An Interview with Executive Producer Gino Cafarelli: The 1980s, Cars, and the NY Mets

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A few days ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Gino Cafarelli, the executive producer of the upcoming feature film Cruise. The movie was written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, who gained critical acclaim for his work on The Wrestler and for his indie hit Big Fan (which featured Gino Cafarelli alongside Patton Oswalt). Cruise will star the radiant Emily Ratajkowski, who Gino was quick to point out is as talented as she is stunning. The feature film was based on the Gino’s short film Franny Lew.

Cruise and Franny Lew both take place in Queens, NY in the 1980’s, so naturally both feature the Mets heavily. Gino himself is a huge Mets fan who was heartbroken with the rest of us when he witnessed the Royals clinching the World Series in Game 5 at Citified.

Check out the ‘Franny Lew’ Pitch Presentation

 

B&O: Franny Lew features the Mets heavily – how intentional was that? How much will the Mets play into the feature length film, Cruise?

GC: When you grew up in Queens, maybe a 5 minute drive from Shea, you are an automatic Mets fan. I was able to go to [the Stadium] and see players like Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, and Tom Seaver. They were like superheroes in orange and blue; they were larger than life. The short I directed was in 2012, and if you pay close attention to the beginning of the short, you will notice that I’m wearing a backwards Mets cap commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the team. With it being the 50th anniversary of the franchise, I really wanted to make sure to pay homage to the team and my childhood. The flashback sequence in the short also features some Mets gear because it takes place in the summer of ’86 – and of course the Mets were red hot at the time. The characters in [Cruise] are from Whitestone, and their stomping grounds will be Franny Lew, also making them automatic Mets fans. The Mets won’t necessarily ‘play into the film’, but you’ll know the guys are Mets fans – and there will be some great little jokes in the film about the Mets.

B&O: Aside from the autobiographical nature of the film, what do you think the Mets overlay contributes to the mood of the film?

GC: The short film that I originally made took place in the summer of 1986 – before the Mets had actually won anything. The movie takes place in the summer of ’87, and I think the “winner’s attitude” of being a world champion comes through in some of their enthusiasm. After they won it in 1986, you were pumped and walked around the neighborhood with your head up.

B&O: Do you think that is coming back at all with the success of last year? Do you see this current team bringing a championship back to Queens?

GC: Absolutely. I saw a lot of the same heart in the team last year that I saw in the ‘86 team. Of course those 1986 Mets will never be completely replicated; they were a lot crazier – very different – but you can feel that same ‘Mets Magic’. Also, the re-signing of Cespedes is exciting. Hey, we didn’t win it all in 2015, but you had to be extremely grateful as a Mets fan just to be back in the World Series. It was a huge year for me because I got to experience that and I was filming a movie. I was like a kid and life was my candy store. I can see them winning it all in 2016, and it would be appropriate – a little bit of that ‘Mets Magic’ – to do it thirty years later. It’s actually great that we got to talk today, because the other night I was able to go to 30 year anniversary celebrating the 1986 team at the Swan Club.

B&O: Awesome! Can you tell us about that experience a little? How was the buzz surrounding the present-day Mets at the event?

GC: The event was amazing. My wife surprised me with tickets to the event and nearly the entire roster – maybe 27 players – were there. I got to mingle and take pictures with guys like Ray Knight, Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez. Don La Greca of [The Michael Kay Show] was there, he did a great job hosting a panel discussion with about seven or eight of those players and they talked for a bit about the current day Mets and their success. I also had a brief discussion with Keith Hernandez about the chances of the Mets winning it all again in 2016, and he shared that same hope and belief.

B&O: Do you have a favorite Mets player from those 80’s teams?

GC: I was always torn, but in general, I was fan of the big bat. I loved that one player that could just hit one out of the park at any moment, so I always a fan of Dave Kingman and Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry was my guy. You just had a feeling, when the bat was in his hand, that it would just take a quick little swing and the ball would be out of the park. It was always fun to see him hit one over the wall.

Gino and Strawberry pose for a picture at the 30th anniversary celebration

Gino and Straw

B&O: So you must be a pretty big fan of Yoenis Cespedes?

GC: I gotta tell ya – I was at his very first game at Citifield, and you could just feel the energy shifting. I think it started with the whole Flores thing. I was there the Friday night when [Wilmer Flores] hit that walk-off homer to win the game and, as a fan, you started to feel something in the air; something special was going on with this team. When they brought in Cespedes the energy just built and that something felt a little crazier. That environment started to feel like Shea. I went to Greece in September as that momentum built, and we were in the heart of that run for the playoffs, but I had my iPad set-up so I would watch every game. I just remember Cespedes hitting home runs almost every night. It was crazy. There were a couple bombs; I remember one against Atlanta that he just absolutely crushed. It was exciting.

Wilmer Flores drills a walk-off home run. I’ll use any excuse to re-watch this one!

B&O: It definitely sounds like you are a die-hard fan. Were there any moments of doubt during those down years?

GC: OK – so I have little confession to make; in the late 90’s I was in group that made a song for the New York Yankees. It was crazy how the whole thing happened; we were actors/comedians working the comedy clubs and doing dinner theater in New York City. My buddies wrote a Christmas song called “The Twelve Days of a Guido Christmas” and one of the lyrics to the song was, “My Paesan gave to me: seven Piazza Jerseys.” When I heard the song I thought “Hey, this is pretty funny. I probably could probably get this on the air.” We were able to get the song played on 103.5 WKTU and I devised a plan to put together a CD and sell it online, which was a new concept at the time. So we put some other songs together, one of them being a tune called “Haya Doin’?” and we retailed it at the San Gennaro festival. Towards the end of the event, one of the Yankees coaches gives us a call and tell us that the team, the New York Yankees, loved the CD – particularly the “Haya Doin’?” track. I was conflicted because I was really hoping that, as we got out there as performers, we’d be doing something with the Mets. But here’s what happened – I had friend at the time who worked with the umpires at Shea, and I asked him if he’d be comfortable handing Piazza a copy of the CD – figuring that we had an Italian Christmas song and he might get a kick out of us mentioning his name, and maybe think it was funny – the ‘seven Piazza jerseys’ and us being some guys from Queens. My buddy agreed to pass it along that September. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Piazza. He seems like a great guy in interviews, and I have no idea what he is like on a personal level, but from what I was told, he took the CD and threw it in the garbage. I was devastated, because we were just getting our first taste of success at the time and Mike Piazza, according to my friend, was this great guy and I was hopeful that that would go somewhere. This all happened about a week before we got that phone call from the Yankees saying that the whole team loved our CD and that they wanted us to FedEx thirty copies. We delivered the CDs personally – the entire organization was very classy and we got to meet a bunch of the players. The Yankees were in a playoff run at the time, so we ended up doing something special for them and wrote a song, “Haya Doin’? Yankees”. The joke was that all three of us were actually Mets fans from Queens, and there we were singing about the Yankees and eventually joining them on their parade float! We had wanted to do something for the Mets, but we were embraced by the Yankees. They knew we were Mets fans. The players did too; we’d joke about it. I’m not one of those fans who hate the Yankees, and I gotta say, all the players and the front office guys were all true gentlemen and easy to root for.

Haya Doin’? Yankees

B&O: I think that is forgivable. In Big Fan you play an as-seen-on-TV lawyer whose brother takes his fandom to a chilling level of obsession. Do you ever find yourself taking sports too seriously? How much of Patton Oswalt’s Paul Aufiero in yourself?

GC: I don’t take sports too seriously. I loved collecting baseball cards and playing sports, but not at a fanatical level. But I would say I am a fanatic of movies. Everyone is crazy about something. I wouldn’t go to [Paul Aufiero’s] extreme and stalk someone, but I guess there are some similarities to his character – just not in the sports world.

B&O: That seems like a good perspective on life in general.

GC: Actually, I gotta admit, now that I think about it, I did pull a ‘Paul Aufiero’. In 1992, they were filming a movie called Night in the City starring Robert De Niro in New York City. I found out where the set was and I remember writing a letter with the intent of hand-delivering it to De Niro. So I go down to the set [laughing] and I was, uh, stalking. I just handed him the letter as he was heading to his trailer, and that was that. Anyway, three years later I was an extra on the set of A Bronx Tale and I remember seeing him in action and really believing that one day I would be able to work with him. Years later, I was personally selected by him to play Joe Pesci’s bodyguard in The Good Shepherd. Looking back on it, it is crazy to think how [people like De Niro] were inspirations and how years later I’m still in the business working with them. It goes to show you that belief and hard work can really pay off when they are coupled with passion. Faith and perseverance go hand in hand. I’ve recently been reading stuff by Napoleon Hill and Bob Proctor about how if you truly believe something and work at it, it will happen. Now to look back and remember stories like that one, or back when I was going to college and waiting tables but was constantly dreaming about success in the film industry, it kind of reinforces the idea of unconscious competence. I look back to the days when I would daydream about being on a set and making movies while I was waxing my car, listening to music, and cruising down 33rd avenue to Francis Lewis Blvd creating memories with friends – and it’s surreal to know that I that thirty years later I’d achieve that dream, that I’d be doing it, and I’d doing it with a movie about those things and cruising the boulevard. It’s wild.

Gino with acting Legend Robert De Niro

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B&O: Can you tell us how the idea for Franny Lew first came about?

GC: The first actual short did not have much of a budget. I was in West Hollywood in 2011, but I wanted to move back home and be closer to family. I knew if I were to move back, I wanted to work on something that I was truly passionate about. A light bulb went off, and I decided to write something about Franny Lew [and the 80’s]. I lived it, I know it – and it was something I really believed that I could do and ideas started going off. So I put together this short teaser, which was only about 30 seconds long. I bought stock footage online – of Queens, a guy holding a wheel, fuzzy dice hanging down form a mirror. We then put some text: “There was a boulevard back in the day that reigned supreme… Franny Lew the Movie”. It was really nothing – and I only spent maybe $50 putting it together and had the help of and actor friend [Paul Gennaro] in editing. I moved back home and just starting writing – originally I was thinking it would be a TV series – so I wrote a pilot, a damn good pilot about a four-man entourage. Once I had it written and had characters, and a bit of a story line, I started to raise money for the presentation that [is available online].

B&O: How did that go? What were the challenges in recreating the environment 30 years later?

GC: We started raising some money to kick start the project, but I grew impatient because I really wanted to just get it done. I put my own money in, and my sister – who always believed in me, since I used to take her to the movies back in the 80’s – she put some money in. When I had collected just enough money, I hired a skeleton crew of people I’ve worked with before. But that was the biggest challenge – I was working as wardrobe, location manager, director, actor, and producer. I don’t want that to come off in an egotistical way; I just want to stress that if you want to get something done on an extreme budget, you are going to wear a lot of hats. In general, the neighborhood was extremely supportive – [and being able to film on location] helped a ton. The entire short was shot in a single day. That presentation easily has two or three days’ worth of content, and we wouldn’t have been able to get it done on a tight budget otherwise.

B&O: The cars featured in Franny Lew play a part all themselves. Have you found the use of vintage cars true to 1987 to be difficult, or were there enthusiasts lined up to have their pride and joy featured in the film?

GC: It got to a point where we had to turn cars away. I think there was great buzz because there have been talks about making a movie about Francis Lewis Boulevard for 25 years. I first heard about the idea in the early 90’s. When the idea clicked again I immediately knew I wanted to follow through on it and would be proud to bring it to life. People were excited that someone was finally picking up a camera and doing something – even if it was just a pitch presentation.

A Monte Carlo SS turns on to Francis Lewis Boulevard

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B&O: What similarities can we expect between Cruise and Franny Lew?

GC: Franny Lew leads you to believe that the movie will revolve around an accident [that occurred on the boulevard]. The feature has much of the same outline – friends cruising around, chasing girls, and stealing car radios. But Cruise is a totally different take inspired by Franny Lew. I was very fortunate to team up again with Rob Siegel, who liked what I did enough to want to get involved.

B&O: Can you talk a little bit about how you were able to get Robert Siegel on board?

GC: With [Robert Siegel] it was a very indirect pitch, if one at all. We worked on Big Fan together and we’ve known each other for a while. We love the same movies: Saturday Night Fever, Mean Streets, and The Pope of Greenwich Village. I called him and told him that I might have the next Saturday Night Fever, and he read my pilot and thought that it was great. He was surprised, [laughing] he said he didn’t think I could write. But he said it was definitely a movie. He took it from there and he told me to trust that his vision was my vision, and that he could help make it come to life. That’s when it all started to come together. We still had more challenges after that, but the biggest challenge is always just getting a project off the ground. Many people say they have a great idea about something or someone, but it just sits there. You have to just pick up a camera, put your money where your mouth is, and just do it.

Gino on the set of the feature film Cruise, rocking Mets attire

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B&O:  Speaking of other great movies – In Richard Linklater’s cult-classic, Dazed and Confused, the car was often the setting for candid interactions between the main characters. For teenagers – a car becomes a symbol of freedom and independence, and a safe haven for adolescence. How do you think that applies to Cruise?

GC: That is really more of a question for Rob. I really appreciate him as writer, and director, and a friend and I respect the fact that he molded the screenplay and the material I gave to him; he is the only person who should really speak to that. I know Rob loves that movie. We’ve referenced Dazed and Confused, not in the movie, but in conversation. I can address that on a personal level – the main character and the outline of the movie are based loosely on my life. The movie comes out of the short, which came out of my own experiences growing up in [Queens, NY]. My experience is – when you get your first car, whatever kind of car – that you kind of have this feeling from owning a piece of machinery with wheels of like, “Oh shit! I can actually go somewhere without getting on a bus and I can actually take a girl out!” When you get behind the wheel for the first time you feel like an adult. There is something cool about that. It was a huge inspiration for me when I first wrote Franny Lew because those beautiful cars that I got to see every night are still etched in my head. I can still see my friend’s 1977 white Monte Carlo on the boulevard, and I’ll never ever forget my 81′ metallic blue Cutlass Supreme. The first mechanical love of my life. I still have a pic of it in my wallet almost thirty years later. But yeah, you’re kind of thrown into the world when you’re driving for the first time. Also, back in the day it didn’t hurt when you were whistling, trying to pick up a girl. Times have changed a little, and it doesn’t feel right anymore, but back then, when you saw a girl your age when you were cruising down the boulevard, you’d definitely slow down and try to talk to her!

B&O: On the subject of how the world has changed over the last thirty years, do you think younger audiences would have a hard time identifying with some of the content in Cruise? What are the major differences and what stayed the same?

GC: In the 80’s, instead of social media, we had Francis Lewis Boulevard. Most teens today aren’t outside as much; they seem to spend more time on their smartphones and computers. You don’t really see stickball and handball as much as you used to. The one thing that will never change, that everyone can identify with, would be boys meeting girls and girls meeting boys. That experience with your [first romance] will always stay the same. The 1980’s were also a great time for music and I think people will identify with the music we grew up with on the East Coast. People also still turn their head for nice cars. You look at Bentley a lot differently than you would a Honda. I expect younger generations will identify with the music, the cars, and boys chasing girls.

B&O: Hard hitting questions – what’s the best pizza in NYC? And what is your favorite beer?

GC: I am more of a wine guy – my father makes his own homemade – but I do enjoy a good beer! Stella Artois is my favorite; it’s basically what I drink when I drink beer. Pizza? I gotta go with the one I enjoyed the most as a kid and go back to today: Amore Pizzeria in Flushing. Their Sicilian is awesome, and their slice rules.

mmmm….Amore’s Pizza….

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B&O: What should our readers look out for next after Cruise?

GC: I have two projects that I am currently working on: one is based on a book that takes place in Queens, and the other is a TV series that would be based in Flushing, NY. I’m magnetized, very attracted to those types of story. I am using the formula that has worked for me – getting all my material together, making a short and raising some funds. I am still keeping those projects quiet right now until they are more concrete. Something I am excited about – I am currently doing a bit of a ‘360’ and I am looking to write a children’s book about my daughter.

B&O: What can you tell us about the children’s book?

GC: It is the next thing I am going to pour my heart and soul into. It is kind of weird to go from [film] to a children’s book, but refreshing at the same time. Like I said, it’s something that I get to do for my daughter. She was born hearing impaired, but she is able to hear a hundred percent now and grow up like a normal kid with the assistance of a hearing aid. She’s fortunate that she can do it all – hearing aids are fantastic nowadays – but I wanted to do something for the deaf and hearing loss community. It will help my daughter communicate to other kids who might ask, “What’s that thing in your ear?” and it will be a way to contribute to a great cause. To do something for my daughter, and help out others who are hearing impaired, will be very special to me.

B&O: Gino – Thank you so much for your time! We are greatly looking forward to Cruise, and wish you the best of luck on future projects.

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3 thoughts on “An Interview with Executive Producer Gino Cafarelli: The 1980s, Cars, and the NY Mets

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