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From Sound Crew to Director - The Journey of Theo Francocci

By: Darida Rose

Theo Francocci is an Italian filmmaker based in the States with an impressive resumé mostly highlighted by his sound work. He is a composer and sound designer, having more than 80 credits in sound departments within the entertainment industry. He has moved to the United States, and having earned a certificate in UCLA Extension’s Film and TV Development program, Francocci has redirected his talents more towards the artistic and producing side of the business.

Wholeheartedly is his directorial debut, with the short winning the Best Drama short in Hollywood Just4Shorts, and the Award of Excellence in the Global Shorts, Los Angeles. The film is written, produced, and edited by Francocci, and it depicts the struggles of a young Mexican woman looking to earn her freedom from an alcoholic American husband, the gatekeeper to her immigration status in the States. The film depicts what it’s like to live under the shadows of being a woman of colour with an uncertain immigration status, and what it takes to persevere as a single mother to put behind demons of the past to build a brighter future for her daughter, and herself.

Francocci was kind enough to grant Phoenix Journal an opportunity to discuss his process and future endeavours in the film industry.

Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): This is a truly promising start for you with the recognition the film has received. What led you to write the film in the initial phases?

Theo Francocci (TF): I have always wanted to write stories with a message and leave the audiences with something that would make them think. As soon as I arrived in the United States, I wanted to write a local story, something about the people of California and the United States. My research brought me into a full dive into stories and problems I felt very relatable to me, such as the uncertainty of the future, the struggle for a better quality of life, and the social differences. Now more than ever, I think that they are hot topics.

(PJ): What were the major obstacles when making this film, and how were you able to overcome the issues?

(TF): That's a very tough question. Well, I think I had to face different changing circumstances and solve technical problems during pre and prod, and through post-production as well.

But, you know, if you are passion-driven, no difficulty can discourage you. So, my determination played an important role, even if I was lucky in finding many people who helped me: I am grateful to my crew; everyone played their part magnificently. One last thing, I would say budget seemed, at first, the biggest obstacle. The film was entirely self-financed, and we tried to keep the crew as small as possible. We asked friends and students to join, and everyone was absolutely incredible. 

(PJ): Though Carmen states she struggles with drinking, her alcoholic tendencies don't make it onto the screen. Did you at all think about maybe adding her own alcoholic struggle in there alongside Robert's? Can you please elaborate on this choice for us?

(TF): We did shoot a scene where Carmen drinks, but at this point in Carmen's storyline, she already knows that she is an alcoholic, and that's why she goes to the meetings. In this short film, I wanted her to win her final struggle - The moment when she has lost everything and notices the bottle of tequila in the car. She opens it, and she is about to take a sip. That could be the beginning of the end or a new beginning. Carmen wins her struggle, and she is now ready to change anything wrong in her life. You would definitely see more of her battle with alcohol in the feature-length version!

(PJ): This is a great and encouraging recovery story. Was it inspired by any life experiences of your own or someone you may know? Why recovery from alcohol?

(TF): Well, I have seen a friend go through a struggle with alcohol, and Iknow at least a bit about how difficult addiction can be. I tried to give help, but he said that I could not understand what he was going through.

In making the film, I also intended to do something that could help a recovering alcoholic. 

(PJ): The film is jam-packed with themes of immigration, women's freedom, independence in unity, and recovery. What were some of the challenges in navigating through such impactful themes in so little time?

(TF): It was more a matter of how to keep a central theme. "Wholeheartedly" is the story of a woman who struggles for her future and her newborn baby. Every theme is a matter of realism and actuality. If you take a look around, these stories are surrounding us. These stories cannot be taken into account if not as a whole. I mean that sometimes people can feel overwhelmed because there's so much happening in their lives that it's not right. Carmen is an immigrant. Why? Because she wants a better future. She runs from a non-supportive home, and she comes acquainted with alcohol abuse, so much so she ends up in an abusive relationship. Everything is connected. Carmen reaches her lowest point, and she has to do it to unlock her inner strength. Carmen doesn't give up! She rolls up her sleeves, and she gives her life a positive change. She stops drinking, she leaves her husband, and she finds a job that satisfies her. Carmen embraces her dreams and works hard to make them real.

(PJ): Great editing, especially when it comes to the mirrors. Was the image of Carmen looking at her past/future always there for you? Can you explain the significance of that scene for you as its creator in relation to the film in its entirety?

(TF): The idea of the mirror came during the writing stage. Afterward, the DP, Guadalupe Hernandez Pineda, and I studied a way to make it happen. We had to foresee a little bit how to deal with it in post-production, a solution that definitely helped. On the other hand, the glitch stylistic was a solution I figured in Post Production. I think that's why they say editing is the third rewriting of a film; you can contribute to style, rhythm, and story. The mirror scene opens and closes Carmen's circle, not only for her internal growth but also for her external struggle. Carmen's past, present, and future are connected, and they communicate with each other. In my vision, Future Carmen reaches her past-self to give herself comfort in a very dramatic time. Carmen from the past (or present) looks at herself in the future, and she rejoices in seeing someone so determined. Now she knows she can do it on her own!

(PJ): What does the near future hold for you? It seems you've distanced yourself a bit from sound-work and are now more focused on producing. Do you have any advice for those who might be in your position, as part of the technical crews who wish to step over and become proficient in the artistic realm? 

THEO: If I will keep producing? Definitely. My fellow producer Matt Richardson and I love working together, and we are in the development stage of several projects. My goal is to create an international web of contents, and we also focus on relationships with Italy, of course, and Europe and Asia for now. Global stories for a worldwide market. When I left Italy, I knew I was leaving the comfort of the post-production world and embracing production's hustle. My experience as a sound designer taught me so much, and I will always bring the people I worked with in my heart along this journey. However, my goal was to start developing my ideas and stories. Yes, I love the technical aspect, and I am always happy to explore new technologies, but at the same time, I believe that powerful stories can really send a message and make a change. I am developing several stories, all romantic related somehow. I discovered I love drama and romance, and I try to apply this interest in different genres. The projects in development right now are a combination of mixed media. Some animation, historical content, mystery drama with a touch of horror, and environmental oriented stories. Finally, my piece of advice would most likely be - Never give up! Believe in yourself, and give 200% of yourself. If you have a dream, a passion, a story to tell, well, the world is waiting for you.

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