The year is 1969, the place is South Brooklyn and a sweet new Mustang (borrowed from dad) has just backed into a UFO beam. In Stealin’ Home, written by U of T alum Massimo Volpe, the neighbourhood gang confronts extraterrestrials who land on their turf. The 15-minute flick has been accepted by Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner, a venue for moviemakers and industry professionals from around the world. It could jump-start Volpe’s screenwriting career: all Cannes attendees can see Stealin’ Home, and programmers and buyers can also view it after the festival is over.
“It’s not common for a short film to be made into a feature, but there are stories,” Volpe says, rattling off the movies that achieved that end: Saw, Boogie Nights, District 9. “We’re hoping to follow in their footsteps.”
Volpe is 31, married and works as a sales co-ordinator at a fitness club. Stealin’ Home is his first produced screenplay. He majored in classics at U of T but fell in love with film – “I spent a lot of time at the Varsity cinema when I should have been in class”– and graduated in 2003 with a minor in cinema studies. Studying film theory and authorship in cinema shaped his understanding of movies. “The notion that directors could be considered authors definitely influenced how I approached my writing,” he says, referring to the imprint of the auteur on all his or her movies. “Directors like Hitchcock, Fellini and Truffaut have a clear vision that’s evident in every one of their films. It makes all your work autobiographical. I draw influences from Scorsese, who looked at his neighbourhood and extracted what was meaningful for him.”
Volpe and director Joe Mari are longtime friends, growing up two blocks from each other in an Italian community in Toronto. In April 2010, Mari came up with the idea of greasers versus aliens and asked Volpe to write the script. The movie begins with a gangster hitting an alien after backing into a UFO beam – setting off a deeply volatile situation involving three-way hostilities between the greasers, aliens and cops.
“Greasers are the old gangs of the ’50s: the Levi’s jeans, Converse shoes and the T-Birds we’re used to seeing in movies like Grease,” says Volpe. “Although Stealin’ Home is set in 1969, it’s timeless, the idea that kids would hang out in the park, looking for trouble, disenfranchised and disconnected from what’s around them.”
The good news is that pop culture is embracing cross-genre works. Cowboys & Aliens, with an A-list cast, will be in theatres this July. The parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is being adapted into a movie, scheduled for 2013. “As an unrepresented writer, it’s tough,” Volpe says, of breaking into Hollywood. “I need to make a splash.”
The film has been submitted to a slew of festivals, and first up is Cannes, running from May 11-22. Waiting to hear back from other festivals, Volpe will keep working, trying to break into the business. He’s talking to producers in L.A. about optioning his latest feature screenplay, an apocalyptic thriller, and HBO is considering a sitcom pilot he wrote. Soon he’ll know whether Stealin’ Home turns out to be that first, crucial step.