- Written by Amber Topping
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Film & Television Production Insurance
An Interview With Barbara L. Passin
By Shirley Craig
Now, we all know production insurance is vital to any film, television or video project - no matter what your budget - but sometimes indie filmmakers think if they are making a movie with money raised from just their friends and family they don’t need insurance. Wrong! No matter how small your budget you still need insurance.
Why is insurance needed for your production? Well things happen. Cameras can get lost, the house your friend loaned you to shoot in can get damaged, accidents, do unfortunately happen, even when you are taking the best precautions.
This week we met with Barbara L. Passin, an Assistant Vice President at Momentous Insurance Brokerage in Los Angeles to discuss the ins and outs of production insurance, the different kinds of insurance policies available, what you need to know about them and why indeed you do need production insurance!
So Barbara, tell our readers what are the pros and cons of production insurance?
There are no cons to insurance except for the cost. I think it’s very important that every producer and production company have insurance in place before producing a movie.
What kind of insurance, in your estimation, is mandatory for any production?
General liability. This policy provides coverage for third-party claims against bodily injury and property damage. So, for example, if you’re at a location filming and you damage a home, damage the sidewalk on a street, that would be property damage. Or for bodily injury, let’s say a third party is walking by and trips over an electrical cord and hurts themselves. This policy is a must have. If you can’t afford every kind of insurance, you definitely need to have a general liability policy. The most important thing about general liability policy is the defense costs are outside the limits of liability.
And what does that mean?
Let’s say you’ll have a million-dollar general liability policy but the defense costs are outside the limits. In today’s world, the average lawsuit can run you up to $400,000 just in defense costs alone.
So if I have a million dollars general liability, I’m covered for a million dollars to pay the person who’s ultimately suing me, but then I’m also going to have to pay the cost of defending that case.
Exactly. It is covered, but it’s covered outside the limits. So it’s above the million dollars.
Is there a cap at which you’d have the defense costs?
No, there’s no cap. Unfortunately in the United States people are filing frivolous lawsuits daily, so it’s so important to have a general liability policy just to pay for your defense costs.
Does it also include medical costs too? For example, if somebody’s on set and a lamp falls on their head and cracks open their skull, the policy covers all their medical costs?
And will it cover all the costs if they say they’ve been traumatized or they can’t work until their head is healed?
Coverage is only for third parties, so it does not apply to employees or independent contractors. Crew would fall under workers’ comp. So a third party is—let’s say you’re in the city shooting and a person just happens to walk by and trips over a cord or, like you mentioned, a piece of equipment falls on them. So it’s always a third party. Same with your property, it’s not your property; it’s the third person’s property.
So for accidents to crew members, that’s all covered by workers’ compensation.
Yes and we’ll get into that in a bit.
NON-OWNED HIRED AUTO LIABILITY
This coverage provides Automobile Liability insurance that protects the insured from claims alleging bodily injury and/or property damage as respects to the insured’s utilization of a non-owned or hired/rented vehicle. The exposure for this type of loss also includes employees of the insured whom may use their own vehicles in the course of their work for the insured. Non-Owned & Hired Physical Damage is also an option in the event the insured may be held responsible for damages to the vehicle. For example, if your employee is running an errand for you during business hours and is involved in an accident and a third party files a suit against your employee/independent contractor, you can also be named in the suit since you are their employer at the time of the accident. Very important, when an employee rents a vehicle or truck, the lease agreement needs to be in the name of the production and not in the name of the employee to have coverage under the policy.
And this coverage will protect me?
This will protect the production company and pay for the defense costs.
Non-owned hired and auto policy includes all the production cars or all the cars that I rent for the production?
Does it include picture cars? For example, let’s say there’s a vintage Rolls Royce in my movie and the production assistant who’s driving it gets into an accident. Am I covered to replace the vintage Rolls Royce and/or whatever’s necessary to fix it?
Usually these policies will have limits, and for something like that you’d have to probably underwrite it because it’s out of the ordinary; but it can be insured.
So if I were making a movie that did have something very expensive in it that could have circumstances where it could be at risk, I need to underwrite it, which means name it on the policy?
Or just discuss it with your insurance carrier and make sure that they’re aware of the situation.
So let’s go to workers’ compensation coverage. In the world of entertainment, oftentimes employees and independent contractors, freelancers, are one in the same, unless the independent contractor has his own workers’ comp coverage and can provide you with an insurance certificate proving that. In Southern California, the law requires that if you have an employee, you need to have a work comp policy in place.
Right, regardless of the status of that employee.
Exactly. [With] this coverage, if they’re injured on the job, it’ll pay for their medical bills. If they’re injured and can’t work, it’ll pay a percentage of their wages. I know a lot of production companies hire payroll companies because if you’re going to have a lot of stunt activities in your movies, the insurance carriers prefer you to use a payroll company.
And why is that?
They don’t want to pick up the liability, so they make sure you use a payroll company. But even if you go through a payroll company, it’s very important that you have a Contingent Work Comp policy in place. It’s minimum premium and also payroll companies will not cover [or] insure volunteers or unpaid interns. And also, for example, let’s say you’re shooting late at night and all of a sudden you just add someone to your crew and you don’t have time to call the payroll company, or they’re not open. I think it’s very, very important that you always have a contingent work comp policy in place, even if you go through a payroll company for these kinds of instances.
So contingent workman’s’ comp is different from regular workman’s’ comp?
It’s actually still a work comp policy, but your payroll company’s really going to be your primary policy, but just in case, there’s been issues where a payroll company will say, “You had control over this situation. I don’t want to cover it.” Just in case something happens, number two, for volunteers or unpaid help and number three, if you’re hiring someone at a time where you can’t get a hold of your payroll company last minute.
So volunteers or unpaid interns are covered by your workman’s’ comp?
The one that you would bind with the insurance carrier.
Right, so that’s the contingent part of it.
Okay, whereas if I do it only through the state of California, it’s just covered for those people that I’m paying money to in terms of their salary. So an unpaid intern is not covered under general workman’s’ comp?
A payroll company will not cover a volunteer.
And they wouldn’t fall under third-party liability? So if the lamp fell on the head of an unpaid intern, would they be covered under liability?
Well, that’s not the intent of a [general liability] policy, but if this person did get hurt and there was no work comp in place, they would have to file a law suit naming the production company and prove the production company was negligent.
It would not be an insurance claim.
Exactly. They have to file a lawsuit, and the insurance carrier would research, and obtain the details of the incident to see if the Production Company was negligent.
Workman’s’ comp policies are based on the state of hire. So it’s very important because different states have different laws, For example, New York has extremely strict laws and if you’re hiring employees in New York, you’ll have to also always take out a New York disability policy.
So workman’s’ compensation in New York is different from a disability or it’s included in workman’s’ comp?
If you have New York employees as well as having the work comp policy, you’re also required in New York to have a disability policy which is a separate policy, and the cost is minimal The premium is very inexpensive, but if you don’t have this policy in place, you can receive fines up to $70,000 and even higher.
So in other words, if I’m based in California but I’m doing a week’s worth of location shooting in New York, I have to have not only my California workman’s’ comp, I have to have my New York workman’s’ comp for that week?
No, this is how you do it. A regular work comp policy is an all-state policy. So we could add any state, except the monopolistic states, to the policy, but the only time you have to bind a New York disability policy is if you’re hiring employees that reside in New York… If you’re in California and you’re going to shoot in New York and all the employees reside in California, you do not need a New York disability policy.
Dice package or producers package…consists of several different coverages. One of the coverages is for props, sets and wardrobe, which will cover you if you have to rent any props or if you have costumes, scenery, sets. If it’s damaged, it’ll pay for the cost to replace it.
Then there’s Extra Expense. Extra expense reimburses the out-of-pocket expenses from the incurred claim. So let’s say you’re shooting a scene and your camera malfunctions and you can’t finish the shoot - extra expense will pay for you to reshoot that scene. So that’s very important.
Okay, third-party property damage is extremely important. This is when you are shooting in a location that’s in the production company’s care, custody, and control. Third party property damage will pay for any damage that occurs to the location. So third-party property damage is a must!
Can you explain what the seven days means?
Let’s say you’re going to shoot in the same house for a month, you do have General Liability property damage coverage, but if you’re at this location for more than seven days, [General Liability] only applies for seven days. People will always say, “How come I've got to take out this if I have it over here in the general liability policy? Why are you still recommending third party?” Plus on third party, you can get higher limits. I always recommend million-dollar limits.
Now we have miscellaneous equipment. That covers your camera, sound and lighting equipment in the same manner it would for the props, sets and wardrobe. The miscellaneous equipment coverage is, actually this whole production package, dice producers package, is worldwide. The general liability and the auto and work comp are not worldwide.
So if I have a camera truck and it gets broken into and all the camera are stolen, I’m covered.
Most likely, depending on the scenario. The equipment that is included under a DICE Producer’s Package is covered anywhere in the world, and it also includes earthquake and flood. Please keep in mind if you are binding a mono-line Equipment/Inland Marine policy, you need to specially inform your Broker/insurance carrier that you want worldwide coverage and EQ and Flood included. It’s not automatically included.
Then the policy also covers negative film which reimburses the production company for any additional out-of-pocket expenses which are incurred in reshooting of the portion which is unacceptable as a result of damage to the negative.
Does it extend to the fact that my hard drive that had my whole shoot got dropped into the lake by mistake?
Correct, it’s covered. The only thing it doesn’t cover is faulty stock because that’s a separate coverage. So the faulty stock would cover you just like the same coverage of the negative film would cover you, but that’s if a loss is caused by faulty stock film and if it was when they were editing it in the lab, it accidentally did something incorrectly.
What about digital? So many people shoot digitally, these days. What happens if they plug the hard drive in and the footage isn’t coming through properly?
Well if it’s equipment damaged, that might be faulty camera, but if the digital files are faulty, that would be faulty stock.
GUILD (UNION) TRAVEL ACCIDENT
What about the crew and cast who are members of a Guild like the DGA, etc.
Yes. This coverage is necessary if any member of the cast or crew belong to any Guild or Union involved with the Entertainment Industry. Cover is blanket and the terms are designed to meet with signatory requirement.
If you have key people in your film who are unreplaceable—director, actor, most valuable players—[cast insurance] is intended to reimburse you for any extra expense to complete principal photography due to the death, injury or sickness of any insured artist(s). When you bind the coverage the accident portion is automatically included. To include the medical portion, the person needs to go to a doctor and have a medical exam from one the carrier’s doctor before approving the coverage. Many times there may be pre-existing conditions that are discovered and may be excluded. You could also just take out accident-only because some actors may be very private and don’t want to submit to a medical exam.
So, say you have a blood test, the actors gets an all “clean” and then halfway through the shoot the actor, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, dies of an overdose. It’s not like he died of a disease or a car accident. Are they covered?
I can’t answer that question because I don’t know if there were any exclusions on his coverage due to his past drug addiction. If there were no exclusions than the production company would have had coverage.
So you are covered for things that come up accidentally.
Yes. Accidents are included automatically.
But if he isn’t known as a drug addict and he just got very unlucky, he’d be covered.
Yes, as long as there were no exclusions with regard to incidents related to drugs or a drug overdose.
Another insurance option coverage is civil authority.
What does that do?
You get reimbursed out-of-pocket expenses as a result of interruption. Let’s say there’s a bomb threat or a natural disaster where they decide to close down a certain building, this is called civil authority.
Right, but what happens with things like weather?
Weather Insurance is a separate coverage you can purchase. Civil authority is more like a riot, an explosion, bomb threat, and is shut down by the city.
So civil authority means someone has come in and overridden your control of the situation.
Exactly. And shut down, perfect example: If you’re shooting at LAX and a bomb threat [happens], they shut it down.
ERRORS AND OMISSIONS
This covers and protects a production company against legal liability and provides defense costs against unauthorized use of titles, copyright infringement, theft of an idea, characters, plots, plagiarism, libel/slander and also invasion of privacy. First of all, many distributors may not release a film without it. If you’re working with a network, working with a studio, they’re all going to require you to have this.
But if you’re an independent producer who’s raised the money independently…
You still need to have this. This is so important to have because it also pays for your defense costs.
Let’s say you go ahead and shoot the script, you’ve made the movie and then, all of a sudden, the film gets released and somebody comes out of the woodwork and says, “That’s my script. I’m suing you.” You’re covered for that?
Yes, the policy would respond.
This is why we do what is referred to as ‘greeking it out’—For example in a scene if somebody’s drinking a soda, it’ll just have on the word ‘Cola’ on the can. The art department has come up with a label that says ‘Cola’ instead of Coca-Cola because in order to use Coca-Cola, you have to have permission.
Exactly. The usual policy people will contractually ask you to have is one million occurrence with a three million aggregate and usually with a $10,000 deductible. The typical policy term is three years.
If you’re going to have stunts and pyrotechnics in your film, you need to underwrite it. You need to get licenses from the pyrotechnics. You need to obtain bios on the stunt individuals and pyrotechnic technicians to make sure they’re experienced and qualified. You need to underwrite the situation. You need diagrams of exactly where it’s happening. It’s very important and I think sometimes some producers don’t realize that whenever you are hiring vendors, stunt people, pyrotechnics, you always want to request and obtain a Certificates of Insurance naming your production company as an additional insured because you do not want to pick up their negligence.
Explain what a Certificate of Insurance is.
Let’s say you’re working with a pyrotechnic company. It will show proof that they have insurance for themselves. You’re asking them to name your production company as an additional insured. Then, if they are negligent and an accident occurs and are sued, and unfortunately when disasters happen everybody gets sued, you are protected. So make sure that the pyrotechnic company and other such venders name you as additional insured on their insurance because you don’t want to be liable for their negligence. You also want to make sure they have adequate insurance coverage and limits.
Now if a stuntman is hired as a stuntman and he’s doing a stunt and he falls off the roof the wrong way, is he covered under my workman’s’ compensation?
This is where the payroll company comes into play because this is when the production companies will say, “We don’t want to pick up this stunt person. Go to the payroll company.” Number one, you need to underwrite it. Number two, you could have a risk management. Insurance carrier companies have risk management employees. You should have them come out and go over the stunt to make sure it’s safe. You could always take out a special AD&D policy, Accidental Death and Dismemberment, which sometimes is a good idea.
Do insurance carriers read scripts? For example, if I come to you to cover a movie, do you read the script?
Yes, if there is one available.
So if a script is not available you only go based on the producer and the discussion?
I would ask for a synopsis, budget and also discuss details of the filming to see if any stunts, pyrotechnics, aircrafts, watercraft, etc are involved in the movie?” I would underwrite it completely. Very important.
When you use the word underwrite, that means that you’re basically acknowledging that this is going on?
Exactly. You need to get all the information.
Okay and if something is done right on the fly, does one have an obligation to call the insurance company and say, “We decided to add a car chase”?
Definitely. You should call your broker, your insurance broker and let them know.
NON-OWNED AIRCRAFT LIABILITY
Another coverage is non-owned aircraft liability. If you’re going to be using helicopters or planes this coverage is necessary. Again, you have to obtain a certificate of insurance from the aircraft company naming the production company as additional and insured including a waiver of subrogation with respects to the hull. Even though you are obtaining a certificate from the aircraft company you still need to have this coverage in place.
Would this apply even if the helicopter or plane is sitting on the ground and never moves?
If you don’t even turn on the engine, this can be insured under the “Props Sets and Wardrobe” coverage on your DICE Producers Policy.
Weather insurance will protect you if you can’t continue to shoot due to the insured peril, rain, snow, hurricane, etc.
That the rain will delay your shoot.
Yes it’s expensive, and there are different options you can choose depending on your insurance needs. For example, with regard to rain, you can choose how many inches it can rain before it will interfere with your filming. You can pick an option of how many hours of rain during a 9 hour shoot it can rain before it will shut you down.
So some people might choose to say, “I’m going to shoot this movie or commercial if it’s only up to three inches of rain but anything beyond three inches…”
Exactly, because some people could say, “Well, if it only rains two inches, I could still shoot, but if it rains four inches, I won’t be able to.” This insurance is costly, and it has to be bound 10 days prior to the shoot.
ANIMAL MORTALITY COVERAGE
Then we have animal mortality coverage if you’re using animals. I remember I was filming a commercial and they were using a half a million dollar polar bear named Angie. And I had to insure the bear. The reason why these animals are so expensive is because they’re trained. Animal Mortality (death only) coverage can be arranged. This coverage reimburses the owner for the value of the animal when the animal dies arising out of filming activities. The value of the animal must be agreed to in advance. Accident Only coverage can be bound immediately and sickness/illness can be included upon receipt of a current veterinary certificate.
That the animal is in good health?
The lamp falls on the dog.
Yes, that would be included under the accident portion of the coverage.
Does this include exotic animals, any kind of animal?
Any kind of animal.
UMBRELLA LIABILITY COVERAGE
An umbrella policy gives you additional limits above any liability coverages, which would be your general liability, your third party, auto liability and work comp. So if all these policies are one million, you can buy a five million umbrella and that will increase your liability limits up to six million. I always recommend an umbrella policy for big shoots. Lots of times producers will hire a production company to do the filming for them and, as I mentioned before, if you do hire a production company or any vendors at all, just always make sure you obtain a Certificate of Insurance naming your production company as an additional insured so you don’t pick up anybody’s negligence; very important.
Right and one last thing, cost. Does it vary depending on budget?
Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that because let’s say you’re doing a very inexpensive short film or whatever, you could take out a short-term policy. Sometimes it’s more cost effective to take out annual policy because it’s just a little bit more and then you’ll get coverage for the whole year.
Barbara, this has been really valuable information that I think every producer needs to know.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Barbara has been in the insurance industry since 1994 and has a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of risk management. She has particular strength and expertise in entertainment, insuring touring entertainers, loan outs/ shell corps and film and TV productions. Barbara is highly service-oriented and treats each of her clients as if they are her only client. She prides her-self on her tenacity and willingness to go the extra mile to secure the best coverage and pricing for her clients, leveraging her strong relationships with insurance companies to negotiate competitive terms.
Next month we’re going to sit down again with Barbara and discuss insuring music tours, concerts and events on the road. Stay tuned.
- Written by Super User
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Shep Gordon - Supermensch
By Stanley Dyrector
I dug it. Mr. G., cuts quite an extraordinary figure being a charitable gentleman warts 'n all which Mike Meyers so deftly nuances in his biog film. We journey back and forth with this engagingly enigmatic character, Shep, whose life changes spontaneously, like colors of a chameleon. He was kicked out of his salaried counseling job helping imprisoned youth, and headed to L.A. in the era of sex, DRUGS 'n Rock'n Roll.
In Hollywood, he’s snorting coke in his room at the Landmark Hotel. Early on, he hears a girl yelling at a guy down by the pool – and thinking she's in danger, he, the gallant Quixote, goes to damsel’s rescue, but gets rewarded with a punch in the kisser from Janis Joplin, whose noises he mistook were her lovemaking with Jimi Hendrix. Ecco! He meets his future! The Rockers!
Jimi Hendrix figures, since Shep is a Jewish guy, he should be a manager, so Voila! Sheps' in Biz! He gets stoned with his clients, sharing his larder of drugs altruistically. The Doors, and other rockers, some Almost Famous. Shep Gordon hooks up with Alice Cooper and helps him reinvent his persona into stardom He creates opportunity for Teddy Pendergass to become a stellar superstar, and many others. Was this all by accident?... or was it Karmic? You gotta figure that one out by yourself, because along his path he meets the Dalai Lama, who did influence him! - so, if you’re looking for signs…
Lotsa twists and turns in this one man's life; or perhaps a metaphor for Shep Gordon's many conscious reincarnations. Michael Douglas and Stallone and Emeric, and an ex-love deceased family, including, a gal cousin of his swear he's the most generous charming unselfish loving guy you’d ever meet. Shep’s got a wonderfully meshuga laugh. He makes shrewd moves in techniques in management skills, making peace on all sides. Would you believe he becomes a recluse on an island?( I wouldn’t mind being on it). But the Socko scene with Steve Jobs is worth all the dough you pay for admission. At the end of the ride we are amazed after all the abuse he gave himself he's still vertical! But wait a minute! We are talking about a Supermensch!!!
- Written by Super User
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The World’s First “Superphone”
By Kia Dargahi
“Well hey, I’ve had plenty of phones in the past and I thought that they were super, what makes this one so special?” Good question reader, I present to you the LG G3’s specs in all of their nerdy glory: (the following was reported directly from LG’s presentation)
• 5.5-inch Quad HD 2560×1440 display
• 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor
• 13-megapixel rear camera with Optical Image Stabilization+, Laser Auto Focus
• 2.1-megapixel front camera
• 16GB/32GB storage
• microSD slot with support for cards up to 128GB in size
• 2GB/3GB of RAM
• 3000mAh removable battery
• Android 4.4.2
• 4G LTE
• Metallic Black, Silk White, Shine Gold, Moon Violet and Burgundy Red color options
• 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm
Even at first glance, the numbers ooze of state of the art technology implemented into a phablet sized phone (even though it is still technically a phone and not a phablet). Easily the most remarkable of the G3’s array of specs is the 2560x1440 QHD display. Different from 4K, (I know the resolution terms can get confusing) this 2K display is the sharpest on the global market and outmatches all other global smartphones in terms of pixel density at a whopping 538 ppi. Now, I do specify global market as there have been phones in China for example with 2K displays and similarly impressive specs as well. The G3 marks a milestone as the first phone to be sold on the global market with a 2K display. So, other than to win geeks over with its specs, this begs the question, what can the average user do with this gorgeous display?
Well first off, photos and videos taken at a higher resolution with the industry standard 13MP shooter will look brilliant. Speaking of cameras, you may have noticed “laser autofocus” at the top there; well, other than sounding like a weapon out of a science fiction series, this represents a leap forward in fast image snapping. The laser autofocus works exactly as it sounds, by using a laser in order to focus on the subject at hand in order to acquire quick and excellent results. While there are yet to be sample photos, LG assures us that this technology works marvelously, but we’ll have to wait and see if this works on a practical basis.
“Well I guess the display and camera are sort of impressive, what makes this a true ‘superphone’?” The questions continue to be on point reader. With its aluminum encasing, amazing display, impressive camera, great sized screen, exceptional battery life, and on screen buttons, it truly is everything that the tech community could ask for. Now, while it may sound as if I was paid off by LG (oh what a world that would be), there still is one huge underlying issue, well relatively huge. But before I get to that, some of the more technologically savvy readers will be wondering how it’s possible that a battery feed this display and manage to last the whole day. LG responded to this by showing of the G3’s “Three ‘A’s”: adaptive clocking, adaptive frame rate, and adaptive timing control. Adaptive clocking allows for the processor to use the most efficient frequency to run at for any given operation (see “underclocking” and “overclocking”), adaptive frame rate ensures that only the pixels that need to be active are active, and adaptive timing is a little more complex but essentially makes sure the display driver is working at its best (I know, vague).
But for all the good I have to say about this phone, there is one element that almost makes these specs look like numbers on a chart, and that is that the phone has no character. This phone is almost a demo to the world that we are able to manufacture things as impressive as this but instead of advertising this phone as a “superphone”, they’ve just let the specs talk for themselves. This technique might work for techies (guilty as charged) but LG is looking a much larger public than those who spend their days reading about the latest and greatest in tech. The phone is thus doomed to a relatively small niche despite its excellent characteristics. Its phabletesque (This is now a word) screen size doesn’t make its case either. The 5 inch flagships are still too big for some to handle, I guess that’s why we have Apple right? (Wrong, see things we can expect from the iPhone 6).
- Written by Amber Topping
- Hits: 11167
Svelte Stands Up:
An Interview With Eugenia Kuzmina
By Mende Smith
Few ﬁgures epitomize the iconic Russian Super Model more than Eugenia Kuzmina. Blonde hair, blue eyes, designer wardrobe, and a svelte smile are not the common physique for a funny girl. Not many of us can say that we know how it feels to miss opportunities for the first years of her professional life for being ‘too pretty.’ If Kuzmina had only possessed the girl-next-door sort of beauty common on the American stage, perhaps her funny girl persona would have brought her more success than the Vogue cover opportunity, Armani photo shoot, and Versace gift bags. But for the outlandish beauty, near perfect body, and her admitted longtime love for American films, the svelte stands up.
- Written by Amber Topping
- Hits: 4742
From the Streets Of Italy To The Streets of Jersey:
An Interview with Lou Volpe
By Shirley Craig
For Italian-born Lou Volpe, becoming a successful actor has been a life-long dream. He took the first step towards fulfilling that dream at the young age of six when he landed his first role in a school production of Dinner With Friends. Now, Lou can be seen playing Frankie Vali's father in the much anticipated Clint Eastwood movie, Jersey Boys, the film adaptation of the highly successful Broadway musical, that chronicles the 1960's singing phenomenon, The Four Seasons. Jersey Boys opens next week at theaters everywhere. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to Lou, and found out that he is not just a successful actor but an independent filmmaker as well.
You must have been very excited to get cast in Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, particularly since you are Italian. I understand you were born in Italy.
Yeah, I was born in Italy and then I came here as a kid. I actually moved to Massachusetts first for a few years and then moved here to LA.
How old were you when you first came to America?
I just turned 18.
Oh, you weren’t really a kid. I thought you meant like 7 or 8.
Yeah, in my mind, I was a kid, you know? Hadn’t matured yet. [Laughs]
So you really grew up in Italy—whereabouts in Italy?
In a small town called Caserta. It’s between Naples and Rome. It’s on the west coast of Italy.
Were you acting in Italy, or did you get the acting bug when you got here?
No, I always kind of wanted to and I did some plays when I was a kid in Italy. I belonged to a theatre touring company, and so I did some summer stuff with them. I was the classic class clown when I was a kid. So it was just always in me to act and then after I did some things in Italy, I got the bug, but I held off. I had a family. So I was only able to do little things here and there in Massachusetts and little bit of things in New York, but then I really started working harder at it when I moved here to California.
I read that you basically gave up your acting aspirations in order to support your family.
Yes. I got married at 19, I came here at 18, but on a trip back to Italy I fell in love, got married and we both came back here.
And you put your career on hold to raise a family?
Then after your kids were grown, you said, “Now it's my time.”
Exactly. I did things here and there wherever I could, nothing that would take me out of work for too long or away from my kids. So I had to just basically do whatever I could once in a while, a TV show here, a play there, that kind of stuff. Eventually, I got divorced and I was raising my kids on my own, so it was even harder to do any kind of acting work. I had to make sure I was home and I had a job constantly. So I couldn’t do anything until my kids basically grew up; then they left home, so now I’m totally back.
So you were, what, in your late 30s, early 40s before you really started concentrating on a career?
Right, exactly, yes.
Was it hard to get an agent and get your career going then?
I mean, it’s as hard as it is for any actor. Obviously as you get older and you haven’t done a whole lot of work from when you were a kid, then it is a little more difficult, but I take it as it comes. If I get a job, I get a job. If I don’t, I don’t. I really love acting and I write and I've made a couple of feature films of my own, so I mean, I love doing it but I don’t stress out when I don’t get a job. I audition and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
So tell me about Jersey Boys. How did you get that job? Did you audition for a casting director first?
Yes, I did. Actually, I only auditioned for the casting director, Geoffrey Miclat. There were several other actors auditioning for the same role and then a couple months later, I got a call from my agent telling me that I had the part.
And you didn’t have to do like 22 callbacks?
No, I did not. Usually with a movie, you do less callbacks than a TV show but generally you do at least two or three, but Clint claims he doesn’t do that. He lets the casting directors do their job and then he selects whomever he wants from the videotape recordings.
So your first day on the set is the first time you met Clint Eastwood?
And how was that?
Oh, are you kidding? He’s a legend. He’s an icon but at the same time, he’s such a nice, down-to-earth kind of guy. He basically saw me and said, “Hi Lou,” as if he already knew me and he was nice, just very nice. I felt like I knew him since I used to watch his movies and TV shows when I was kid. Basically that’s the first thing I told him: “You’re the reason I became a cowboy” because I love riding horses, so we kind of laughed and talked about that.
That’s great. Did he give you a lot of direction or is he the kind of director who just says, “Okay, you know your lines. Give me your best shot”?
No, he’s very relaxed. He basically knows your lines, so he kind of wants you to do your thing. Actually the first scene we shot was a courthouse and in that scene, I wasn’t supposed to have any lines. I asked him if he wanted me to do anything, to improvise or whatever and he said, “Yeah, yeah, improvise. Say whatever you want, whatever comes to you, maybe in Italian.” So I basically did some of that and when I saw the film, he'd kept that stuff in. Then for the other scenes he just let us improvise and ad lib. It was great. He was very relaxed. He just says, “Okay, go ahead.” He doesn’t even say “action” most of the times. Whenever I was on the set, he was kidding around and instead of saying “action,” he would say it in Italian “azione,” then he’d crack up and I’d crack up. He’s just a really nice, funny kind of guy, you know?
Did you have to do a lot of takes or was he a one take director?
He let us do a couple takes just for the fun of it, just different angles or he just wanted to have different things but nothing when he actually said, “No, I don’t like what you’re doing there, so let’s do another one differently.” He just told the cameramen to go and we would go.
In the movie you play Frankie’s dad. Were you involved in any of the big musical numbers?
No, I was mostly at home with Frankie, but we did do one big number. I don’t really want to spoil it, but it’s towards the end of the movie and pretty much everybody was involved and it’s dancing in the streets and stuff. It was great. That was really, really fun.
Did the singers just sing to the playback track?
No, they actually sang. In that scene, they sang in the streets basically. They sang as they recorded. They had one room set up for recording all the singing stuff. There’s a lot of stuff they did in the studios, the scenes where they sang in clubs or whatever, but this particular scene, they actually sang in the street as we all danced around them.
Was a lot of the film shot in a studio, or was an equal part done on location?
Yeah, we shot some of the stuff around L.A. and some of the stuff in the studio but even in the studio, part of it was outside. We shot on one of Warner Bros. lots. You know they have those streets all set up to look like the ‘60s and that’s where we shot that scene.
Did you speak Italian in the movie much?
Yes, I did. That was part of the thing, like the court scene, I basically scream and yell in Italian. And some of the other scenes, I spoke Italian and English, mixed it up a bit.
Frankie Valli was born in the States, right?
Yes, he was born in New Jersey.
But his parents were both Italian?
I believe that they were either both born in Italy or one of them, his Mother I think, was born in Italy. They spoke Italian.
So do you have scenes with Frankie Valli where you are speaking Italian with him?
I did, and he responded with a couple of words in Italian in some of the scenes and then some of the scenes he didn’t. He would just speak in English.
The guy that plays Frankie Valli, John Lloyd Young, he got a Tony award for his part in the actual musical. He is great. He’s incredible. I mean, there’s no way I know anybody else that can sing like that. He was really able to recreate Frankie Vali.
The film opens June 20, correct?
Yes, it does. It’s premiering here at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 19th, and then everywhere on June 20th.
Anything else you want to add about your experience in shooting Jersey Boys?
I just had a great time and everybody was really, really nice. All the actors I worked with were great, very nice guys. And the crew, Clint uses the same people or pretty much the same people as part of his crew on all of his films. They’re all really well-organized and very professional at the same time. And very relaxed, kind of like Clint. They make sure you do your job and it all comes out well, and you have a good time at the same time.
Right. So tell me about Every Secret Thing, your independent film.
Every Secret Thing, was initially a play that I wrote many years ago called Tall and Powerful and over the years, people kept asking me, “When are you going to make a movie out of it?” I thought about it, but I couldn’t find a way to make it into a movie. Finally one day it kind of hit me, and I wrote the script and then went from there. It’s a story about a young guy, who’s a paraplegic, and the reason he became a paraplegic was because of a car accident but he doesn't know why. His parents, his mother, had lied about it and didn’t tell him the truth until his father, who had disappeared after the accident, comes back and he finds out the truth and so on. I played Victor, who is the lead’s best buddy.
And Victor was partially deaf, correct?
Yes he was. I talked to a lot of people to make sure that I had a bit of a speech impediment like a partially deaf person. I did my homework before I started writing the script.
You wrote and directed it?
Yep, I wrote, directed and produced it, the whole thing.
And you raised the money yourself?
Oh yeah. [Laugh] Yes, I did.
Can I ask you what the budget was?
The budget, let’s say, was less than $30,000. I did all the work myself basically and only hired what I couldn’t do.
And you shot it in 14 days. Did you shoot it all digitally?
Yes, on a digital camera. I hired a DP who had her own equipment because obviously besides wanting a good DP, I wanted somebody who had their own equipment, so I didn’t have to rent it. So yeah, it was all digital and then I edited it after we were done It took me a few months to edit it because I couldn’t concentrate on doing it all the time but at the same time, I wanted it to come out as good as possible.
Did you enter it into the festival circuit or is it available on video? How can our readers get to see Every Secret Thing?
Well, it went film festivals but I actually never got theatrical distribution. There were a couple of deals that people wanted to do with me, but it was just, they weren’t right. So I just chose not to do it. I didn’t want to give it away. I actually ended up putting it up on YouTube.
Did you always want to write and direct, as well as act?
I started writing many, many years ago. I wrote mostly stage plays at the beginning. Right now, acting is what I really want, but sometimes making a film yourself, it’s probably the best way to get the kind of roles that you want. I don’t get the kind of roles that Robert De Niro or Al Pacino would get because obviously I don’t have the same kind of clout that they have. So for me to do the kind of role that I would want to do; sometimes you have to write it yourself. So that’s why I wanted to make films as well, but I love the process. I had a great time making the films and I would definitely do it again if I could afford it, particularly if somebody else puts up the money for it!
Where did you shoot it?
Around L.A., Hawthorne, Malibu, different places, but all around here in Southern California.
Was this your only film, or have you done others?
I did another film, yeah. Before Every Secret Thing, I did DWM: Divorced White Male. That was sort of semi-autobiographical. After I got divorced I decided to turn my experiences and story into a movie. It was just something that I felt I had to do and, at the time, there weren’t a whole lot of places like Match.com. It was all done in newspapers, where you put your personal ads and my experiences with that were kind of funny, so I thought it would make a good romantic comedy.
What’s up for you next?
Well, right now there is one possible project. It’s a movie, but I can’t really say anything about it because it’s not final. But I like the role that I went for, so we’re trying to work things out.
Good luck. I hope you get it. So outside of writing, acting and directing, what are your other passions, Lou?
Riding horses. I love doing that.
You own horses; you have a ranch, right?
Yes, I do, but it’s a very small ranch. I wouldn’t even call it a ranch. If you call it a ranch, you expect to see the Ponderosa. [Laughs] Mine is just one acre and a couple of barns and a couple of horses. That’s all. It’s just enough for me and my wife, and that’s it.
It sounds like a really nice life.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, it was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to seeing you in The Jersey Boys.
Thanks so much.
Photo credit: Lou with his horse, Ripply, courtesy of Marnie Volpe