Interview with Alessandro Pulisci | “Better the Devil”

| December 12, 2014

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A power-packed seven minutes, Better the Devil serves up a big heaping of both comedy and horror. Made at San Francisco State University, Better the Devil screens as part of San Francisco’s “horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation” film festival Another Hole in the Head in the “Short Block 8″ showcase at New People Cinema. We caught up with Alessandro over email to talk about his newest film.

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Better the Devil

Can you tell us about yourself? What sparked your interest in film as a career?

Well, when I was growing up, my dad and I spent a lot of time at the theater. At home, we’d watch and re-watch our favorite movies on VHS, and I was fortunate enough to have HBO, so I would just watch whatever was on there as well. We had a (massive) camcorder growing up.  As a teenager I started playing guitar and got into writing and performing music, which took up most of my time. I watched just as many movies, but my creative energy was put towards creating music. When I realized that playing punk rock wasn’t going to pay the bills and I should probably get a degree, I decided to study film and just fell in love with it. I played music a bit less as I finished up my time at college and started putting that creative energy into writing and directing, and when I made it into the thesis film class, I just poured everything I had into creating Better the Devil. 

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Better the Devil

What inspired the story for Better than the Devil?

I had an idea for a couple of fast talking thieves who dress up as Mormons to gain access to people’s houses and then rob them, but one day have the bad luck of trying to rob a house where the actual devil has taken residence. It was a much darker story originally, as I was toying with a feature length idea, but when I brought it to the thesis class, the time constraint we were working with made me start thinking about how I could do the idea as more of a black comedy – which is not a foreign tone for me. I think the general idea that really stuck with me throughout the writing of the film was people’s duplicitous nature – one of the central elements of the film is a book, and that old adage about not judging a book by its cover applies to each character. 

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Better the Devil

What are some of the challenges you faced creating a piece that combines humor and horror? How did you find balance between the two to create an effective dark but clever satire like Better the Devil?

I’d say constantly experimenting with the push and pull of the two feelings. We tinkered with the balance from the beginning of the the writing process to the last day of editing, so it was a constant challenge to make sure moments were hitting how I wanted them to and figuring what worked best. Point in case, the film has an alternate ending where Amy and Lou come back to the house for a moment and we meet Amy and Jessica’s parents. It’s a really funny scene and there were definitely some people who were bummed we took it out, but overall I felt like it just detracted from the rest of the film. It was a bit of a second ending, and I just felt like where the film ends now was the strongest note to go out on.

Better the Devil

Better the Devil

The main idea we pushed through production was that we wanted the world to be real to all the characters. The moments that are funny are funny to the audience, watching everything come together – but to these girls, a creepy old man (sorry, Tim) really just appeared in their house and waved his hand to slam a door (and potentially set someone on fire). So it’s all pretty terrifying to them. I think that distinction was key to making the humor/horror balance work. And thank you for saying it’s clever.

Better the Devil seems to have 3 main sets of characters, that all bring the plot together in a short 7 minutes. How did you achieve the merging of these three sub-plots in such a short sequence?

Lots of rewrites. 

I really tried to just pack as much information into each frame and every word as I possibly could, with the goal of being able to convey as much as possible in as little time as possible – so you immediately know who a character is and what they’re after before we meet someone else. And then they all meet each other and get thrown on their heads.

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Better the Devil

Are there any filmmakers that you look up to?

Growing up, it was probably Mel Brooks and Tim Burton and, sort of unconsciously, Kubrick. Tarantino was a big part of my teenage years, and [Christopher] Nolan and [Nicolas Winding] Refn were the guys the made me realize I wanted to actually create films for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll think of more after this interview, and they’ll probably be way more obscure and hip, but what can I say? I grew up on big movies and I still love those. 

What were some highlights to your Kickstarter campaign? Would you do a crowdfunding campaign again?

Just seeing the outpouring of support from friends and family was moving. So many people had my back, people I barely even talked to anymore or were never even that close with wanted to help me get this thing made, and that means so much to me. It really was a roller coaster ride, some days we’d get no donations and others would be massive, so that was pretty fun (and incredibly stressful). I’m definitely open to the idea of doing another crowdfunded project, although I worry about asking people for money again, haha. I’m not ruling it out. I’d definitely be putting the lessons learned from this campaign to use on the next one though.

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Better the Devil film set

Tell us about your time at San Francisco State. What was your hands-down favorite class and were there any professors/advisors that really changed your viewpoint on filmmaking?

I had a great time in the film department. The teachers and classes there right now really are something special, and I feel so lucky to have gotten to work on actual film, and have teachers that care about creating art and take the time to help people individually. I think my favorite would have to be the thesis class that I created Better the Devil for – it was two semesters with some of my favorite people as classmates, all working on things we were insanely passionate about and helping each other mold these films. And our professor for the first half, Scott Boswell, is an amazing teacher and guide through the process. I learned so much in that class that I take to every script and set now. Pat Jackson took over for the post-production half of the class and is a perfect compliment to Scott. Her dedication to the bottom-line of “does this help or hurt the film” was one of the best lessons I could learn, and it applies to any creative endeavor. You have to be willing to kill your darlings (please don’t take that out of context and become a serial killer).

Better the Devil film set

Better the Devil film set

Julian Hoxter’s determination for his students to finish their scripts made a huge impression on me as well. I know I’ll be carrying that feeling through whatever I work on. I had two amazing teachers before SFSU that I want to mention as well – I transferred from College of San Mateo and took classes with David Laderman and Sam Sanchez before I even knew I wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking, and both of those guys were so important to me in terms of support and laying down a solid foundation for me to build off of in my upper division classes. I definitely would not be where I am without them. 

What’s something about filmmaking that simply can’t be taught in film school?

I can really only speak from a writing and directing standpoint, but I guess I would have to say that how to talk to people that you work with is a huge thing that they definitely touch on in school, but I think it ultimately has to come from inside of you. How you give and take notes on your script, how you communicate your vision to the people helping you create it, how you talk to actors, how you treat people under high pressure situations on set, how you deal with problems that inevitably come up in post and need to be solved with your post-production team – they can make or break your film, and as much as you can get from film school, I think it sort of comes down to a personal understanding of how to talk to others. 

A shorter answer to that question might be perseverance, and how to deal with rejection. There’s so much competition in this industry, and it’s hard enough without that. Film school can’t really teach you how to stay strong against insane odds, you just need to figure out how to do what you want to do and go out and do it.

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Better the Devil filmmaker Alessandro Pulisci

Any advice for students trying to make their way into the industry?

Continuing that last thought, don’t let rejection or other people’s opinions stop you or slow you down. If you believe in what you’re doing, figure out how to make it happen and just do it. Everyone has a different path, so don’t waste your time comparing your career to someone else’s either. If you want to write, write something. If you want to direct, direct something. Get laser focus on your goal, and go out and make it happen. 

Watch the trailer:

Better The Devil (Teaser 2) from Alessandro Pulisci on Vimeo.

Alessandro Pulisci is a Bay Area native writer and director now based in Los Angeles. He is currently creating short films and developing a feature length screenplay. 

Better the Devil screens as part of San Francisco’s “horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation” film festival Another Hole in the Head on December 13, 2014 @ 3:00pm.

Follow the #BetterTheDevil on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter #whatwouldloudo

 


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