Joe Gariffo grew up at Seventh and Bigler streets. In June, he’ll shoot his third feature film in his childhood home.
“They know. [My parents] already know what to expect, they’ve been through it before, they had 30 people sleeping in the basement,” Gariffo said of the past films he’s shot there. “They know exactly what they are getting into. Luckily, they are extremely supportive about it. They like what I’ve made.”
Gariffo and business partner Shaun Paul Costello — with whom he has worked on almost all past projects — are the writers of the film “The Independents,” slated for a June shoot.
“‘The Independents’ is the name of the hockey team. It’s a Philadelphia independent movie, and we’re a Philadelphia minor league team,” Gariffo, 25, said of the plot that follows a group of minor
league players. “We’re both the main characters, that’s why we make these movies.”
Gariffo, who has written, directed, produced and edited on his past films, is most interested in being an actor. He and Costello always act in their comedies, and are looking forward to taking this film to the next level.
“We want to do things legitimately now and we are. We’ve really grown from when we made ‘Swooped.’ We were a rag-tag group of kids that didn’t know what we were doing,” he said.
“Swooped,” which is the first feature-length film the duo made in 2008, propelled Gariffo into a independent film community, and set the groundwork for getting their future projects off the ground.
“We wrote it over the World Series in 2008, when the Phillies won. I believe it was between games two and three. We locked ourselves in my basement to get it done,” Gariffo, who currently lives near FDR Park on the 3700 block of Gateway Drive, said. “We had made [a second film,] ‘Booted.’ I edited a lot of that movie and learned a lot more than I knew on ‘Swooped.’
“I was able to learn all that stuff on a bigger film and we went back and trimmed all the stuff no one laughed at [out of ‘Swooped’]. When we trimmed that people laughed throughout the entire thing.”
Last year, Gariffo sent out the streamlined cut and “Swooped” was admitted to multiple festivals, the highlight of which was a win at the Action On International Film Festival in Los Angeles, where it took home the prize for best comedic feature.
“Originally, it was going to be a short, but we decided to make it a feature. We just wanted to try it and see if we can do it,” Gariffo said. “It was kind of an accident how it all started. We didn’t plan to make anything as big as it turned out to be.”
Gariffo attended Stella Maris, formerly 814 Bigler St., and took classes at Old City’s The Actor’s Center before going on to West Catholic High School.
“I had done a few commercials, but nothing through school, one for AOL and some others,” he said. “Senior year, they were doing ‘Grease,’ and the main reason I auditioned was I was like the only Italian guy in the school. … I did audition and when they posted the cast list, I was Kenickie. It was the best version of ‘Grease’ I’ve ever seen, definitely interesting.”
After West Catholic, Gariffo matriculated at Temple University’s film production program, where he met Costello.
“Actually I met Shaun, but I didn’t know this, at Senior Week 2004 at his beach house,” Gariffo said. “But we never knew that till we met years later. I met him on a film set. We started hanging out. He knew who I was and I knew who he was, but we hadn’t met. We just went everywhere, like Florida, and wrote about what we did.
“We wrote the first part of ‘Swooped’ as a short. We wrote the first 11 minutes, or 11 pages, on the way back from Florida to Philadelphia, in the back of his cousin’s Honda Civic.”
That film, which follows two men as they pursue their crushes and end up with each others’ girl, was shot in South Philadelphia and Orlando, Fla., and featured at least one local celebrity.
“When we got to Geno’s, he let us film there, brought the entire crew in there,” Gariffo said of the late Joey Vento, who agreed to appear in the film and hand Gariffo a cheesesteak.
While shooting in South Philadelphia is economical, Gariffo also likes to showcase his hometown and feels there is a mutual respect between him and the local business owners.
“We’re shooting at Cookie’s at 10th and Oregon. We shot a scene there in ‘Booted,’” Gariffo said. “I just found out [April 12] that the Flyers, we have permission to use the Flyers’ logo, as well as shoot in the Wells Fargo Center, [for ‘The Independents’]. And we can have some of the Flyers players there for a scene in the movie.”
As things begin to pick up for the filmmaker, he has flirted with the idea of moving to New York or Los Angeles, but he received some sage advice to stick with what is working.
“Alan Ruck, he was in ‘Booted.’ It was the first time we had worked with anybody at that level,” Gariffo said of the actor who played Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” “We were like, should we go to New York or L.A. and he said, ‘You guys should stay here, at least for now. You’re making enough noise here. Eventually someone will hear it.’ Otherwise we’d be just another needle in the haystack.”
With a bigger budget, but the same work ethic, Gariffo and Costello are gearing up for “The Independents,” which includes weekly hockey workouts. And, for now, they will keep shooting on local soil.
“We asked Alan if he wanted to do [another] movie, and because it was us, he said ‘yes,’” Gariffo said. “To me, someone on that level, who I greatly respect and then he respects us, that’s just the coolest. I feel like we’re doing something right.”
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