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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Jason Giamprieto (Whiffed Out)

by Nathan Gelgud

Jason Giampietro and I are old pals: we met over a decade ago through a mutual friend, and we hit it off when we started talking about filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder because he had a VHS of In a Year of 13 Moons on his coffee table. We stayed friends through a shared love of movies and the New York Knicks.

This is the second year in a row that BAMcinemaFest has featured a short by Giampietro. Last year we screened The Sun Thief, in which I had a very small part. (Watch it here.) Whiffed Out is a funny short movie about a guy who gets stuck watching a bike for his neighbor, who never returns to take it off his hands. Giampietro follows the bike as it changes hands and a small group of East Village eccentrics clash over its true ownership. It’s a great snapshot of a downtown New York summer and the few people left over from the bygone era of the neighborhood’s edgy glory.

I interviewed Giampietro through an on-line chat. After telling me a funny story about having seen Knicks owner James Dolan leaving Lincoln Center the night before (Giampietro shouted at him to do fans a favor and sell the team), we talked about his new short, other good bike movies, and Warren Oates.

Nathan Gelgud: For the purposes of this chat, I was thinking about other bike movies. And of course the big one, Bicycle Thief.

Jason Giampietro: Yes, there was also the Dardenne brothers movie, The Kid with a Bike. And Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times. The first shot in that is a long shot of a guy riding a bike. What other bike movies are there?

NG: It’s not really a bike movie, but there's Mars Blackmon in She's Gotta Have It.

JG: Yeah, he appears with the bike in Nora Darling’s apartment, and I was thinking about that—if she would have been worried that his bike would be filthy. I think that’s my favorite Spike movie because it's got an openness to all the characters. Except maybe the actor guy.

NG: Well, now that you mention it, that's what I like about your shorts, especially this one. There's a real acceptance of everyone. Characters in Whiffed Out are almost scamming each other, but everyone is… I dunno exactly, I don’t want to say likeable. What would you say?

JG: It's like misguided favors. I think it’s that their intentions are justifiable. I do love their character qualities, I think in a lot of ways I’m not as straightforward as most of the people in the movie act. So I find it interesting, the directness. I can't really write a character that I don't have a fondness for. And this was very much an attempt at depicting the world of men, when you take romantic relationships off the table, how they each relate to each other.

NG: Did you already know all these guys before you cast them?

JG: I met Mike, the metal guy who comes to retrieve the bike, when we were 11. We met at this gigantic public pool in New Jersey, the Palisades Park Swim Club, and we bonded over hair metal and played GI Joe together and slap ball. And I met Keith in 2002 when I was working at a gift shop in the East Village. He was lingering in the back by the greeting cards and when I walked back he picked up a greeting card with a picture of Bogart from Casablanca on it and the first thing he said to me was "aren't these great, weren't old movies just the best?" and we became instant friends.

NG: You’ve got a really active Instagram account, where you post lots of pictures of strangers on the street.

JG: A lot of Whiffed Out came from those portraits, which I started doing partially as research into images for movies—like expanding my vocabulary of behavior or creating a pool of images that could open up ideas for stories. I had taken pictures of a guy, all by himself, dancing, in Tompkins Square Park, and that became Disco Mike's dance scene. We shot it in the same location as where I took the photo.

NG: That's a great moment—kind of unexplained, like, “what's up with this dancing guy?”

JG: I like trying to make the first time you see a character as memorable and mysterious as I can without breaking the spell of the movie. I always think of the scene in Two Lane Blacktop when Warren Oates rides by and he looks at the Driver and the Mechanic, flashes his teeth and waves, and then rides away. It's fun in the way a movie should be fun.

NG: Do you know what you're gonna do next?

JG: I’ve loved the run-and-gun style of the shorts, so there are a few ideas for those that I'm developing, but I’m also working on two scripts for features, another one that expands the world of Whiffed Out, where I’m writing parts for a lot of the same characters, similar milieu, having to do with friendships and lack of money. And then I am also developing a feature with some of the actors from The Sun Thief, a love triangle with unintentional betrayals.

NG: Then after that you gotta make a basketball movie.

JG: Yeah, for sure!

Whiffed Out screens with The Foxy Merkins in BAMcinemaFest on Friday, Jun 27 at 9:30pm.

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