Article By: Amelia Addor
Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day date? Something that will surely go down in the date books as “iconic”? Well, what’s more iconic than Italian love? “That’s Amore” has been sung by the greats and featured in movies throughout history. Now it is the title of a classic-movie-in-the-making created by Joe Puglisi and Dr. Dave Petti.
What started as a passion project stemming from a shared film class ended as a three-year local film project starring comedians and actors famous to Pittsburgh. The two men created Little Italy Productions to launch “That’s Amore”. Their adventure from script to screen was one Joe and Dave took in stride no matter what obstacles came their way as producers, writers, directors, and friends. “That’s Amore” has so much to offer Pittsburgh audiences of all ages, and welcomes the local support that came through casting, crew work, and post-production assistance. The community both inspired and helped make this movie possible.
Catch “That’s Amore” at the Strand Theater on Main Street in Zelienople, Pennsylvania about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh. The film debuts Friday, February 7 at 7:30 pm, February 8 at 7:30 pm, and February 9 at 4:00 pm. The last screening is on Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 pm, which will be the red-carpet night for cast and crew.
With a tagline of, “falling in love was never part of the plan”, there are few movies as heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny as “That’s Amore”. Described by David as “a romantic comedy for people who are just a little bit older”, it’s about four Italian-Americans who find love and friendship through adversity and confusion. A nurse named Lucia (played by Tammy Pescatelli) has a mother, Rosa (played by the late Barbara Russell) who is ailing and needs heart surgery. So, Lucia devises a deal with her mother to get married to Lucia’s dentist, Rocco (played by Dave) with the help of Rocco’s best friend Gino (played by Joe). For more information, buy tickets here, or learn more about the film here.
Dave, Joe, thank you for taking time for this interview. Please tell me about who you were before you became filmmakers.
Joe: For me, I have owned businesses and am currently a faculty member at La Roche University as Chair of the Marketing Department. It’s not that I gave up my jobs to be a filmmaker, it was just something I decided to do with Dave in addition to continuing the job I had.
Dave: I was a dentist who practiced for about 40 years in the Plum-Monroeville area. I graduated from Washington and Jefferson College and then after that I graduated from Pitt Dental School. Now I’m retired.
How did you two meet one another?
Joe: Dave and I met each other in acting class. I can’t really give you a year, but I can guess that it was somewhere around 2013. I’d run into Dave in a class I took twice a month, so I got to know him much better.
Dave: I had actually been an actor in the Pittsburgh area since about, oh, the early ‘90s. When the film industry came in, throughout the years I did basic film-work, print media, and commercials off-and-on. I got back into the full swing of acting around six years ago. That’s when I really went full force into the workshops and revamping my acting part of my career. As far as a filmmaker that came about when Joe and I said, “it would be neat to make a film”.
When was Little Italy Productions started? Is “That’s Amore” the first film produced by the studio?
Dave: We formed Little Italy Productions when we decided to do “That’s Amore”. And yes, it is the first film produced by our studio.
Joe: We plan to do different things with LIP after the premiere of “That’s Amore”.
Is it inspired by anything in particular?
Joe: These things evolve and take a while before we settle on a final idea or story, but we always had “Moonstruck” (1987) in the back of our minds.
Dave: I think the whole concept was inspired by the fact that, Joe and I being actors in Pittsburgh, you’re not in NYC or LA or even Chicago where people of our talent and drive would be out to a lot more auditions with a lot more opportunities as an actor. We decided to try and do something on our own to showcase our talent and to put something we truly cared about out there.
Where was “That’s Amore” filmed?
Joe: It was all filmed in Western Pennsylvania.
Dave: The principle location was in Plum Borough. We used my previous dental office to film the dental scenes and my daughter’s home for Rocco’s house. We also filmed in Pasqualino’s Restaurant in Murrysville and the Italian Club in Sewickley. In Ellwood City, Pennsylvania we used my brother’s house as Lucia and Rosa’s home, the Ellwood City Hospital was used for hospital scenes. Meadville for several of the scenes following
Tell me about who stars in the film and why they were chosen for the roles.
Dave: We needed someone to play a middle aged single Italian woman for the lead of Lucia. For years, I had followed the comedy of Tammy Pescatelli and she was always just so funny. When it came time to casting the role, I said “let’s try to get in touch with her” because she was just too perfect for Lucia. We had no idea where she was- for all we knew, she was in Hollywood. I sent over the script, which she liked immediately, and wanted to be involved in the project. Then we found out she lives in Meadville, which was just extremely convenient for us.
Joe: The woman who plays her mother is Barbara Russell, who had a fantastic reputation in Pittsburgh thanks to her roles on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, George Romero’s “Day of the Dead”, and her 1960s comedy routine with Don Brockett. Unfortunately, three weeks after we wrapped filming for “That’s Amore” in 2018, Barbara Russell passed away. We were truly lucky to find talent like her and Tammy, so we were blessed to have them on set. Dave in particular was vigilante about going after them, talking to them, seeing if they liked the script, and having them be part of our film.
Dave: I play a dentist and Joe plays a college professor because, well, you write what you know!
Who was this film made for?
Dave: We wanted to make a film that was family friendly. In Pittsburgh, it’s always horror films or action films. And Joe and I have played our fair share of Italian mob bosses. We really wanted characters that everyone could relate to. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or young adult: you’ll get it. If you’re older, you’ll certainly get it.
Joe: Anyone who wants to laugh and find a heartwarming movie!
How do you plan to reach a wide audience with your first premiere?
Joe: One thing that do is proceed with trying to get a wide audience and awareness for the film.
Dave: The first premiere will be local, so we’re doing our own marketing outreach (and we thank you for PAFIA’s participation) and we will go on to distribute the movie through limited theatrical release as well as on streaming services afterwards. First and foremost, we want to reach everyone we can in the Pittsburgh area.
What are you most proud of with the finished product?
Dave: We’re most proud that it is a finished product! Most film projects that start out never get finished no matter what kind of movie it is. So, I’m just so proud that we just kept on pushing, persevering through any obstacle that came in our way.
Joe: I participated in the writing of the script, helped with the hiring of the crew and the cast, I acted in it, and was part of the post-production and marketing of it. So, what I’m proud of is the finished film that we have. Part of it is that we took our time, we had very talented people in every aspect of production, and every step of the way was met to the standards we started with.
What was something you had to learn about film “the hard way”?
Joe: To call it “the hard way” is to learn what you don’t know at first. Learning how to button down the details you couldn’t anticipate before filming, like getting insurance for the equipment to following Screen Actors Guild rules. All the stuff you don’t think about pre-planning a film.
Dave: I have to say post-production. Post-production has a lot of elements to it. The filming actually went very smooth. We never missed a filming day, we never missed getting all the shots we needed, the weather cooperated, the locations cooperated, cast and crew cooperated, we were just blessed.
What was the process in getting the film screened?
Joe: Basically, I contacted different areas, different movie theaters, so it was a huge marketing process. Getting people to become aware of it and getting some support and gaining agreements to get the film properly released.
Dave: Mostly this was Joe who went around to local theaters and said, “hey, we got a film that needs to be screened”. The Strand Theater being so close to Ellwood and being accessible to everybody in Pittsburgh was just a great fit. They gave us four nights for four different screenings to premiere this film. Because Tammy Pescatelli has performed as a comedian at the Strand, they knew of her and knew our film would be a great asset to the theater.
Any last thoughts?
Dave: The film itself was a labor of love, persistence, and passion. It will continue to be as we distribute it. We will let everybody (and their brother) know that it exists because I think they’ll find this film fun, romantic, and comedic with some elements of drama sprinkled into it. We accomplished that without the multi-million-dollar budget. “That’s Amore” will hold its own against those.
Joe: For me it’s been a very fun process. I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve been very, very impressed with the people I’ve met in Western Pennsylvania who’ve supported and help us with this film. I mean, we’ve had over fifty people involved in the production, marketing, and post-production. I think there are so many more films of caliber that will come out of this area.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org