South Philly filmmaker hits home run with new movie

South Philly resident and filmmaker John DeStefano, Jr. created a short movie called “The Battle At Home”, which tells the story of a military veteran attempting to make a comeback in baseball. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

In his days as a high school baseball player at the Girard Academic Music Program, John DeStefano Jr. probably dreamed about playing in the big leagues.

His bat didn’t get him there, but his love of movies did.

DeStefano, 29, recently released a short film in which he directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in called “The Battle At Home.” It follows character Jack Bruno, who is a former baseball player who left the game to fight for the military in the Middle East. He attempts to return to the sport he loves while dealing with the struggles of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The powerful film runs just under 20 minutes and is beautifully shot in several Philadelphia locations.

“I heard a statistic that an average of about 20 veterans a day commit suicide,” DeStefano said. “I always try to look for relevant topics and issues to make films about and dramatize them. I felt like how is this not more well known? What can I do as a filmmaker to help veterans and shed light and awareness on this?”

DeStefano does just that. Using limited dialogue, the film uses actions and emotions to get its point across.

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“A lot of people mention that they liked that it didn’t have much dialogue and I think that helps with telling the story of the issues that veterans face and their mental health,” he said. “Things tend to be more emotionally impactful if there’s not dialogue.”

Growing up near the stadiums in South Philly, DeStefano incorporates his hometown with shots of Citizens Bank Park and even includes a voice cameo from Phillies stadium announcer Dan Baker.

More intimate scenes were shot at the Navy Yard, the Ben Franklin Bridge and Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, home of the Delaware Blue Rocks.

The entire film cost only $2,000 to make, which DeStefano says is a result of a talented, hard-working cast and crew that was willing to volunteer its time.

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“We did the math and it should have cost more than $50,000 to make this movie,” he said. “It ended up costing me around $2,000. Everyone essentially worked for free. I had to rent the stadium, but I tell my co-writer Andrew Donato that we can’t write some ideas because they’re too big. We figure out ways to shoot things and make stuff by crafting the script to accommodate a no-budget film.”

He also relied on some family ties. John’s older brother, Joe, plays a role in the movie as Bruno’s brother. It played perfectly into certain flashback parts of the movie.

“He was a little stiff being a school teacher, but not bad,” John said with a laugh. “The reason why I casted him was because I was able to authentically put photos of him on set that were of me and him from when we were younger. We’re actually doing the same poses so I didn’t have to photoshop.”

“The Battle At Home,” as well as DeStefano’s other works, can be found on his YouTube channel. He hopes to someday work on a feature-length film, which could have him traveling to other destinations.

He got a taste of Hollywood about 10 years ago when the South Philly Vikings Mummers appeared on the show “America’s Got Talent.” At that point, DeStefano was still an undergrad at Temple University. Since then, he earned his degree in business, which has certainly helped in the process of making movies.

“I do have a business background that helps me at a professional level to convince people to get involved,” DeStefano said. “I’m not scheming or anything. They’re just trying to break into the industry the same way that I am, but I’m trying to find people who are doing quality work and we need to collaborate together to move forward.”

DeStefano said “The Battle At Home” could someday be extended into a full-length feature if there is interest to do so. Until then, it will sit high on his resume.

“It’s pretty much just a portfolio piece for me and everyone involved,” DeStefano said. “If I decide ‘The Battle At Home’ would be a feature-length film, and I would write a script, it would serve as a proof-of-concept short film.”

View “The Battle At Home”:

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