Out Of Focus Premiere
This interview spotlights a man with a wide spectrum of talents and a great deal of artistic drive. Ciro Mennella is a veteran of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. He also is a photographer, lover of independent film, who is adept at logistics and planning; plus, he is a manager of interns and an associate producer for Three Horizons Productions (THP). His ability to manage as well as his artistic expression makes him a valuable team member at THP.
Could you tell me about yourself and your background?
I spent 17 years in the military, in the Army and the Marine Corps. I have a B.A. in Communications and an M.B.A. in Marketing and Advertising. I’ve done acting and assisted with cameras.
What kind of roles have you had?
Mostly I play a henchman or a cop.I was a deputy sheriff in Virginia before moving to Arizona.
So what motivated you to go from the military and law enforcement to the independent film industry?
I was in the reserves after serving in the military. I was one of those guys set to go to Iraq. I developed walking pneumonia though. I retired from everything.
Is that when you went into law enforcement?
I was in active duty for 14 years. Then I was in the reserves while I was a deputy. Then 9/11 happened.
How did that lead to the film industry?
There are a lot of similarities [among law enforcement, military planning and the film industry]. Everything is detail-oriented. You have to keep track of budgets. There is so much that can be translated into the film industry. In law enforcement you have to watch the budget. You have to keep a time frame. A lot of people like when things go in order—especially in the film industry. People like things to go in the proper order. Attention to detail and accountability are very important. It’s like the Marine Corps. Sometimes you have to make do with nothing like Band-Aids and duct tape.
What did you do on the set of THP’s Out of Focus?
I played one of the forensics guys. Then, on the last days of shooting, Al and I became the logistics crew, running around and doing whatever was needed.
Out Of Focus Premiere: The Two Faces of Ciro Mennella
Well, when the generator stopped working, I got to work on it. You have to plan. You have to pre-plan for what you’re going to do. You have to think ahead. For instance, we need so much fuel. What if we burn through that faster than we thought? We need to have extra fuel. You have to plan for the unexpected. You have to sit down and think of everything you need, make a list, have others go over it. “We’ll need this, etc.” It’s a group effort. You must work to get others on board to make sure things run smoothly. Do you see a correlation with military planning and planning on the set?
In the military, everyone is assigned a place. The duties are delegated enough so tasks are spread out. You know who is held accountable. You know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Like a film set, you have your directors, your producers, cinematographers. They all assign people out. You know who is responsible for what. There is a lot of similarity. Everyone has their functions.
How did you deal with problems on the set?
Regarding the diesel generator stopping on the Out of Focus set, we knew it had run out of fuel. I’ve had experience as well as Al with diesel trucks and diesel generators. Military trucks are diesel. If you run it down, you can’t just start it back up. You have to purge the system. We were trying to do that, trying to get it going. We couldn’t just say we had no electricity. At some point, we had to start pulling people away because it may not have enough fuel to start, but there may still be electricity in the system.
Could you give me an example of a time when you put your logistics to the test?
Being a part of the Marine barracks [in Washington, D.C.]; we were in charge of security. I was the guard chief for evening parades with a lot of dignitaries. We were armed. You want to have good communications in place to keep everyone safe—not unlike a film set. If a camera breaks, you know there is a guy who is watching it. Everyone should be prepared so it runs like a clock. If one little piece is out, it doesn’t function. If something is not right, the clock doesn’t work.
Wildlife Photography by Ciro Mennella
I do photography. I am learning cinematography and just trying to get involved anyway possible.
Did you do any photography for that shoot?
No, I didn’t. I did do the photo shoots for the premiere of Between Light and Darkness. I know the photos are being used for that. I was an actor, a generator man and hopefully will be working into cinematography. Right now I’m managing the interns.
You also do still photography. When did you start getting into photography?
Landscape Photography by Ciro Mennella
My last three years of the Marine Corps, I was at the White House. I had a camera with me all of the time. That’s when I really got into photography.
What kind of job did you have at the White House?
I was with the MCIOC (Marine Corps Information Operations Center).
Have you found a difference between still and film photography as far as lighting, etc?
Cameras now work so well in low light. Setting up the shot—there is a lot of similarities. You’re lighting the subjects. Either the camera is taking one shot or a thousand shots. The light and everything has to be right. There are differences. Set up, lighting, focus and framing are very similar though. You can use a digital SLR and shoot a movie with it. It’s just that it’s shooting a lot of pictures.
Model Photography by Ciro Mennella
Do you do some professional photography on the side?
I do. I am trying to get into modeling photography. Press shots too. I was a press photographer for the Aztec Press, for comic book conventions.
What made you move to Arizona?
I came out here because of the weather and to go to school. I finished my B.A. here. My son is going to school back East and studying film and animation. My daughter is going to Arizona State University for industrial design.
Model Photography by Ciro Mennella
What is your plan for future projects?
I’m hoping to do some producing on THP’s next project. I’m doing my photography. I’ve been doing a lot of headshots, fashion type of photography. There is one agency that has been trying to send me work. I signed up with Good Faith Casting. I go through Model Mayhem. Finding work is difficult in photography.
I’ve been doing stills, landscapes for years and building up a portfolio. When I was first out of the military, I drove back and forth across the country four times. I took a lot of pictures. One time I was outside of Denver, in the middle of nowhere and needed to pull over to rest. All night long I kept hearing grunts. When the sun came up, I saw a huge buffalo who was scratching himself on a pole. He must have been there all night. Another time, I was taking pictures of a shrine and the monks thought I was homeless because I had been on the road traveling for a while. They fed me and wanted to give me a job.
I’m going to try to paint photographs like an art photographer. You run the photograph through a CS program and print it out on a canvas to paint like a Warhol type of thing.
Do you have a favorite photographer?
Paolo Roversi has done a lot of Polaroid work. It’s fashion but real dark. If you look at something like Vogue, it tells a kind of story. That’s what I like. That’s what I’m trying to emulate.
Model Photography by Ciro Mennella
Yes. It all goes back to that. You have to plan on lighting and things like that. A lot of directors of photography started out with still photography.
Do you have a favorite filmmaker?
Khyentse Norbu is a Tibetan monk who directed Travelers and Magicians. It’s a film about a guy who wants to leave his small town in Nepal and go to America, but things keep pulling him back. The cinematography is really nice in it.
Do you have a favorite film genre?
I like foreign films and comedies. A lot of international films are not given enough credit. If you look at the films of the Three Colors Trilogy [a series of three films directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski], you see how everything comes together. You have to think. You must connect the dots. It makes you think a little bit. It’s not as cut and dry as American films.
Keep an eye out for more from the team at Three Horizons Productions as well as the photographic work of Mr. Mennella. His logistical discipline and artistic expression are vital components to THP and its upcoming endeavors. Anyone interested in Mr. Mennella’s photography may contact him by email, cjmphoto AT hotmail DOT com.
Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.