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Sundance Pre-Production: LBS Co-Writer/Director Matthew Bonifacio

"Atkins is for pussies."
by Chris Parry

THE ‘LBS’ PITCH: “Depressed and close to 400 pounds, Carmine Famiglietti (Actor/Writer/Producer) realized that writing ‘lbs.’ was his only option left in losing weight and turning his life around. "It had to be a lifestyle change and not just a diet," he notes, "What I was basically doing was building a massive support group for myself," including longtime friend Matthew Bonifacio (Director/Writer/Producer). Like most addicts, Famiglietti had to admit that he was defeated and seek help, and by making this movie, he presented himself with the structure, details, and deadlines to do it. ‘lbs.’ is a narrative drama laced with humor and true-to-life relationships in which 27-year-old Neil Perota (Famiglietti) loses over 170 pounds during the making of the film.”

“Food Addiction. Suppressed. Family. Escape. Changed lifestyle.”

Q. Will this be your first time at Sundance? If not, what else have you been to Park City with?
Yes. I am excited and honored to be a part of this year’s class of 2004!

Q. When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
A professional baseball player. In Junior College, I played in Yankee Stadium twice and Shea Stadium once.

Q. How did you get started in filmmaking?
Short answer: Self-taught, filmmaker. Obtained NYU and Columbia University Film School book reading lists and educated myself. Love book stores. Reading really is knowledge. Long answer: Lets do coffee and some snowmobiling!

Q. How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Additional personal trust in my abilities, as well as industry respect and validation.

Q. When you were shooting the film, did you have Sundance in mind?
Yes, from beginning to end.

Q. How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
From my press notes: “The inspiration for ‘lbs.’ came not only from Famiglietti's desire to turn his own life around, but also from the real-life story of Famiglietti's cousin ‘Neil’ who was struggling with drug addiction and moved into a trailer with a friend to kick his habit deep in the woods. "I remember being so fascinated with them moving out of the city to the middle of nowhere and staying in this trailer," Famiglietti notes. In the summer of 1999, Famiglietti started to write ‘lbs.’
Five months later, having completed a 180-page draft, he invited his longtime friend Matthew Bonifacio to co-write the screenplay. Bonifacio, a Brooklyn native, accepted, and he and Famiglietti, from Queens, formed ‘THE BROOKLYN-QUEENS EXPERIMENT, INC.’ to shoot ‘lbs.’ "I was initially attracted to the project because of the original nature of the subject matter, in which an overweight lead character decides to get away from his family and live in an old trailer to lose weight," Bonifacio notes, "We have this lead character that's not your typical protagonist, which is something I really loved."
Their first staged reading was held in the fall of 2000, with two more subsequent readings the following year, the last of which staged at the Tribeca Film Center in March 2001. Bonifacio and Famiglietti found the readings to be instrumental in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the script. Michael Aronov (Sacco Valenzia) and Miriam Shor (Lara Griffin), who both appeared in the independent feature "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," were real standouts.
"I thought ‘lbs.’ was an unbelievably ambitious script," notes Shor, "it was very real and the characters completely human." "It's not about losing weight to be accepted in society," notes Bonifacio, "it's the story of a 315-pound man's addiction to food and his struggle to overcome it."

Q. What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
I applied these lessons from the beginning of principal photography. Listen. Collaborate. Trust your instincts. Always make the next day better than the last.

Q. When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
No. Honestly I was emphatic about this issue. I didn't want my approach to get influence by studying great directors and their films. I wanted to have my own voice in every department. With that said, I did do lots of reading on successful directors and first-time director stories and experiences.

Q. If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you remake?
West Side Story set in present day!!

Q. Two parter – which actor would you cut off an arm to work with, and which relatively unknown actor on your own film do you want the world to start recognizing sooner rather than later?
Ray Liotta. I want to him to star in my next film.
Carmine Famiglietti from ‘lbs’. He's not your typical lead, yet magnetic. Carmine has a natural ability to engage an audience when he speaks and, most importantly, when he doesn't.

Q. The festival circuit: what could be improved, and what couldn’t be?
I really can't speak from my festival experiences yet, however, I really think every festival (no matter the annual budget or location) tries their best. Of course, some are more successful than others.

Q. Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
Made it? Yes, I've made a feature.

Q. A film is made by many people, as well as the director, but often films will open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
No didn't use it because I believe filmmaking is a collaborative effort under my vision and guidance. No need for another credit with my name. As a co-writer, it all starts with the screenplay -- directors can't forget that. Now, if I was the only crew member for the entire movie...then yes, I would want a Film By credit.

From the Sundance film guide: "Carmine Famiglietti is not your typical matinee idol, yet he still has the power to break hearts. He and director Matthew Bonifacio have written a moving portrait of a man's struggle with one of the most misunderstood addictions - overeating. Bonifacio takes this unique story and gives it a cinematic voice that is fresh, honest, and entertaining. Neil, as well as his Italian friends and family, is vibrantly portrayed, especially his buddy who is fighting a chemical addiction of his own. Bonifacio adeptly handles Neil's transformation and the heaviness of his situation with an enviably light touch. However, Famiglietti deserves special praise for the sacrifice and commitment it took for him to portray Neil." 'LBS' will be playing as part of this year's Sundance American Spectrum series.

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originally posted: 01/13/04 14:06:45
last updated: 01/31/04 12:57:46
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