What made you want to become a filmmaker? I was an actor growing up. I was in every play in school — theater was a sanctuary for me. I grew up in a pretty tumultuous house. I love my family, but it was a tough time. So the theater gave me a place to go and be creative and express myself and be productive. I was also a very gay teen in a very Italian community. The theater helped me get comfortable in my own skin. After college, I was an actor for ten years. But succeeding in the industry is not like being in your high school play. I felt if I was going to really excel, I had to understand how to make my own work. Otherwise, the life of an actor is a lot of waiting around for someone else to give you an opportunity. I really applaud my friends who do it. I couldn't. So I had to put a huge pin in being an actor and grow and develop as a creator.
What was USC like? USC was a game-changer for me. The program helped me marry my theater background with my graphic skills and storytelling work. It got me confident behind a camera and collaborating with other craftspeople. A movie is never made my one person. And that was a life-changing lesson for me — how to work with a team to be creative together. I can be a bit of an OCD-ridden solo act sometimes. So it's important for me to get out of my own way and work with other people.
Why these projects? As an adult, I'm pretty fascinated by economics. That's the last thing you would ever hear me say in college. I was always pretty right-brained. But the more you live in and work in and try to flourish in capitalism in this new age, the more you really understand in your bones how much of your success is the result of resources — it all comes down to money. I think our culture is struggling with money, and it's the one thing we don't talk about publicly. We talk around it, but we don't talk about it. I want my work to be funny, fun, engaging, colorful, bold, full of life, but I also want it to address the effects money has on families, on individuals, on communities, and what income inequality looks like at a very day-to-day level. I come from a hard-working family; my grandfather was an Italian immigrant; my mom is a secretary, my dad a bus driver. I want to tell their stories. Life is not The Great Gatsby for them. It's much more about finding the beauty and richness in a much smaller way.
What's your favorite film? Billy Elliott. Before film school, after film school, always. It's full of creativity and dance and family. I also love 60s comedies like The Apartment and Two for the Road. And Woody Allen — Annie Hall, Radio Days, Blue Jasmine. I love Fellini films and anything by Gianni de Gregorio or Luca Guadagnino — my two favorite current Italian movie-makers. And if I'm in bed with a cold, I watch Back to the Future.