I’m a bit of an anomaly in the movie business, and one of those rare people who was born in Los Angeles, raised in Los Angeles, and still lives in Los Angeles. Since both of my parents were working so hard for a better life, I pretty much grew up on various sets in the movie business.
One of the earlier memories I have was visiting my dad on the set of Steven Spielberg’s “1941” (1979). I vividly recall entering a sound stage, and seeing a HUGE miniature model of Hollywood and the 1/4 scale plane John Belushi flies in the movie. A bit later, my mom introduced me to Cinematographer Eddie Rio Rottuno on the set of “Voyagers” (1982-1983). Eddie let me look through the eyepiece, and spin the wheels to frame up a shot. This should have been my first IMDb credit. Right?!
Both of my parents are from Sicily, Italy. Now retired, my father Umberto was an I.A.T.S.E. Local 44 Propmaker. As a little pipsqueak, I remember hanging out in the Cabinet Shop at Warner Bros. with my dad, and learning about woodworking, miniatures, and blowing stuff up. My dad built the french doors that were blown up in “Batman Returns” (1992) from balsa wood; and used bamboo leaves from the Warner Bros. jungle to visually mimic marijuana leaves seen in Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” (1978).
On a trip to my dad’s home town in Italy as a child, Racalmuto, Sicily, one of the highlights was filming some historical footage of the Regina Margherita Theater, also known as the “Teatro Comunale.” My great-great-uncle Gaspare Matrona, the mayor of Racalmuto from 1872-1876, commissioned, and built the Theater. It was there that I fell in love with tungsten. Light and shadow came together like waters from two different rivers. The soft fall off, fugetaboutit! No wonder why Leonardo Sciascia also loved Racalmuto (https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racalmuto).
My mom Rita is an active I.A.T.S.E Local 706 hairstylist. She’s been nominated for 3 Emmys (Outstanding Achievement in Hair Styling for “Moonlighting,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Star Trek TNG”), and is also a former Miss Riviera Beauty Pageant winner. Rita got her big break dayplaying on “Fantasy Island” (1978), then later did her first feature, “Private Benjamin” (1980). My mom’s side of the family is from Longi, Sicily (https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longi). The Russo Brothers, John and Anthony of Marvel Franchise fame, are also from Longi as well.
My great-grandfather, Don Emilio Bellissimo (1869 – 1950), was a genius, born in Longi during the Second Industrial Revolution. He was the only person in town who owned a tripod, used alchemy to pack his own phosphorus for flash photography, and pretty much is the great-grandfather of Photoshop. He would crop people’s faces, and used the sun and a magnifying glass to dodge and burn photos. He’s also known for being an expert watchmaker, and playing a key role in a practical joke of sorts between General George Patton and British General Bernard Montgomery during the “Race to Messina.” My great-grandfather wound the “Il Campanile del Duomo di Messina” Clock to ring an hour earlier so that General Patton could let the British hear a lion’s roar 3 times.
As you can see, my skill set is rooted in my past. I cherish learning how to frame and compose shots with my father on both an 8mm Sears Roebuck & Co. C/131 (model 836 – 91310), and a 35mm Minolta Hi-Matic 7. I still have both cameras incase you’re wondering. Score! My career started by volunteering as the Audio & Visual Monitor throughout my early education, and videotaping varsity basketball and football games in high school. The rest, as they say, is history.
At this point in my career, I consider myself an accomplished Cinematographer, Steadicam and Camera Operator. These days I also pride myself on being a “Camera Stabilizer Technician” when it comes to balancing cameras on a wide variety of tools we have at our disposal today, including Steadicam, Easy Rig, Movi/Ronin, drones, etc.
I’d love to do more TV episodic work for most of the year, and take on some commercials and features during downtime. I’m also curious about more directing work as well, with my first short film “Caged” (2016) winning 7 awards, and being nominated for 6 others. Not bad right out of the gate as a first-time Director, ya?
Inspired by the hard work and dedication my parents put into their projects, I’m a person who sees the big picture. There’s a lot I don’t know. So I try to associate myself with knowledgeable people who do. I strongly believe that no single position on the crew is more important than any other. Be kind to everyone on the crew. At any point in time, someone’s idea or experience may end up saving the day… and your behind.
Needless to say, making it in this Industry is all about collaboration. Maybe that’s only true on Tuesdays. Anyways, I say a lot of things. One thing in particular goes like this. “Thank you for having me on this project. I understand the contribution each Department has given to making it happen. What can I help with, or is there anything in particular I can do for you?”
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Cinematographer, Steadicam and Camera Operator