Gaudioso brothers have fashioned a career in indie filmmaking
Most mothers would have advised their children to pick a more sensible career. Maryann Gaudioso of Hicksville wasn’t like most mothers.
As her identical twins, Anthony and James, were growing up, she encouraged their acting aspirations.
“She told us, ‘Go for your dreams,’ ” James Gaudioso related as he sat for an interview in the
Hicksville Public Library’s Children’s Department. At one point he looked around with a bemused smile, and a bit of wonder; it had been nearly 20 years since he last set foot into the room, and briefly talked about the subsequent changes.
“[Maryann] was really supportive,” Gaudioso went on. “She would leave work [at Lufthansa Airines] and pick us up behind the Hicksville High School and say, ‘Come on, let’s beat the rush hour traffic,’ and take us to auditions in the city.”
Gaudioso was in his hometown for a few days from West Los Angeles recently, staying with his mother and visiting friends and old haunts.
The Gaudiosos moved to Hicksville from Illinois when the twins were young. The family also includes father John (now living in Arizona) and brother John-Peter (a police officer in Suffolk County). James recalled growing up in the area near Holy Trinity High School, close to the Westbury border.
He found himself drawn to movies early on. The nearby drive-in theater in Westbury was a source of memories, and he named One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a particular favorite.
“I saw a movie when I was a kid and thought it would be a beautiful thing to affect people through performance,” he said.
Gaudioso gave credit to the Hicksville school system for fostering creativity.
“There were some amazing teachers at Hicksville,” he said, also singling out counselor Alice Brod.
“I think wherever you’re from, you take the culmination of your experiences and try and apply them to your work,” Gaudioso reflected.
While their peers displayed their thespian talents in the school musicals and plays, the Gaudioso brothers were trying to land small roles in the Big Apple’s television, stage and voiceover industries.
“I remember they had a great [theater] program at Hicksville, but we never got the chance to be in the plays because we were always shuffling off to the city,” Gaudioso said.
He noted that the stage “involves a different kind of acting, and we always had our eyes set on film and TV.”
James found roles on Broadway and Off Broadway, including Shakespeare In The Park, and was used by noted director Spike Lee in a series of commercials.
After graduating from Hicksville HS in 1997, James went off to Nassau Community College and later transferred to Hofstra. Anthony attended LIU-Post. In the early 2000s, after graduating, the brothers headed to the West Coast and the center of the film industry. Both now make their home in West Los Angeles.
Their first feature film, Medium, was shot in 2003-04 on Long Island for about $15,000.
“A medium inadvertently opens the door to the Great Beyond and to those who have crossed its threshold” reads the plot summary on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) website. Co-written by the brothers, along with Michael Baran (who co-directed with Anthony), it might have been inspired by their mother’s particular gift; Maryann, James related, “is well-known as a clairvoyant.”
James’ performance as a mute in Medium impresssed Vanity Fair, and he was named by the magazine as a “Rising Star” in one of its 2005 issues.
Their follow-up, Duke, cost $750,000 and was written by Anthony and co-directed by the brothers. Among the cast are Carmine Giovinazzo (currently in Criminal Minds, previously in CSI:NY for nine years) and Vanessa Ferlito (Spiderman 2, Sopranos, Graceland). The plot of the film, released in 2013, defies summarization, but is an update of old Western themes, as the Gaudiosos play brothers who fight crime in LA.
Funding for Duke came from an investor in NYC who had never financed a movie before.
Anthony wrote the script for the next film, titled The Ghost and The Whale, set in Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds. It stars Maurice Benard (Emmy winner for General Hospital, Joy with Jennifer Lawrence) as a man who goes out to sea with his wife and comes back without her, claiming that a whale had taken her life. James plays a reporter who investigates the case, and Anthony is the brother of the missing woman, out to seek revenge. The whale’s “voice” is narrated by the acclaimed, multiple award-winning English actor Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).”
“We felt we needed [actors] who could hit it out of the ballpark,” Gaudioso said of the casting. “We sent the script to Jonathan and he called us and said that he loved it and agreed to do the voiceover.”
“Our goal was to shine a light on mental illness and redemption,” Gaudioso said of the film. “You make it for people to see it. [We’ve] had people reach out from all over the country, telling us how it affected them. I got a call from someone I went to school with. He told me, ‘I suffered from bipolar disorder. And [the film] helped. Thanks for putting it out.’ ”
Gaudioso added that Benard is also an advocate for mental health.
The Gaudiosos shopped around for financial angels, striking gold with a lone investor who put up the $1.2 million to bankroll The Ghost and The Whale.
“We say to investors, ‘We’ll do the best we can to line up the project for success, line up the best talent, and try to be an advocate for socially important issues.’
“The investors know the reality of the business,” Gaudioso added. “We’ll let them know that we’ll make their money back. We’ve been successful with investors by telling them the truth and also saying, ‘What story do you want to tell? What speaks to your heart?’ ”
Creating a film, with all its attendant complexities, is challenging enough. Getting it distributed and shown is another order of difficulty.
“How many films are out there? So many don’t see the light of day. We’re very happy to be distributed by Mar-Vista,” Gaudioso related. “We showed it at some festivals, but that’s a saturated market, too.”
The Ghost and The Whale got a small theatrical release in Los Angeles. The movie is available on iTunes and Amazon, and will be offered on Netflix later this year.
Anthony is currently working on an animated feature, Coins. James’ latest acting credit is *69, a horror/thriller in which he is third-billed in the cast.
The brothers’ next feature is already written. It is titled Numb and James describes it as a “gritty family drama.” He hopes to film it in Hicksville—or Long Island—once financing comes through.
In his IMDB page, James has credits as an actor, producer, second unit director, director, writer, casting director, editor and set decorator.
The brothers did not set out to be filmmakers, but circumstances forced them to.
“We had something to say, and we wanted to create a vehicle for our voices,” Gaudioso noted.
The acting life, he affirmed, “was beyond difficult,” and he is focused on finding acting gigs “to move the needle.”
“It all stemmed from the love of acting,” Gaudioso said of the filmmaking efforts. “We’re actors first and foremost. We created the films to showcase our acting.”
Filming On Hitchcockian Ground
The Gaudiosos decided to film The Ghost and the Whale in Bodega Bay, the California coastal town north of San Francisco that was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
That assured them the casting of Tippi Hedren, who played Melanie Daniels in the classic, and has a role as “Tippi” in their film.
“She wore the same ring and the necklace as in the movie,” James Gaudioso related. “She’s come back to the town every year for the last 50 years.”
“They loved it. They still carry a torch for the movie,” Gaudioso said. “It was the biggest thing that ever came through. You walk into a store and a fake bird comes down at you.”
Still standing are the house where the Rod Taylor character lived with Jessica Tandy and the schoolhouse where Suzanne Pleshette taught.
“The people in Bodega Bay welcomed us,” Gaudioso said.
The brothers had been warned that a fog bank would roll in off the shore for four hours every day.
“We planned for pea soup, the Wuthering Heights look—that was going to be the aesthetic,” Gaudioso related.
In the 21 days of February shooting, the fog never appeared, leading Gaudioso to remark, “A lot of indie film is, ‘This is not what we planned for. How do we make it work?’ ”
Gaudioso praised their cinematographer, Jason Crawford (Chicago Fire) as “remarkably talented and adept at creating a visual [style]. You try to achieve as much in the camera as you can.”
He noted that editing and post-production on The Ghost and The Whale took more than a year.
Another thing was unplanned for: during filming one day, goats came down off the hillside and hung out near the shooting location.
Just another topsy-turvy moment in the world of indie filmmaking.