Every once in a while, a project comes to me that stops me dead in my tracks. Meet Jack Marchetti, screenwriter and soon-to-be director… who is also soon-to-be blind. Yes, blind.
Jack was born with a degenerative retina disease, cone-rod dystrophy, leaving him with a ticking clock as to how long he has to maintain his vision. In fact, his brother is already legally blind, walking with a cane, and going to a special school.
Jack’s eyesight is burning away like the wick on a candle.
What if you were going blind and had never seen your dream of being a produced screenwriter realized? Would you pack it in? Give up? Curl in a corner and feel sorry for yourself?
You don’t know Jack.
In Jack’s dimming world, the only answer is to forge ahead, not letting anything stop him, least of all his eyes.
Instead, Jack has launched a Kickstarter campaign for his film, 4 of a Kind. The script was in the top 100 of Project Greenlight in 2005 and also received rave reviews on ScriptShark:
“Dark, gritty, and evocative in style and execution, this script seems to channel the tonal sensibilities of a blend of movies like ‘25th Hour’ or even ‘The Godfather,’ drawing together a well-textured and carefully-drawn cast of characters, and propelling them through a plotline that remains engaging and intriguing from start to finish. Superb dialogue is combined with a Spartan yet effective written voice, forging, by the conclusion of the script, a finished product that seems to harbor substantial potential and artistic merit.” – ScriptShark
This crime thriller, centered in Chicago, tells the tale of John Collins, a veteran, who comes home via the guise of a reunion, but is actually working undercover to take down his former crew, which consists of his three life-long, best friends. Everything hits the fan when his sister is found murdered, and Jack is uncertain if it’s a hit or a warning.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Jack about his script, his looming blindness, his fears, and his Bucket List.
JVB: For those who are too young to remember Project Greenlight, what was the process to get to the top 100?
JM: For starters, Project Greenlight was a screenplay competition started by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck where the winning screenplay would be directed by the writer for a small budget. They marketed it as $1 million but it was usually more than that. After season one didn’t go so well, they then expanded it to a writing and directing competition.
The first round involved peer review. Each contestant had to review three other screenplays. After calculating those reviews, they tabulated the Top 1000 (quarterfinals). Those 1000 scripts were then read by professional script readers and the Top 100 (semifinals) were selected.
After that, they were whittled down to the Top 6, then 3, then the ultimate winner, which was Feast.
My script made it into the Top 100. I kept a picture and everything.
JVB: What are your plans in terms of casting? Will you reach out a wide net, or stick to local talent?
JM: Well, right now I have Chris Ashworth who played Sergie (Boris) on The Wire who’s interested. David Aaron Tripp, who’s in my Kickstarter video, is also interested. Christina Rose provided the voiceover work that you hear in the video, and I’d love to cast her, but she’s kinda on the cusp of “making it” I think, and I doubt she’d want to do another low-budget indie if she’s getting offered “real” roles. But yeah, I’d definitely try to get her – she’s great.
Wish list? Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and maybe Joseph Gordon Levitt. Those are massive long shots and would require us to raise a lot more money, which we’ll try to do through private investors when the Kickstarter succeeds.
JVB: Are you producing or just directing?
JM: As of right now, I plan on directing; having said that, I have no idea if I’m any good at it. I mean, I wrote the script so I’ve seen it in my head, I’ve envisioned it entirely, but I have no idea if I have what it takes to command a set and get performances out of people. I’m a software developer in my day job, and I fit the atypical introverted computer nerd.
So, right now, yes, I want to direct this. If at some point I realize it’s probably best if I let someone more experienced take over, or at least co-direct, I’m totally down with that too.
However, this is the one script where if you put a gun to my head and asked me which one I’d want to direct – this is it. So I’m gonna do my best to learn what the f*ck I’m doing with quickness.
JVB: Are you in need of crew? DP? Equipment?
JM: I’ve enlisted a pretty talented DP named Brian Levin. I found him on Stage32 on my first search for DP/Cinematographer, saw his reel and said, “well that’s solved.” He seriously has been awesome. He’s been my Wikipedia on filmmaking for the past several months as I ask him every possible question I can think of when it comes to filmmaking.
For everything else I would definitely be in need of people. Any takers?
JVB: How old were you when you realized you'd go blind?
JM: I was diagnosed when I was six years old. It wasn’t until I was around thirteen that I knew it was a degenerative disease which would most likely lead to blindness someday. My eye doctors were really worried about puberty, and they felt if I got through that without rapid and decimating vision loss that I might be okay. Meaning I’d go blind but not until probably my late 40s or 50s perhaps.
What has scared the crap out of me is my brother who has the same condition is legally blind now. He’s three years older than I am, and his vision was always better than mine as well. His just went and went fast.
So, seeing what he’s going through and realizing that might be me in a few short years, if not sooner – well it’s the proverbial kick in the ass.
JVB: Are you ever scared at the prospect of going blind?
JM: Scared? No. I came to grips with it a long time ago. There’s no point dwelling on it. Certain things about it are inconvenient or “suck,” such as constantly losing your mouse cursor on your computer. Knocking over the “wet floor yellow marker” thing anytime it’s in a restaurant. Seriously, I’m like a magnet to those things.
It sucks not being able to go to the movies anymore because I can’t really see the screen well enough. Talky movies like Ted or The Social Network are fine since you don’t need to follow much, but The Dark Knight Rises is too hard for me to follow on a big screen.
I also suffer from severe night blindness, so bars and dark restaurants are pretty much out of the question at this point. On a bright and sunny afternoon, walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I can see very well. It’s when I’m in the “dark” that I truly feel handicapped, and I don’t like feeling that way, so I avoid it as much as I can.
JVB: Have you seen Dying to Do Letterman documentary?
JM: I have not seen the film but I did see Joke and Biagio’s Kickstarter and read a lot of their articles on what worked for them. I did a boat load of research before launching the Kickstarter, and their site was an invaluable resource. One of their techniques was to add the “Like it” and “Donate” calls to action on your cover image which I obviously used. I haven’t agreed with every single thing they’ve written, but a lot of it is extremely useful and just the sheer volume of information they have available is pretty awesome.
JVB: Once you finish this, because we know you will, what's next in terms of Bucket List goals before the dreaded dark day comes?
JM: Well, 2011 knocked off a bunch of those. I went skydiving; I visited the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, France. I got extremely high in Amsterdam (their weed improved my night vision so much I didn’t need any assistance walking the streets of Amsterdam at night), I had my first screenplay optioned, I bought my dream car (I can still drive thank God, so I bought a 2011 Infiniti G37X), and I got engaged.
So, as far as other life goals or bucket-list items, besides actually making a movie? Ask me again sometime.
JVB: Your fiancé… is she in the biz?
JM: She is not. She was a social worker. Unfortunately she was diagnosed with narcolepsy about 10 years ago, and she’s now on disability. Before you chuckle and think “wow, so she just falls asleep,” no. That’s not exactly how it works. She’s just exhausted all the time, kinda like the feeling you get when you’re on two hours of sleep and you just woke up. Yeah, she feels like that all day.
Our situation is somewhat funny, I’m gonna go blind, and she won’t be able to stay awake. I’m surprised NBC hasn’t made it a sitcom yet.
JVB: What's one thing you want everyone to know about you and your dreams?
JM: I suppose for anyone suffering from something you cannot control – don’t let it define you, don’t dwell on it, and most of all, learn to laugh about it.
JVB: What are your plans for the film after it's made? Festivals? Distribution?
JM: Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it yet. I think the canned answer is to submit it to film festivals and hope someone buys it. That doesn’t seem to work for the vast majority of films, as documented in the awesome flick Official Rejection.
I’m sure a lot of filmmakers want to see their film released theatrically because they want to see it on the big screen – well, I wouldn’t be able to see it that way anyway, so I wouldn’t mind if it was released exclusively to streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, or iTunes.
I think selling Blu-ray copies on our website would be a great approach as well. Screenwriters get five cents per DVD copy sold under the WGA agreement, if I’m not mistaken. If you can build an audience yourself, why not sell it for $10 and keep $9 after production costs?
Having said all that, if Sundance or Cannes picked the movie and someone offered to buy it, I’m not going to say no. I’m “going” blind, not stupid.
I ask again, what would you do if you were Jack? I would go for it with everything in me. That’s what I want you to do for Jack. Show him what passion and balls can accomplish. I double-dog dare you.
Check out Jack’s Kickstarter link, watch his video, and share his dream with your network. Let’s make this happen.
Follow Jack Marchetti on Twitter @JackMarchetti for all the updates on 4 of a Kind.