support my ventures. I am also fortunate to have support and honesty from these people which keeps me striving to be better.
In your latest short film – THE KEEPER – you wear the hats of Writer/Director/Actor. How did this story evolve for you as the Writer?
I believe stories find you, not the other way around.
The Keeper is so vastly different from my other projects. I now whole heartedly believe this to be true.
The initial idea came to me from listening to my wife recount one of her crazy dreams. Yes, she has bizarre dreams.
After I wrote the script, I had Laura read it. She put the script down and said “This taps into too many of my fears. I’m not sure I can help you produce this.” The next day she said, “I keep thinking about that script.”
The journey began. What happens when two people, who are looking for two different things, meet? Living in a hectic world we can easily lose sight of the fact that we yearn for connection. Does the longing for these connections make us take more risks? At what cost?
I’m fascinated with watching people and how they move through a space. I like to catch snippets of conversations, some of which I used in the script. It is amazing to me how unaware or oblivious people are to what is happening around them.
The reality is that we live in a world where some of our most personal moments are “Shared” with “Friends”. We are much more captivated by flashing notifications on our mobile phones than what we are actually living.
Did you immediately know that you wanted to Direct the film since you were also an Actor in it?
It was always my intent to direct the film.
It was not my initial plan to be in it as well. That idea developed over the course of writing the script.
Did you write the part of Robert with you in mind?
No. The idea to play the part came after the script was finished. In hindsight, I suppose I did imbue him with more of my views than I realized. I knew him, and knew exactly what I wanted him to be. I normally do not write with specific actors in mind. I think it opens up more possibilities in casting the project. However, I did write the character of Celeste with Betsy Adkins-Johnson in mind. I knew she would be perfect for the film.
Tell us about your short film FIGS OF ITALO – which you Wrote and Directed. What made you want to tell this story?
Many of us have grown up hearing about our families’ histories. Some of these events of the past have the power to affect and alter lives. I have heard my family’s stories of the time during and after World War II my entire life.
Figs For Italo is based on an eventful day in my mother’s life when she was just 15. It is a story that had a deep impact on her and she dwells on it to this day, as if it happened yesterday.
I felt that it was important to preserve the story and pass it down to future generations. It was my way of acknowledging the strength of others who have gone before us, and have given us the opportunity to be here.
BROOKLYN IN JULY – along with being the Writer and Director – you added the Producer hat. How is being a Producer on your film different for you than when someone else has the title?
As partner in DelanoCelli Productions, I am always producer on the projects we do. Producing is laying the ground work so that the entire production moves smoothly. As partners we tackle it together and it goes much smoother.
I find it helpful to have squared away all the preparation before filming, and that includes having Plans A through Z for
every location. That way if an issue appears on set, I have a better handle on how it can be addressed and dealt with.
I also have the extra luxury of being able to hand off the producing reins to my partner, Laura Delano, once we start production so I am able to concentrate on the directing.
BROOKLYN IN JULY packs a punch that leaves audiences with powerful emotions. What was your catalyst for writing this script?
My inspiration for this film was the song, Brooklyn In July, by Joe Crookston. The song is based on true events. In the past few years incidents of racial bias have begun to get the media attention that is long overdue.
It has always been my belief that people are taught how to be hateful. It is this learned behavior that I hope to portray with this film.
Now more than ever, I feel it is important that we as artists continue to make films that dig into the issues many would like to ignore. I feel it is imperative to relate the histories, stories, and legacies that continue to influence current events.
We all need to stay conscious and aware of this ingrained and regrettably long history of racism in order to change things for the better. Often a film, a painting, a piece of music, or a play can open people’s minds in a way a debate or news clips cannot.
So many Indie Filmmakers BIGGEST hurdle in getting their film made is financing. How do you go about raising money to make your films?
Ahh…financing, the bane of any artist’s existence.
The short answer? Family, friends, and crowd funding. It started quite awhile ago while we were producing off-off Broadway plays.
We have been fortunate to have the support of a lot of people for a long time.
Each Actor in your films create a unique character. Some so deeply raw with emotion. How did you go about casting and where do you find your pool of talent?
I have cast actors I know personally and have worked with before and also through recommendations and when necessary through open casting sessions.
As a writer, I strive to put that motion on the page for the actor. As a director, the most important thing I can do is to hire the right person for the role. It makes the process so much easier. Once you have the right actors in the roles, it becomes a matter of shaping the performances to support the story you want to tell.
Sometimes, that means going against your first choice. Case in point, Thaddeus Daniels was not my first choice for Frank in Brooklyn In July. He was slated to play Frank’s father.
We were preparing a crowdfunding platform and Thaddeus signed on to help film a short teaser portraying Frank.
While cutting the footage together, my only thought was I would be insane not to cast him as Frank. We were on the same page from day one about what was needed to bring the character and story to life and tell it as sincerely as possible. Now I cannot imagine the film without Thaddeus.
What film created your biggest obstacles in shooting?
Each film has its challenges, for sure. But off the top of my head I would say that Figs For Italo presented a few Everests.
Finding a pre WWII train we could shoot on, working with thirty plus extras to create the truthful atmosphere needed for the bombardment scene, getting cast and crew out to California (standing in for Italy) on a shoestring budget, and finding Italian speaking actors so they could speak in the close to extinct dialect of my mother’s home town.
Do you scout your own locations?
Always. It gives me a much clearer handle on exactly what and where I want to shoot once I get to set. I normally go to the location multiple times, take photos as well, and play with possible shooting angles.
What film surprised you most as the Writer/Director?
I would have to say Brooklyn In July.
I knew going in it was going to be a hard film to watch and I purposely made it that way, but I was not prepared for the film to have the impact it has had on audiences.
What is your process as the Director of a Film working with your Actors? Your process with your Cinematographer?
Depends on the individual. The bottom line is “treat people the way you want to be treated”. Give and take, be open to suggestion, build trust, and push each other to be better.
It’s not a competition, it’s about the project. The only one you should be in competition with is yourself, to make yourself better. I have worked with my DP, Ken Kotowski, on three projects. We spend many hours before any filming begins discussing all aspects of the project. We have built a friendship and a great working relationship to the point where we finish each other’s sentences on set. Yes, it’s weird, but we push each other to be better. That’s important.
Is there any one message you hope people walk away with after viewing a Bob Celli Film?
“Give this man a job!” Lol
But seriously, I want the audience to come in, take a journey, and to maybe have their hearts opened and to feel something… love, loss, laughter, pride. I also hope the film stays with them. It has always been my test of a good film, does it stay with you after you leave the theater?
What are you currently working on for your next project?
I recently “finished” a feature length script about a career soldier dealing with the long term effects of war, coming to terms with his loss of belief in what he is doing, and looking for a way he can make things right. I also have two short scripts in the works.
Lastly, of all the hats you wear in your films – which one is your favorite?
Lol…I love all the hats! I started out as an actor, so that remains dear to my heart. In projects that I have written, I would have to say that I love to wear the Director’s hat.