Some child movie and television stars, like Jodie Foster, grow into adulthood enjoying successful careers. Others just don’t, unless you call an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” or “Celebrity Apprentice” a measure of success.
This circumstance of “the falling star” was the inspiration for “The Tiger Beat Monologues,” a new short film by 20-year-old filmmaker and Bordentown resident Travis Maiuro, screening as part of the Not Quite Legal Film Festival. The juried festival, sponsored by the Trenton Film Society, features films written, directed, and produced by New Jersey students between the ages of 14 and 21, and will take place Saturday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton.
Now in its third year, the festival is gaining a reputation among youth as both an artistic and educational experience. Approximately 15 films from dozens of entries are selected by a panel of jurors for inclusion in the festival. The entries range in length from 1 to 20 minutes and include narrative, documentary, and animated films. The program is divided into 30 to 45-minute sets, each of which is followed by a discussion, which offers the audience the opportunity to ask questions of the film directors. In addition to the peer discussions, the Trenton Film Society hosts a panel of professionals in the film and television industry who will talk to festival participants, answering questions and supporting their interests in pursuing careers in the industry.
“It’s a wonderful chance for these young filmmakers to offer artistic and technical advice to one another,” says Cynthia Vandenberg, executive director of the Trenton Film Society.
Since he has taken part in the festival every year, Maiuro might almost be an elder statesman. Last year his film “West Virginia Slims” won the award for Best Cinematography. He is now starting to enter other film festivals up and down the East Coast. “I’ve also done the Princeton Student Film Festival (at Princeton Public Library), the Queens International Film Festival, and last October, my movie ‘West Virginia Slims’ was in the Orlando Film Festival,” Maiuro says in a phone interview. “That one is my tribute to French cinema of the 1960s.”
The stylish French cinema of that era really resonates with Maiuro, and his production company, The Ava Le Fou Brigade, takes its name, in part, from the 1965 Jean-Luc Godard film “Pierrot le Fou.”
“I just like the name Ava, in fact one of my first movies was called `I Killed Ava Red,’” Maiuro says. “So I combined it with the Godard film. It’s an enigma, and it sounds cool.”
Far from the world of European art films is the Hollywood teen celebrity culture that “The Tiger Beat Monologues” pokes fun at. The title is taken from Tiger Beat magazine, which has been around for decades and dishes up teen idol gossip, short pieces about music, movies and fashion, and lots of pictures of cute young stars. Back in the day, guys like Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy were the main attraction, whereas today Justin Bieber is the it-boy du jour.
“The movie is just a big spoof on the whole Justin Bieber-teen idol kind of thing,” Maiuro says. “The Hollywood celebrity culture is amusing to watch from afar. I had heard a story about Frankie Nuniz, who used to be on (the TV show) ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ getting in trouble with the police and that got me thinking.”
In his short film, Maiuro explores the comeback attempt of his character, Freddie Gallo (played by Maiuro). He sits with a reluctant magazine journalist and discusses his past, as the child star of the fictional TV show “The Martian Kid.” The man-child Gallo reflects on his climb up the ladder, from child model (“I made OshKosh sexy,” he says), to an appearance on “Walker, Texas Ranger,” then finally his own series. Then his career stalls, and we see a montage of news clips reporting on Gallo’s troubled life and scandals. There’s even rumor of a sex tape with Danny DeVito.
Now Gallo is talking to the press and spinning his comeback, but he’s still a goofy kid, gobbling Skittles and twiddling with a bottle of Elmer’s Glue. As a comedic actor, Maiuro is hilarious, twitching, flirting with and winking at the camera — kind of a cleaner, younger Russell Brand.
“I didn’t know if it would translate to other people, I just like what I like,” he says. “But that’s what I thought was so funny. Freddie is grown up, but he’s not, and that’s his biggest issue. He can’t get over the hump of being a grown-up.”
At one point, the character beseeches the reporter to tell the old fans, “Have no fear, your Freddie Gallo is back,” then says, off the record, “I can’t blow this. I can’t go back to Jersey.”
This is especially ironic because the film was shot in New Jersey, in the Maiuro family’s backyard in Bordentown Township, one Friday morning, almost in one take. “I thought anyone from Jersey would like that line,” Maiuro says. “That was my intention, to do it in one take, but there are some cuts in it, because of the wind, and because I wanted to insert the montages. I wanted it to be like a play, like a one-man show. I’ve acted in my movies and my friends’ movies, but I was always afraid of live theater in high school. If I had tried theater, I might have become really good at it. As far as acting, I just chalk it up to watching tons of movies. That was my education, in a way.”
Maiuro says his first love was animation, and he wanted to be an animator since kindergarten, drawing cartoons inspired by classic Disney movies such as “Pinocchio” and “Bambi.” “That changed into an overall filmmaking desire,” he says. “I was 11 when I made a movie — a ‘Lethal Weapon’ spoof — with my cousins, using my aunt’s video camera. Since then, I’ve always wanted to make more movies. But animation is one of my biggest influences.”
He says that he might have acquired his drawing talent from his mother, a graphic artist and skilled fine artist, Maiuro says. “She does it for fun, but I think she should try to get her work out there,” he says. “My dad is a maintenance man for a housing community in Hightstown. My sister is really into music, she’s a gifted singer. We’re all kind of creative.”
Maiuro graduated from Bordentown Regional High School in 2009, where English and creative writing were his strongest subjects. After high school, he moved to the East Village in Manhattan, and was attending Hunter College but has since returned to central New Jersey, studying at Mercer County Community College.
His time in the city was lonely but productive, he says. “I had an agenda to get my name out there, but if you don’t know anybody in New York, it’s hard to know which direction to go,” he says. “That’s OK though, because I wrote one feature-length script while I was there. It was a lonely city, so I just wrote. In all, I’ve written two feature scripts, I’m working on a third, and my priority is to get them sold or optioned. With shorts, I have no problem making them myself, but features are a whole different monster. These features would require a hefty budget, but I feel that they’re movies that could sell.
“This third feature I’m writing is about Freddie (from ‘The Tiger Beat Monologues’),” Maiuro adds. “He’s the main character, and it’s a bizarre kind of comedy, about him and his theater geek friends.”
With his fondness for French cinema, you wonder if Maiuro’s comedic Freddie Gallo will smoke Gauloises and have a modern Brigitte Bardot as a love interest. Maiuro says he doesn’t want to sound like a snob, but he feels that foreign movies are generally better than what Hollywood puts out.
“I love the look of a certain era of French cinema, the ’60s and ’70s especially. The colors pop, there’s such an art to it, it’s like a still photograph, and you can take a lot of inspiration from it. As far as my favorite movies, I love ‘Amelie,’ the whole pop art look of it. I’ve watched Godard’s ‘Breathless’ a lot; it’s considered the first indie film, and it broke a lot of rules. More recently, there’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ which is just breathtaking. The cinematography is amazing. I know whenever someone talks about foreign movies it could sound pretentious, and I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I honestly do love them.”
Not Quite Legal Film Festival, Trenton Film Society, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Saturday, June 11, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Screenings of films by 14 to 21 year-old New Jersey filmmakers. Sponsored by the Trenton Film Society. $10; $5 students. 609-396-6966 or www.trentonfilmfestival.org.