There is nothing like an intriguing story replete with twists and turns, and if it is one of those “strange, but true” stories, you can bet that it’s going to be stimulating to say the least. When it comes to filmmakers, I have been privy to some intriguing stories throughout my interviews, but Tony Giglio may just have a story that supersedes anything you’ve heard before. Maybe his name is not a “household name,” but I had the opportunity to ask him some questions recently, and his responses point to just how amazing and vast Tony’s experience is in this sometimes eccentric entertainment universe.
RH: Why did you decide to pursue a career in the entertainment business? What kind of training have you received?
TG: Some kids liked the beach or park or arcade… I liked the multiplex. I loved everything about going to the movies. EVERYTHING. I wanted to get there early for popcorn. Get good seats (back then, you couldn’t reserve them online). Watch all the previews. And then the films. Sometimes friends would come. Sometimes it was just me. If it was just me, I’d make sure to go early and catch two films.
But I never thought I could do that for a living. I grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood, suburb of Boston (Medford). I just assumed I’d get a regular job after college. But about halfway through my sophomore year in college (Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey), I decided to take an “Intro to Film Theory” class. Just for fun. An elective.
And that was it.
I had always enjoyed films as purely entertainment. That film class opened my eyes to the potential cinema had. As art. As a powerful force to reach millions. It was the proverbial “light bulb” moment. I decided to ditch my business classes and focus solely on film and TV production classes.
To make my dad more comfortable, I did end up getting a business minor.
Seton Hall didn’t really have what you would call an elite film program like USC or NYU. The film equipment was outdated. But I had a few good professors who inspired me. We did have a state of the art TV station that several friends and I sort of took over. We helped get the school’s access TV station going. Really basic stuff, but we were creating and it was fun.
So while I did every job from acting to writing to directing to Boom Operator, I wouldn’t call what I got at school “training”. What school did for me – and what I think it should do for all – is inspire me and give me direction.
So shortly after graduating, I moved to Los Angeles. Just like that.
What was your first job in the business? What was that experience like?
About six months before I graduated Seton Hall, I had already decided I was going to move to LA. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, I had done an internship at Fox TV. It was the reality division that did Cops. I didn’t do anything but answer phones, make VHS dubs of stuff, but it was working. In Hollywood. And I instantly knew I wanted to be here.
Not with reality TV though. So when I went back to college, I started to really think about how to get a job in film when I graduate.
Most filmmakers were inspired by Star Wars or Spielberg. My biggest inspiration came from EVIL DEAD 2. I left that movie asking, “How did those guys make that film?” So I learned how they did it. It was directed by Sam Raimi for very little money. I learned about how he got started. How he, his partners Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell found the money for Evil Dead 1 that got their careers going. Sam was an outsider from Michigan. He too didn’t have any Hollywood contacts and didn’t go to a fancy film school.
So, I don’t know what I expected, but I wrote a letter to Sam and sent it to his office at Universal. This was well before he was world renowned for directing the Spiderman trilogy. He had just completed ARMY OF DARKNESS. The letter was simply an introduction of who I was and that I wished to work with him. I didn’t say I was a fan and all that. I kept it business only. Shockingly, about three weeks later, I received a letter back from him. It was very friendly and he said if I moved to LA, to reach out to him.
After I moved out to LA, I followed up on my letter. I contacted his office I got in at the right time. The production office had just opened. I was hired on a temp basis to run errands (dry cleaning, script deliveries, etc.). I worked in the office in LA for four months and then begged and pleaded for a job on set when the film went on location to Tuscan, Arizona.
It worked. I was hired to do three jobs (on only one paycheck). I was “officially” the Location Production Asst. But I was also second Unit PA and Sam’s PA. And that film was called THE QUICK & THE DEAD.
To this day, that job is still my favorite. It was an amazing cast and crew. And Sam was/is the greatest. I learned everything I know today from that film. I was twenty-two and I felt like I should be paying them. This was like graduate film school, but BETTER. I was getting paid AND learning AND really helping to make a film.
Tell us about the first project you wrote? Where did the inspiration for the screenplay come from? How was that film received?
The first script I wrote was in college called OUT OF REACH. A rom-com about a Hollywood chauffeur that ends up getting into a relationship with a famous Hollywood actress. It was terrible, but I finished it, learned a ton of stuff and then wrote another and another.
My first screenplay credit on a produced film was shared credit on the second film I directed, IN ENEMY HANDS. I was given the script by the producer, John Brister, who produced my first film. It was fictional, but an incredible story set during WWII. My only issue with the script was that he developed it into an action film. And the film desperately wanted to be a drama. Plus, on the budget he was proposing, it needed to be smaller.
The film centered around a German sub captain who is informed while out to sea that his family was killed in a bombing in Berlin. He starts to have a crisis of conscience. Meanwhile, an American sub was in a battle with another German sub. The US sub wins, but gets damaged and sinks. The German captain ends up picking up all the survivors, even though he’s only supposed to pick up the captain. An issue with illness comes about that ravages the crew of the sub, and the crew members realize they all have to work together if they’re going to survive.
The first draft centered more on the conflict outside the sub, but as I told the producer (John Brister), the better conflict was inside. I hadn’t really seen WWII Germans portrayed as sympathetic in an American film. That excited me.
So I did a re-write that everyone loved and, well, waited. Independent films either happen too fast or painfully slow. This was the latter, but thanks to my old manager (and now well-established producer and upcoming first-time director Mark Williams), he got the script to William H. Macy, who came on board, and we were able to attract an amazing cast which included Til Schweiger, Thomas Kretchsmann, Clark Gregg, Scott Caan, Jeremy Sisto, Xander Berkley, Lauren Holly, and Ian Somerhalder. And a little trivia, also cast in the film was Gavin Hood ,who would go on to win an Oscar for directing TSOTSI.
The film was an incredible experience. We had very little money (budget was about $3-3.5M), but the cast and crew were amazing. I met one of my best friends on it, actor and writer Branden Morgan. Everyone really got along. Our financiers, however, were another story. They were not interested in making a good film and did their best to derail the film as much as possible.
When we were finally completed, the studio we had sold it to, was sold and the new distributors really didn’t understand the film we had made. Their initial cover art depicted a state-of-the-art nuclear sub, which weren’t around during WWII. Sadly, our film was sort of dumped to DVD. But I’m, to this day, still so very proud of the film and that hard-working cast and crew.
So in that respect, I’m happy. I’m also happy because that film helped lead me to get my next film CHAOS.
Please tell us about the filming of Chaos.
I’d like to share one of the most bizarre film experiences ever, the making of CHAOS. This may scare off anyone who wants to be a filmmaker.
CHAOS was my third feature. I wrote and was set to direct. It was a mystery/thriller/action film starring Jason Statham, Ryan Phillippe and Wesley Snipes. The film was assembled in the late stages of 2003. I was a very big fan of Jason Statham. I had seen and loved THE TRANSPORTER, LOCK STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and THE ITALIAN JOB. My manager, Mark Williams, got the script to Jason’s manager, Steve Chasman. I met with Steve, who then arranged a meeting for Jason and I. We got along, so Jason signed on. He loved the script. We quickly got an offer from Franchise Pictures (DRIVEN, 3000 MILES TO GRASSLAND and the immortal BATTLEFIELD EARTH) to finance. While Franchise wasn’t known for quality, they offered us a $25 million budget and a 2000 screen guaranteed release.
And once we had Jason and financing, the rest of the cast signed on quickly. We sent offers to Ryan Phillippe and Wesley Snipes and they signed on. At the time, the biggest name was Wesley. This was pre-prison/tax evasion Wesley. He was still doing BIG films and had recently completed shooting Blade: Trinity. Ryan Phillippe was an actor I very much respected with star turns in hits like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, CRUEL INTENTIONS and the very under-rated WAY OF THE GUN. Ryan was our next most recognizable name. Jason, which seems funny now, was the least known of our big three.
I finally had what I wanted. A real budget with a commercial film that would open in theaters across the World. My two previous films were both straight to Home Entertainment features. No shame in that, but my goal was to make a BIG theatrical film. And I finally had the chance.
With $25 million, we had enough money to do the film right. The budget was more than enough to do this film justice. Plus, we had a preliminary schedule of forty production days and two weeks of second unit photography.
Everything was perfect. Until… we got to making the film.
We were set to commence principal photography on March 17, 2004 in Vancouver. I was supposed to get six weeks prep. I left for Vancouver the first week of February with my longtime friend and first AD, Jonathan McGarry. We were in Vancouver about forty-eight hours when the Vancouver Line Producer told me, “I’m shutting down the production office. Your film isn’t getting made.”
I didn’t understand until I got the news. Franchise Pictures was no more. German-based Intertainment AG had filed a lawsuit alleging that Franchise Pictures had fraudulently inflated budgets in films. So the case that had been long in the making, was about to go to court and Franchise pulled the plug on the film and we were shut down.
Now, the smart thing would’ve been to take our film, with all our actors, to a different financier. Why this wasn’t done, I’m not sure. At the time, I stayed out of the “producing” end, especially the financing stuff. I knew how to look at a budget and pick the right cast and crew, but the finances were above my head.
So when Steve Chasman came back and told us, we’re back on, less than a week later, I was happy. A company called Mobius Entertainment assumed control of the film and were set to finance us.
Mobius was not an experienced production company. The domestic deal went away with the franchise. The bank loan simply never closed. The film was never bonded. The film was entirely financed by Mobius that simply didn’t have $25 Million in cash. Mobius took on way more than they could handle.
But they never told anyone this. They always told us that everything was fine.
So we all went back to work, only we had to make a few sacrifices that were nothing too major.
In the meantime, I’m back prepping the film. I come into the production office on March 9 to a surreal scene. I’m handed that day’s THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. On the front page is the announcement of my film. It said “Giglio filling ‘Chaos’ with action quartet”
About ten minutes after reading the article, announcing my film, the producer entered my office and told me we were shut down. Again. Financiers failed to pay crew paychecks and the union shut us down until payment was received.
In less than one month, two shut downs. It was too much. I left. Literally. I went back to the hotel, packed up and went to the airport. I was done. I left for LA. Upon my arrival, I received a call from an executive at Mobius telling me they were working out the problems but said, “You need to go back right away or the movie will really go away.” So my stay back in LA was about four hours. I had the car turn around, go back to LAX and I waited for the next flight to Vancouver.
Upon my return, the film did get back up again, but again, with another round of concessions.
Again, maybe it was ego, but I felt I could do it. We were pushed once again. We started shooting March 29, 2004.
The first three days of filming were amazing. We were back. The film was looking great. The crew and cast were exceptional.
And then day four. Of all days, that was Thursday, April 1 – April Fool’s Day. About two hours into the day, I was setting up for a close-up on Ryan Phillippe when a Union Rep – someone I had never met – stepped onto set, and ordered the crew to set their equipment down and exit the set immediately. They called for a meeting outside. This was unlike the previous shut downs. None of the others had ever happened directly in front of me. Most had happened to producers and then brought to my attention discretely.
I, of course, thought this was a joke. The crew making an April Fool’s Day joke about our previous shut downs.
Only it was no joke. Mobius had once again bounced paychecks and violated the previous agreement they had reached with the Unions. The crew walked. Shut down. Again.
And this one was for ten days.
Now, all through this time, I had not been paid a dime. I was set to make my largest amount of money I ever had. And nearly two months, I had not made any money. I was actually going deeper and deeper into debt on this film that was supposed to pay me extremely well.
After ten days, the film got back on track, and again compromises. This time, the changes really affected the quality of the film. But what choice did I have now? I had to finish the film. If I left now, there was no chance I’d get paid and all this nonsense would have been for nothing.
So back to work we went. And there would be three more shut downs, each lasting two to three days.
We never got call sheets at the end of the night. A call sheet informs the crew of the next day’s work. The scenes we’re shooting, the actors who are working, what time you have to be at work – all vital info. We got memos saying we’d be called IF we were working.
On normal films, you get dailies. Which is the footage you shot the previous day to review. On this film we never got dailies because Mobius never paid the lab until months after filming was completed
We had a ton of crew turnover. I couldn’t blame the people for leaving.
Once the film finished principal photography, I went back to LA. It took six more weeks for the bank loan to finally close so we could move onto editing and post-production.
It wasn’t until this time that I finally met the Mobius head, David Bergstein. Prior to this, he was this voice on a speaker phone and a name we all cursed on set. Much to my shock, David was not the devil. He was polite and seemed to have a logical reason for all of our issues. He apologized and even offered to pay me a portion of my fee out of his own bank account until I could be paid in full. He wrote me a check for $75,000.
The meeting, the apologies, all of it was just part of same nonsense that we suffered through during filming. I did finally get paid (they had to pay me or they would not have received millions in tax incentives – because if they could’ve screwed me, they would’ve).
The film was this co-production with Canada and the UK. So in order to get all the incentives, you had to hire a certain percentage of Canada/UK crew or spend the money in those countries.
There were plenty more issues with editing. David continued to slow down the process because David didn’t want the best film. None of his actions were to make the best film possible. ALL of his actions served ONLY him. He wanted HIS ideas implemented even if they weren’t good or didn’t work.
In Early March 2005, we were finally complete. But my battles with David continued. He ended up hiring two different editors to go back into the finished film and try to re-edit things. So, after wasting more time on nonsense, David finally gave up trying to change CHAOS.
I liked the film. It’s good, but it could have been much better. I only see what it could have been. And what stinks is we HAD everything to make it great and what i wanted.
The film, I was happy to hear, received multiple offers for a theatrical release, one with Sony and one with Lion’s Gate – but again, David messed them up like he had our production. And after a year plus of waiting, Lion’s Gate released the film on DVD.
Upon reflection, CHAOS was both a triumph and an epic failure. I still can’t believe I got the film done. And despite the craziness, it’s good. But I’ll always see what it could’ve been. If that film had a financier that cared, it could’ve been special.
What are your works that you are most known for and/or most proud of? Elaborate if you would like.
I am, of course, proud of all my films. Getting a film made is so very tough. You need one thousand yes’s for it to get made, but a single “no” can kill you.
I am probably most known for CHAOS as a director. Even though Jason Statham wasn’t the star he is now when we made the film, many people who became his fan, found the film. I receive more fan mail for that film than any other. The DEATH RACE films (for which I’ve been the screenwriter) have been very popular.
Any other upcoming works you can mention?
I am currently in editorial on a new film starring Adrianne Palicki, Sam Jaeger, Michael Jai White and Matthew Marsden. It’s for Original Films (Fast & Furious franchise) and Stage 6. We don’t have an official title just yet and our release will be sometime in 2017.
Universal made DEATH RACE 4, which I wrote. The film also does not have a confirmed release date, but look for it in early 2017.
I was one of several writers on Simon Rumley’s JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD. The film had a successful debut at the SWSW film festival in 2016.
As a writer and director in the business, what are your favorite parts of doing both jobs? What do you find most challenging about both roles?
My favorite part of writing is the ability to escape. I know when a script is working when the script leads me in a direction I didn’t see coming. Or the character says something I didn’t pre-determine. All writers have their “ process”. I usually outline a beginning, middle and end and then I will expand that outline into a short story version of the script. Maybe 20-30 pages. Mostly plot with some dialogue.
Now, this process doesn’t always produce results. I have many short stories I haven’t taken to script because… I’ll finish the story and think it’s not a movie. And I’ll bail on it.
But if I take it to script and as I’m writing a character will say something I didn’t expect, I get excited. I know it’s weird. I of course am writing the character’s dialogue. How could they say something I didn’t expect? Well, like I said, the short story is simply that. It’s plot. I use the script to develop who the characters are.
I don’t have many hard rules about writing, but I have two. The first, respect the audience. Meaning, don’t repeat information. Assume they are paying attention. And if they’re not, then who cares about them? I don’t make films for the folks who are multi-tasking. And second, be true to your characters. Writers often get to a point in the screenplay where we HAVE to have a character do or say something. The challenge of writing is to make that character do or say what you need them to naturally not just conveniently for your plot point. This is easier said than done. And you can even get frustrated at the character for not doing or saying what you need them to. you get frustrated because YOU did this. You developed a character so well that you know he/she wouldn’t do that at that particular time.
So when a character will say or do something I didn’t see coming. I know I’m “in the zone”. I know I’m following my rules.
The greatest challenge is coming up with an idea that’s exciting, fresh and new, that you can take from creation to completion.
Some inexperienced writers have a HUGE problem implanting notes. I used to. I would become very defensive. But I now see it as part of the process. It was a lesson I embraced writing Death race 2. that was my first studio writing assignment. I turned in the first draft. People loved it, but, as ALWAYS, there were notes. As I scanned the notes, I agreed with about half of them. But you have to do them. Draft one was yours. This is their draft. You do your best to address their note. If it’s not working after you do it, then it’s a discussion, but they are entitled to see their notes implemented. Reluctantly I agreed and much to my surprise, I was able to turn the notes I didn’t like into something cool.
My favorite part of directing… collaborating with great people to make a movie. I’ve had the ridiculous pleasure of working with some of the absolutely best people the film industry has to offer. I’ve directed (in no particular order), such supremely awesome actors like William H. Macy, Jason Statham, Ryan Phillippe, Til Schweiger, Thomas Kretchsmann, Millia Jovovich, Danny Glover, Sean Astin, Adrianne Palicki, Wesley Snipes, Sam Jaeger, Michael Jai White and Clark Gregg. On CHAOS, my DP was Richard Greatrex who was nominated for an Oscar for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. My Composer was Trevor Jones, who scored LAST OF THE MOHICANS, NOTTING HILL, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, etc.
It is a blast having all these amazingly talented people all working to help bring YOUR vision to life. It’s awesome & humbling.
The most challenging thing… is making the film. Because we don’t make films in a utopian world where you have everything you need. My biggest challenge has consistently been time & budget. Every director has something, but for me, I usually get hired to make films that the producers want to look like they spent $15M on, but only want to spend $1-4 million. For that kind of budget, you are only going to get, at most four weeks (twenty days), you don’t get re-shoot or additional photography days. Your stunt doubles aren’t available every day. You can’t have a crane or FX on certain days, etc. The hardest thing: Prep is so important to low budget films, but THIS is the area producers usually cut back on: Prep.
It sounds backwards, but this is the world of low budget filmmaking.
Is there an aspect of filmmaking you’d like to try but have not had the chance to (or yout would like to do more of? Please elaborate if you like.
I would love to create my own TV show. I feel like TV has evolved. When I was a kid, only soap operas were serials. TV shows were half or an hour long, and one episode had nothing to do with the last one or the next one. Nowadays, especially the ten to twelve episode seasons that HBO, AMC, FX, etc do, are all like one large movie, cut into ten to twelve parts. You really have time to develop not just your main characters not all your characters and really build a complex plot because you have the time.
Film gives you ninety to one hundred twenty minutes. While not impossible, it’s very difficult to do. You have to get the story out, first and foremost. So that often times doesn’t leave you with tons of time to develop anyone too deeply, including your main character and antagonist.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Whatever my wife tells me I like to do 🙂
Kidding, but partly true.
I still love going to the movies. I probably go at least once a month.
What is your advice to people who are considering a job in the industry?
Thick skin, patience and have no plan B.
Thick skin because you will be rejected. Many, many, many times. This is not a business for the easily derailed. You must plan to succeed but be prepared to fail.
Patience because there’s no such thing as an overnight sensation. DiCaprio had been acting in commercials and TV’s Growing Pains long before anyone knew him as romantic heart throb in TITANIC. Brie Larsen won an Oscar this past year for ROOM. Someone asked her how it felt to be a star overnight. She said, “Well, I’ve been acting for twenty years.” The morale of the story, don’t put a clock on yourself. Some folks will sell their first script or book their first job. Most won’t.
No plan B. This is controversial because you obviously don’t want to starve. You need to make money. I understand this. I can only speak of my own experiences. I never took my eye off the prize of wanting to be a director. I had no idea how to get that job. I was smart enough to realize I didn’t know how to make a movie, so I had to learn. I started as a Production Assistant (aka the lowest person on the totem pole). I worked long enough as a P.A. to realize that if I wanted to get the directing jobs, I needed to make a film – short even – or write a script everyone wanted. I had very little money and at that time you couldn’t make a short on video. You had to shoot film to be taken seriously. Video camera quality was poor. We didn’t have HD 4K cameras available on our phones. So I couldn’t afford to make a short film. So I decided to dedicate my time writing. And I kept at it until I had a script good enough to show people. And through the various contacts I made working on movies as a PA, I was able to get my stuff read.
In these years, I rarely slept. I was either on set working as a PA or writing. I didn’t take vacations and I rarely went out. My twenties were a blur because it was all work to try and make my dream job happen.
Now, I don’t believe in pure luck, but I do believe in good luck. The difference? Pure luck would be winning the lottery. Good luck is working hard and putting yourself in position to succeed.
Now, that doesn’t guarantee success. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen regardless of what you do. I like to think that even if I hadn’t got a chance to direct, I feel I did everything I could to get myself in position. I’d have no regrets. I’m finishing up post-production on my sixth feature film that I’ve directed. Imagine that.
Rarely does a filmmaker share the vast and diverse content that Tony has shared today, and there is no doubt that we merely scratched the surface, so to speak. Tony is one who knows the business inside and out, and there are filmmakers with twice his experience who have not had the kind of insane pitfalls and disturbances that Tony has had. However, I believe that it is because of these difficult moments that Tony has learned the secret of rising above the storms sent his way and even succeeding in spite of the deck being stacked against him. While I have yet to watch one of his films for myself, it is definitely on my bucket list, and I am even more committed after reviewing his insightful responses. I was most drawn to his tale of Chaos, and I am truly flabbergasted by the stamina this man has when it comes to potential hindrances. We all have our strengths, and there is no doubt that Tony has a determination and persistence of iron. Please be sure that you check out all of the links below and follow him on social media, if you choose to, so that you will be privy to whatever upcoming works are on the horizon for this talented, pragmatic, and committed man.