Hicksville filmmaker Matt Morillo recently directed Jessica Durock on the set of Good Tidings.
"For me, the film that definitely got me wanting to make movies was Rocky," said Matt Morillo of Hicksville. "It was the story of never surrendering and never giving up that did it."
Now, years after viewing the Sylvester Stallone blockbuster for the first time, 26-year-old Morillo is making movies of his own and recently won the "Best Short Film" award at the 2002 Long Island International Film Expo for his latest production, Good Tidings.
Good Tidings is a 15-minute film about a family torn apart by divorce. The film focuses on the struggles of 21-year-old Stephanie, the youngest daughter in the family. In the film, Stephanie's father tries to get involved in his daughter's life while introducing her to his new wife and baby.
"The whole thing happens around Christmastime, so it really turns out to be a terrible holiday for the girl," said Morillo, who wrote, directed and co-edited the film with Richard Barbadillo of Garden City, friend and fellow owner of the Kings and Desperate Men Production Company.
Good Tidings was shot over a five-day period throughout such Long Island towns as Hicksville, Kings Park, Mineola and Garden City. The film was also shot on a $4,000 budget, which came directly out of Morillo's pocket. All of the actors were unknown and worked for free, with the starring role going to Connecticut native Jessica Durdock, 21.
Morillo is hopeful that premiering at and winning the Long Island International Film Festival was just the beginning for Good Tidings.
"Next, I'm going to do the video transfer and send it out to festivals like crazy and see who picks it up," he said. "Obviously you aim for the big festivals like Sundance. My ultimate goal for the movie is to get it out there and earn some money from it to do another film. I want to do another feature."
Morillo uses the term "another feature" because Good Tidings is actually his second movie. His first feature, entitled The Pretenders, was named Best First Feature by the 2000 Long Island International Film Expo. Shot two years ago in Hicksville, The Pretenders focuses on life in Hicksville, something that's not unfamiliar for Morillo.
A lifelong resident of Hicksville, Morillo attended Lee Avenue Elementary School and Hicksville High School. Upon graduation from high school in 1996, Morillo went on to college at C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University to study, what else but film. For Morillo, the major was a natural choice.
"I always wrote stories when I was a kid and when I got to high school I got really into movies," he said. "I didn't like writing descriptively, so I started writing dialogs." Morillo graduated from C.W. Post in 1999, the same year that he and Barbadillo started up Kings and Desperate Men.
"There's a big independent film community growing on the Island," he said. "We all kind of help each other out. We all kind of wash each other's hands so to speak."
When he's not working on a new film or at his current job at Laser Land in Carle Place, a store that specializes in selling and renting movies, Morillo spends his free time working on other movies with his friends and fellow filmmakers. "This is my job," Morillo said, referring to Laser Land, "and movies are what I do for fun."
As a member of the filmmaking business, Morillo realizes that while it is a lot of fun at times, it is also tough and a great deal of work. "It's one of those things where every time out it's a gamble and you're really gambling on yourself," he said. "You're trying to get the one that hits. It's like throwing up shots and hoping that sooner or later one goes in the basket."
According to Don Lewis, coordinator of Film Talk, a group that reviews independent films at the Malverne Cinema, Morillo is well on his way. "Matt is a well-focused determined young filmmaker," said Lewis. "With Matt I'd say it's only a matter of time before he clicks in the film business. His hometown style of realism and his dealing with strong human emotions makes you sit up and take notice."