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Dani Faith Leonard & Alex Cirillo – Two Filmmakers With a Big Vision, Empty Wallets

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Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo - Photo by Deneka Peniston 2010
Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo – Photo by Deneka Peniston

Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo are giving the term “multi-platform” a new definition for independent filmmakers.  The two have teamed up to create “Big Vision Empty Wallet,” a website devoted to supporting (and promoting) the indie film community in New York City.  The site features filmmakers and their films,  “jobs and gigs,” resources and reviews – along with a viral comedy video competition that concludes with a live event this Thursday at Fontana’s. They posted their top 20 entries on the site a month ago and were shocked to receive over 100,000 votes to determine the 10 finalists.

I recently caught up with the dynamic duo at Cafe Charbon on Orchard Street.

Leonard, an actress and a screenwriter, started hosting live networking events through her company, Industry Power Play, in 2008.  She quickly realized she needed help and (via Craigslist) brought Cirillo, a filmmaker and office manager at Washington Square Films, on as a partner a year and a half later. They launched bigvisionemptywallet.com this past May.

Although they don’t live in the neighborhood, the two told me they love to hold their live events on the Lower East Side, “Mostly because this is where our people are, it’s where the community is, and they have fun, loungy-type places (down here) – and we really make sure our events are in comfortable settings where people can just go up to other guests at the event and talk – it’s never a stiff environment- it’s almost like a big living room,” Cirillo said.

Leonard added, “There’s definitely a sense of community at our events, it’s not competitive – nobody’s nasty – the goal, really, is to spark collaboration. You’ll find actors and filmmakers, editors, composers – all different types in the entertainment industry. You really can find what you need for your next project at our events.”

The partnership has some technical advantages, as well. “You know, I would get to a venue and if the projector was broken or the sound system was broken, I was just totally screwed,” Leonard said. “But she (Cirillo) can figure out how to fix it.”  These days they work on their own projects together, as well – Leonard writes and acts, while Cirillo shoots and edits.

The two are clearly devoted to their projects, but emphasize having fun, “What’s really important is that we really enjoy it.  It doesn’t matter if we’re working ’til 2am, we’re giggling and having a good time,” said Cirillo.

I asked what they’ve learned about the NYC film scene so far.

“I wish the New York scene was bigger. I think there are a lot of artists (here) but they don’t make enough noise to be important,” Leonard said.

Cirillo added, “I think the nice thing about the New York scene is that people are collaborative. It tends to be smaller groups – you know, the people you went to film school with or the people who live in your building, or whatever it is. It’s when (people) come to our events they realize there are a lot of other people trying to do what they’re trying to do and we can all really help each other. But when you stay in your closed little group, you won’t meet those people.”

The duo is happy to be on this coast, however, as opposed to L.A., where they sense a more combative atmosphere in the film industry. Leonard notes, it can seem more like “No Vision, Big Wallet,” out there.

As far as what’s next for B.V.E.W. – Leonard gives an answer that sounds very ‘industry’ – “Well, we have one thing that we are working on that we can’t talk about.”

“Definitely not,” Cirillo adds, “because it’s a really good idea,” laughing some more.

B.V.E.W.’s Viral Comedy Video Competition Finals start at 8pm on Thursday at Fontana’s (105 Eldridge St.) and will include plenty of drink specials.

Thursday’s Guest Judges are Comedian Jim Florentine (Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers & VH1 Classics’ The Metal Show) and Tina Santomauro (Manager of Development/Acquisitions at Atom.com & Executive Producer of Atom TV).

The winning filmmaker will receive an array of prizes, including a feature story on Big Vision Empty Wallet as well as other entertainment sites. The winner also has the opportunity to present his or her film at the Moving Pictures Collective of NYC’s next meeting as part of its MoPictive Shorts Series at the prestigious Helen Mills Screening Room.

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