When Natalie DeGennaro made her first film, she was a student, but you can't say she was a student filmmaker, since that refers to a film school student. Natalie was an elementary school student, who, at the age of 12, had realized her life's ambition was to produce and direct films. Since then, she's continued to follow that path, focusing on films with heavier subject matter that are a far cry from the "chick flick" box that some may assume she'd be within, after learning she's a filmmaker.
Currently a sociology major at the State University of New York at Purchase, Natalie, now just shy of her 22nd birthday, tells me; "since I became a sociology major, I have made it a point to incorporate my sociological knowledge into my films." In fact, she plans on exemplifying that in her senior film project, entitled My Life and the Kinsey Scale, that she's currently busy researching and writing the screenplay for.
A native New Yorker and obvious Yankees fan, Natalie says she would never want to leave the Big Apple to live anywhere else. The accompanying photos here, all courtesy of Natalie, herself, definitely seem to confirm that.
CHRIS CHARLES: Thanks for doing this Natalie. It was your father who brought you to my attention when he sent me a film you co-produced and directed, Powerplegic. I'll admit, I didn't care much for the film as far as the story and characters, but I did appreciate the technical aspects of it, which were a cut above your typical student film.
NATALIE DeGENNARO: Well, most people appreciate it for its originality, specifically the gang being very diverse and cool. However, this film is not for everybody. It’s not your typical film. It’s an independent superhero film; grindhouse and gritty with some cool sci-fi stuff in it. A lot of people say that it feels like the old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits elements to it with a modern day spin. That’s the ultimate compliment I have gotten. It’s like Robocop meets Panic Room so it’s off beat and its own thing. Everyone who saw Powerplegic and loves off-beat stuff, they always love this film and it makes me feel great. So, from personal experience, I believe anyone who likes this kind of film, will genuinely enjoy the film. I would say yes, Powerplegic in its entirety, is above a typical student film. I made sure to get some great actors, some of whom have gone on to further their careers, Shan Agish, the star, is in The Following, James Gill stared in a Tom Savini film and Daniel Berkey was in Boardwalk Empire. As a director, my main job is to help my actors get their best performance.
CHRIS: Most young ladies who take a deep interest in films, have aspirations of being actresses. At what age did you first have the desire to work behind the camera instead?
NATALIE: I was 12 years old when I wrote my first screenplay, directed, and edited my first film, so it was then that I realized I had a love for writing and filmmaking.
CHRIS: How much experience do you have working in front of the camera?
NATALIE: I took a number of acting classes. But I’m more interested in knowing how to direct actors to get their best performance. To do that there needs to be communication between actor and director on the character and what the actor should be feeling in the scene. Most of the time, I give actors freedom. I am here more as a guide. I just direct them to where they need to go, but there are many ways of getting there. Just like a map. Casting is where I truly make my judgments. First I see who I like performance-wise, and then I can change characters within the script to match who works best for the character I want to portray. I’m more of an actors’ director then an actor myself. I have a great deal of respect for actors because they are the ones that make the movie great. The story and the acting is the most important part of making a film fantastic.
CHRIS: Who are some directors you admire?
NATALIE: I admire Alfred Hitchcock. He is my favorite suspense filmmaker. I love his films Spellbound, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Frenzy, and Rebecca. I also admire David Cronenberg, my favorite film is The Dead Zone, Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), and David Lynch (Blue Velvet). Actually, I have a funny story; I used to watch Blue Velvet by myself sometimes when I couldn’t go to sleep. I didn’t realize it was odd till my dad came down one night and saw I was watching Blue Velvet. It was hilarious how much I liked that movie, especially at 3AM!
CHRIS: I understand you're currently studying sociology. Do you feel that ties in with filmmaking much?
NATALIE: Oh most definitely, but not-so-much with Powerplegic since I was not a sociology major at that point. But since I became a sociology major, I have made it a point to incorporate my sociological knowledge into my films. Actually, that is what I am doing for my senior project. What I am doing now is research for my next film My Life and the Kinsey Scale. This film includes a range of diverse characters in sexuality, disability, ethnicity, and gender identity. In films, writers and directors can either perpetuate stereotypes or real and diverse individuals. I’d prefer to represent real people. It makes the characters more relatable, original, and three dimensional. It's not good enough just to show diverse characters, we also must go against previously conceived notions and accurately portray people with diverse, three dimensional personalities. It makes for a better movie and encourages a more inclusive world, outside of the film. Though, Powerplegic did not do this per-say. It was more about individual justice and comic book revenge.
CHRIS: As a female director, do you feel you're in a "man's world"?
NATALIE: I feel that quite a bit a great deal of the time. Especially since I don’t really make “girl” films, like chick flicks or romance. I actually dislike chick flicks most of the time. When making Powerplegic I was a teenage female filmmaker making a gritty, off-beat, grindhouse/sci-fi horror. I was in a man’s world; men making horror with gore and blood oozing everywhere. Women are “supposed” to make films, if they make films at all, with ponies and unicorns and Prince Charming’s true love. My “Prince Charming” in Powerplegic has an abusive dad and an anger problem. Internally, he is a nice guy, but he is corrupted by his father’s abuse. I’d much prefer my troubled teen then any one-dimensional “Prince Charming.”
CHRIS: At this point in your career, because you're so young, do you feel there would be more prejudges against you as a filmmaker, because you're female or because you're so young?
NATALIE: Being young and a female is a double whammy, even by other females. Sometimes I feel as though the people within the industry don’t respect me as much, purely because I am a woman and my youth. I feel that people would respond better to 17 year-old, filmmaker, male than 17 year-old, female filmmaker. I don’t have the statistics to prove it, however, I would say that most people do not associate female filmmakers with a cool sci-fi thrillers. They associate them with chick flicks because that is what women are “supposed” to know and enjoy; a love story. However, my whole self is not only about finding a man. It’s about adventure and excitement and original-thinking. I don’t want to be put in a little box titled "romance only." My imagination wants to explore other horizons and if love comes into my stories, of course, it can enter, but as a subcategory. The prejudice lies in the fact that I am a female filmmaking who enjoys making films outside the "female only" category of romance. A lot of people don’t understand that and I feel judged by that. This attitude affect me personally because I always feel I have to prove myself, instead of just letting the art speak for itself. I have to be my own advocate at all times, since stating “I have directed a feature length film” is not good enough when showing my abilities. This, in of itself, makes me feel insecure and I lack confidence discussing my films because of this constant disrespect that I endure for just being a young female filmmaker.
CHRIS: Do you feel being female and/or so young in your line of work has been an advantage for you in certain cases?
NATALIE: I don’t feel as though it has been an advantage so far. I feel more criticism simply because I am young and female. I generally feel that most people dismiss me and don’t acknowledge my accomplishments or don’t understand that I am able to do these films. Hopefully, since I’m 21 now, people will start noticing me as a filmmaker because, generally, people start creating films in college so I’m not as much out of the norm as I used to be.
CHRIS: I won't ask for any names, but has there been anyone, on either side of the camera, you'd never want to work with again?
NATALIE: Yes, there are a few people who belittle me and my abilities on the set who I would never want to work with again. Two people actually had the audacity to pat me on the head as I was trying to direct them. Most of them were college students. Although, not all of the college students I worked with acted that way. It was a select few. Most people, including all the most successful ones, from my set were very respectful to me and I would definitely want to work with them again.
CHRIS: The next three questions have been suggested to me to ask you. You'll probably guess by whom, but number one: What do you think of film schools?
NATALIE: I would say that film school is okay for understanding the basic techniques, but I’d rather use the money I would spend on film school to make my own films.
CHRIS: With all that's been done this would be quite an accomplishment but; do you think you can bring something to filmmaking that hasn't been done?
NATALIE: No, I would not say I can do any more than the next filmmaker. All I can do is add my own perspective to filmmaking and do my best. Though, I would say content-wise, I can because I have sociological background that I want to incorporate into my future films. I would love to be able to direct a new Lolita because the well-known interpretations ignore a great deal that the book has to offer, specifically accurately representing Lolita, a victim of molestation. Both Kubrick and Lyne seem to ignore this obvious fact!! I am actually angered by this. Adrian Lyne, the guy who directed Silence of the Lambs, shows a girl who is molested enjoying being molested. How is that not wrong? And then the notorious Stanley Kubrick represents a girl who is manipulative and a complete mixed up interpretation of Nabokov’s amazing book. But most importantly, they both don’t show that the girl does not like it or want it. Both directors ignore it completely. Kubrick does not even expose the fact that she did not want it. He doesn’t even touch the subject, whereas Adrian Lyne goes the opposite way which makes it worse. He shows the girl enjoying being touched like that and not how traumatized the girl would have been. Is this Adrian Lyne’s fantasy? Where a man wants a girl enough, he can get her and she’ll want him? This is perpetuating rape culture and I knew how wrong this was even before I became a sociology major. Put it this way: One doesn’t have to be a sociology major to notice how wrong this interpretation is. That’s how bad it is. That is what I feel I can do for filmmaking; finally make a good Lolita film which does the book justice! (Laughs)
NATALIE: It’s pretty great working with my father. However, he yells a great deal (laughs). Though, I am used to that. He is still a great support to me. He is an amazing visionary and one of the most creative and talented people I have ever met and I am not just saying that because he is my father. He’s an amazing teacher who teaches me everything he knows and I incorporate what I learn into my writing and filmmaking.
CHRIS: One of your shorts, Behind Closed Doors, sends a strong message. If budget wouldn't have been a concern, would there have been anything about that film you'd have done differently?
NATALIE: Not content or aesthetic-wise. Even if I had a big budget I would have made it the same, exact way. But I would have used one known actor to make it more popular. That’s it.
CHRIS: What are you currently working on?
NATALIE: Well, I finished one of my feature scripts over the summer called Portrait of the Familiar. As I stated above, I am currently working on My Life and the Kinsey Scale, my next feature length script. Since it is my senior project as well as my new script, I have been doing a great deal of research in representing characters that go against the stereotypes placed in films.
“The Kinsey Scale” focuses on the fluidity of sexuality. Exclusively heterosexual is "0" to exclusively homosexual is "6," and all that grey area in between. Even though the actual Kinsey scale focuses on sexuality, I am using it in this film as a way to discuss normalcy; that individuality is ever changing and fluid and that the social norm is just that; a social construct of what society says is normal. My film stars teenager, Lola Barbuto, size 14, who has attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. Throughout the film, she thinks she is stupid because of her disability. She tries to fight her feelings of inferiority while studying for the SATs, along with that she makes a great deal of new friends, each having a different identity, all attempting to be accepted within society in their own way.
CHRIS: Wow. Definitely not light subject matter. So, switching gears here; being born and raised in New York City, some people would think you have everything there, so why would you want to live anywhere else? Have you ever wanted to live anywhere else?
NATALIE: I actually would never want to leave New York City after college. I want to live here forever, but it’s expensive so I don’t know if I’ll be able to.
CHRIS: I've always hated being asked this question, and I don't usually ask it but I will anyway, since you're so young and ambitious: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
NATALIE: Oh man, I can see why you don’t like this question. I don’t know where I see myself in 10 years. Well, I’m 21 now about to turn 22. I can tell you the way I want to see myself. I want to have two or three children with a sweet, smart, and supportive husband. I’ll be a somewhat-known filmmaker. I want to be known enough where I can do what I love on a yearly basis. By that I mean make a number of feature length films with a few known actors in them. What will probably happen is that I will help teach social skills to high-functioning autistic people. I don’t know what will happen really, but I know for a fact that I will continue writing screenplays no matter what.
CHRIS: With that, I thank you again for taking your time to answer my questions Natalie. In closing, any shout-outs to anyone?
NATALIE: I would like to give a shout-out to my dad who has been my major supporter since I have been 12 years old. He’s taught me a great deal and he never once doubted me. He would encourage me anyway he could and, because of that, helped me become the filmmaker I am today. I also want to give a shout out to Arthur Shurr, my script adviser, who taught me the art of the outline. He has also been a great supporter of mine since I began writing feature length scripts. I could not ask for a better mentor!
CHRIS: Oh, just one last question: Don't you think most of those prices at Trader Joe's are pretty high?
NATALIE: (Laughs) This is because I used to work for Trader Joe's, right? I would say far from it, at least in New York City. It’s about half-price from other gourmet places here in the city. It’s much less expensive than Whole Foods and Fairway. I had costumers in the past mention what a great deal they’re getting. People have even come in using a benefits card, which is food stamps. Maybe in other states, Trader Joe's is more expensive, but here on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, 19 cents per banana or $4 a pound for cheddar cheese are great prices. They also pay really well, above minimum wage. I really enjoy working there!
Natalie's IMDb Page
Thanks to Frank DeGennaro