A Rainy Night in old Ybor TownBack to Top | Back to Home
The sky had gotten noticably darker during the time Corey Castellano (my traveling companion and photog for this outing) and I headed into Ybor City. Any lightning strikes seemed isolated and distant, but it warned us that time was short if we still intended to find our location before any cloudbursts impeded our progress. Naturally, I thought Corey had written down the directions to The Cuban Club and he thought I'd done the same. Neither of us has done either. I closed my eyes and tried to psychically "remote view" the address off the last email from Paul Guzzo -- no luck, but my psychic powers have never really come through for me like that, anyway. Fortunately, Corey had his cell phone and dialed the missus. She told us to drive to the street named Republica de Cuba. Eureka, there it was.
The Cuban Club is one of the main settings for a short feature, one of eight shorts planned by the Guzzo Brothers dealing with historical Tampa. The overall project is to be called "The Ghosts of Ybor", tonight's particular chapter entitled, "The End is Blossoming" that deals with the seemy underbelly of 1940s mobster-influenced central Tampa. Paul Guzzo is the screenwriter for all these excursions, and brother Peter does the directing. So it is for pretty much all 1DayFilms productions (the boys' movie company).
Besides getting the inside skinny on a gen-u-wine behind-the-scenes Guzzo Bros shoot, my primary directive this evening was to secure some pictures and brief interviews with two of the main players, Joe Lala (musician, actor, voice-over artist, teacher) and Al Sapienza (regular on HBO's The Sopranos, 24 and Prison Break, also did the Guzzo's The Dance). Due to the inclement weather and hectic filming schedule, I was only partially successful (but a fulfilling experience was had nonetheless).
Paul Guzzo was the first to meet us at the door and informed us that neither Lala nor Sapienza were present yet, but we were free to wander the set, meet and greet when appropriate, just don't touch anything (haha, OK, I added that last part).
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|L-to-R, Jereme Badger, Joe Lala, and Nolan Canova outside Ybor City's Cuban Club.|
|Robert Elfstrom, left, and Jereme Badger get into character on set.|
|Matt Camero, left, mugs for the camera with Nolan Canova|
|Behind the scenes shot of "The End is Blossoming"|
|Jereme Badger, Justin Trombetto, and Nolan Canova travel back in time to have a drink in 1942 Ybor!|
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|Two of the lovely ladies of "The End is Blossoming" flank yours truly|
|Director Peter Guzzo, center, flanked by stars Justin Trombetto and Lynn Moore|
|The big man himself, Al Sapienza, center, takes a quick pic with yours truly (left) and Robert Elfstrom|
|On the set in the background, Jereme Badger and Al Sapienza act out their scenes.|
|Detail enlargement of the picture above|
I didn't have to wait too long before Joe Lala arrived on set. A delightful gentlemen, I should elaborate that he is a Tampa native, but has lived out west for most of his life until recently. He grew up in and around Ybor City, went to school and became friends with another local legend, radio's Tedd Webb. Lala was the drummer for The Blues Image ("Ride Captain Ride"), and worked with Neil Young. He has been seen in episodic television (Miami Vice comes to mind) and provides the voice for several cartoon characters (see joelala.com for the full rap sheet on Joe's career). Recently, he opened an actor's workshop in Ybor City (see here). We had to step outside to talk since the set was "hot". Just a few minutes into our conversation and just as I was about to get into Joe's years with Neil Young, the inevitable happened: rain. And pouring too hard to just ignore. I'd have to postpone this part of our interview for some other time (fellow PCR staffer Terence Nuzum was especially disappointed to hear this) as we raced back inside and had to remain silent. Joe took his place near the set to await his call as a mobster.
The Cuban Club's bar area had been "dressed" to appear as authentically 1942 as possible (made easier by the fact it was actually around then), and the props and all actors had to maintain a similar authenticity to make this period piece work. The men were well-dressed with slicked-back hair, the woman had lovely, colorful evening gowns and were appropriately coiffeured.
Joining the shooting already in progress, Corey and I witnessed local actor Robert Elfstrom (The Dance, Above, 99) enter the bar area with his "dame" and threaten the bartender (Justin Trombetto). Several thugs came from behind the bar, beating up on Elfstrom. Man down. Pete decided on a few more takes, and I marveled how Rob could keep getting beat up, stay still, then get up after "Cut" to do it again. I imagine he was pretty black-and-blue that night!
The main camera capturing the action was an impressive-looking Panasonic Vari-Cam HD camera. According to Pete, this is about a 60-thousand dollar camera. A small army of people is required to move camera and boom cables while the cameraman shoulder-totes the instrument while walking and filming.
After a break was called I was able to converse briefly with Guzzo staples Matt Camero and Jereme Badger (both of 99 and A Joyce Story). I told Matt he looked younger in person and apologized for any misunderstanding regarding my review of 99 (I was told he was dejected when I wrote that the 20-something looked about 35 years old in the film). Matt was great about it and assured me we were cool. As I turned to talk to Jereme Badger, I was taken aback by, how in full costume and make-up, he resembled the late Howard Hughes! Jereme assured me he was not playing Hughes, but another mobster who'd be dealing directly with Al Sapienza later in the evening.
Speaking of Mr. Sapienza, it looked like he would be later than predicted due to altered flight schedules. Al was taking his one day off to fly down from New York to be in a Guzzo brothers' picture. Amazing. I wasn't even sure I'd recognize him when he did arrive because I've never seen The Sopranos---no cable. In any event, Corey and I made ourselves comfortable as the cast and crew broke for pizza. I chatted with some of the crew and took pictures with a couple lovely ladies.
I think it was around 9:00pm when Mr. Sapienza arrived and, sure enough, he walked right past me and I didn't know it (although the light yellow suit should've been a givaway). I waited while he was "in make-up" for a while, hoping for the briefest possible window for a snapshot (I could see there'd be no time for an interview), periodically reminding Paul Guzzo I needed a picture. Finally, Robert Elfstrom offered to take me upstairs and introduce us to him. Al and Rob knew each other from The Dance. Al was going over his lines with a script girl while dressing up in a cool, '40s-era pin-strip suit. Every moment counted as he would answer his lines and don another article of clothing, scarcely noticing Corey and I were standing right behind him. This was going to require split-second timing.
As the script closed, and Al put on his jacket to head downstairs, Robert introduced me and Corey to Al who graciously agreed to pose for a quick picture. I'd love to've gotten Corey in one, too, but there was simply no time. I hastily attempted to add Corey's resumé to the conversation, but felt foolish afterwards, as Al couldn't possibly care at this point. Downstairs we went.
Back on Set
The subsequent scene filmed with Jereme Badger, Al Sapienza, and Lynn Moore (as a threatened mother) is one of those surreal moments that is really hard to convey in print. The caliber of acting has just ratcheted up a serious notch. For the first time, Jereme Badger, normally the epitome of cool, is, I think, nervous or something, sitting at a small table across from the Soprano actor. As Sapienza growls out his lines in that incredibly cool New York/mobster hiss, the mood of the room changes and we are watching serious theater. As the tension mounts, Sapienza suddenly belts out one of his legendary gun-brandishing, profanity-laden threats and you could just feel everyone's stomachs go all weird. This is, like, the way it was. Tense....dangerous....eerily authentic. Only a few takes were required of this scene and Pete and Al were happy enough to move forward to the next.
Corey had to leave by a certain time and I had gotten enough for this story, so we left about this point. I regret not being able to see Joe Lala perform his scenes, which, evidently, happened closer to midnight, but at least we got a little quality time together.
According to the Guzzos, this film has no certain timeline for completion, but they expect to have it done and ready for viewing in about 3 or 4 months. Meanwhile, there are more chapters to shoot.
All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ę2006 by Nolan B. Canova.