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UB graduate student 's film featured in Buffalo International Film Festival

Past mistakes help make seamless movie in historic Buffalo landmark

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After his senior project took a turn for the worse, Vinny DiVirgilio knew he had to redeem himself.

He was filming throughout 2014 – one of Buffalo’s coldest years on record. Due to complications with “Snowvember” and sub-zero temperatures, DiVirgilio, a second-year graduate student, said the film ended up being a total nightmare.

Due to the cold temperatures, none of his equipment would work. He had to make a lot of last-minute changes and it ended up proving to be a larger problem than they imagined.

“All the locations backed out because of the storm, so literally a week before filming, all our sites fell through,” DiVirgilio said. “All of our equipment was freezing, we had the throw out half of our footage, recorders stopped working, literally everything was messed up. And on top of that I had a torn ACL. It was the biggest mess and even post-production it was a mess for months.”

He wanted to come back with a bigger, better film that would blow his last one out of the water.

When starting production for the new movie, DiVirgilio and Andrew Dale, a writing partner and fellow UB alumnus, made sure they had multiple backup plans in case something went wrong.

“Unlike the first film, no matter what, we had a backup and a second backup because we didn’t want to get stuck again,” DiVirgilio said.

His new film “Beyond The Sea” had far fewer setbacks, which allowed them to focus more on filming and producing the movie exactly how they wanted it to be. The film is now featured in the Buffalo International Film Festival.

“The last one didn’t go how we wanted,” DiVirgilio said. “Here’s this new one, let’s do it right this time.”

Their camera equipment didn’t arrive on the first day, reminding them of the difficulties they had faced in the past. The pair initially worried it would set them back, but his team had reserved some equipment from UB for small problems just like that.

The film was shot on the U.S.S. Croaker, a retired WWII submarine in Erie County’s Naval Park. It was a challenge to fit an entire crew on the sub as the rooms were extremely small and narrow with barely enough room for the main actor, Dale, DiVirgilio and a film crew.

“The rooms were no bigger than my office, maybe 10 by eight feet, so it was tough squeezing us all on there,” he said. “They let us use the ship next to us as a dressing room and storage for the week, but it was still a hassle to go between ships to get certain things or talk to an actor.”

“Beyond The Sea” tells the thrilling tale of Jimmy, a navy recruit fresh out of boot camp. After a standard restocking mission, a malaria outbreak kills the entire crew except for him.

Jimmy is stranded behind enemy lines during the heat of World War II, submerged in Japan’s Pacific waters. As his mind starts to question if he can make it by himself, solitude isn’t the only thing he has to worry about.

The small film set was already working against them, so Dale and DiVirgilio had to shoot the film in a fraction of the time a regular film would take. A normal day of filming can run anywhere between eight to 12 hours, but the pair didn’t have that time.

“After speaking to the representatives down at the Naval Park, we were granted four six-hour days because we were only allowed there when the staff was working,” DiVirgilio said. “We had half the time to shoot the whole film, and that included getting there, setting up, filming and taking down all the equipment so we were losing even more time from that.”

After wrapping up production, DiVirgilio said he was amazed with how well the filming went considering all the restrictions he encountered while on the submarine. Just as his senior project was a learning experience, he took a lot away from his most recent project.

“Looking back on it after we finished filming, Andrew and I sat down and we thought ‘How the hell did we just do that?’ We basically filmed it in one 24-hour period, and that never happens,” DiVirgilio said.

DiVirgilio’s filming roots were planted in high school. After realizing he didn’t want to go to culinary school, he looked for another “hands on” career to pursue.

“I did not want to be in an office all day. I have to be doing something hands-on and productive,” he said. “I was always interested in how they made the films. I would always watch the behind the scenes and featurettes from my favorite films.”

After watching the first “Transformers” movie, DiVirgilio realized he was amazed by the “Hollywood magic” that goes into making blockbuster feature films.

“I had to watch it a second time. It blew my mind that they could do so many epic actions scenes in an empty warehouse,” he said. “Everything is fake until they add in the CGI and I wanted to know all the tricks of the trade.”

DiVirgilio decided to come to UB since it was the only local school that had a good film program as well as a competitive soccer team for him to play on.

During his time as an undergrad, he met his current writing partner Dale. The duo, along with other classmates, worked on their senior project together and is currently in the process of creating their own media company.

“It’s funny because we didn’t meet until our junior year of college, despite finding out we had multiple mutual friends on the soccer team,” Dale said. “Our senior project was the first thing I’d ever done. I’d never written anything before then. Now Vinny and I write together and this last project turned out great.”

Dale and DiVirgilio worked on “Beyond The Sea” together. DiVirgilio wrote the entire first draft and then sent it to Dale, who edited it and made additional changes.

“Before we even had the story idea, Vinny had known he wanted to film at the submarine,” Dale said. “So the whole story came after we booked the location. Before a script was even written, we decided we needed something heavier and visually appealing in that type of location.”

The inspiration for the film came partially from DiVirgilio’s grandfather. He was a WWII buff and after his visit to the Naval Park, DiVirgilio asked him about the era and decided he wanted to focus around the war time period.

Sarah Elder, a media study professor, has had Vinny in class as an undergrad and now as a TA. She said he and his work have matured since his senior project.

“It’s absolutely wonderful when you get to know a student’s individual strengths, passions, fears etc.,” she said. “If you only have a student once you don’t get to know them but I got to see Vinny’s maturation as an artist. It’s thrilling; his work has gotten a lot deeper and much more meaningful.”

Elder allowed DiVirgilio to play the film in her class for students to give him feedback. Usually people ignore criticism from younger students, but DiVirgilio was persistent and edited it over and over until he got the class’s approval.

“I’ve seen three or four almost finished versions, but every time he changed it we showed it in my classes and got feedback, [and I] also gave him private editing feedback,” Elder said. “He really listened to what people said. The first time he showed the final cut, he thought it was finished, but it always needs more work. Someone would point something out and he was rather surprised and disappointed when we really analyzed it.”

One of DiVirgilio’s most impressive qualities is in that the film was pursued all in his free time. He put hundreds of hours into filming and production of the film and Edler was glad to see it pay off in the end.

“Vinny stuck to it and went back and re worked it, and it ended up being a great film,” Elder said. “It’s very rare to get a student so focused and to do this independently. He worked past any course requirement, taking initiative to film on something like a submarine.”

“Beyond The Sea” is being screened at the Buffalo International Film Festival Monday Oct. 10. It is up for an award in the short films category.

Max Kalnitz is the senior arts editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.comFollow him on Twitter at @mkalnitz.


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