Vincent Gargiulo’s films convey a sort of innocence, nostalgia, and a sense of the playfully absurd. His style has an endearing vintage touch with elements of the ridiculous and the surreal — a salute to The Muppets and Monty Python. His latest film, KNFR From 7:00-7:30, is a parody of Saturday morning children’s shows on public access TV. It’s loaded with silly costumes, catchy tunes and a distinct weirdness.
“Once I saw [Monty Python’s] The Meaning of Life in junior high,” Vincent says, “I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life — write comedy, be weird, be absurd and defy conventions!” He’s heavily influenced by Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Christopher Guest, John Waters and Jim Henson.
The San Francisco-based filmmaker’s work has been featured on the Washington Post, Attack of the Show, and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. He’s also a songwriter and pens original songs for his films, including “Taste the Biscuit,” which became so popular that Billy Ray Cyrus sang it on “Lopez Tonight.” His most recent video, an unsolicited commercial for a Stockton pizzeria, went viral after Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul tweeted about it to his hundreds of thousands of followers. Vincent recently appeared on Good Day Sacramento and his pizza video is approaching 450,000 views.
Although Vincent studied film at SFSU, “I learned far more when I just started making my own stuff and when I worked on corporate videos,” he says. Film school did open his eyes to different types of cinema and the semiotics behind films, which influenced a lot of his style. Later on, he worked for a company that had clients like Cisco and Google, and the experience taught him much about the business side of filmmaking. “I’m constantly learning things about the process as each project brings new challenges.”
Raised in Stockton, California, which Forbes deemed the Most Miserable City in America twice in the past four years, Vincent grew up relatively poor. Consequently, his films have an intentional poor man’s aesthetic. “I’m attracted to stuff that looks a little run-down and beat-up,” he says.
Many of the characters in his films are very introverted — a reflection of his childhood, in which he spent much time alone. He’s drawn to write characters who don’t do much with their lives or are instead fixated on a single goal, and they’re usually people who are looking for something.
Vincent gets his ideas by combining random elements and seeing what happens. For example, he made a fake made-for-TV movie trailer to include in KNFR that incorporated the following unrelated elements: Elvis, disco and horror. He remembers being a kid and watching a movie in which woman was being haunted by the ghost of Elvis, but when he realized it was just a dream, he decided to make it himself.
It’s important to keep your work fresh and bountiful, especially when you’re a completely independent filmmaker. “Nobody is forcing me to make these things,” he says. “I’m doing this all with my own money … and if I’m the one making the decisions I’m going to make whatever the hell I want.”
His stuff is genuine, quirky and fun — and he’s learned that people really like that.
Alisa Damaso: What compels you to make movies?
Vincent Gargiulo: For me, it’s like this uncontrollable thing. It’s just what you do. And it’s not even really explainable, it’s just in you. Like, I make movies and I don’t even enjoy the process all the time, but I’ll continue to do them only because it’s just what I do. You know to me it feels like a job, just like a regular job with long hours, little pay — but I’m compelled to still do it anyway, even when it pisses me off half the time.
AD: So if it’s long hours, little pay, and it feels like a job — what do you get out of it?
VG: When the movie is completely done, and I send it out to the actors, and I say that there’s a screening coming up, they all reply back to me the oodles of love and admiration. And in that small moment, it seems worth it. And it’s probably because, you know — who doesn’t like their ego stroked?
And I think anybody who wants to do these things, especially filmmaking because it’s so damn expensive and competitive and all that, is — you just gotta keep cranking stuff out. I went to film school and I’m really the only person [from my class] who still makes stuff. I don’t know anybody else that I graduated with still making independent films.
AD: Why do you think that is?
VG: I think a lot of what happened, at least for a few people, is that they make one film and send it off to Sundance or Slamdance, it doesn’t get in, and they give up. And I can understand that in a way because it’s hard making a film. It’s probably one of the hardest art forms you could embark in because it involves other people. It involves money. It’s a huge investment, so it’s easy to get discouraged. But you gotta keep making stuff because what happens is you get better. You’re the only one standing at the end of the day and your films will get better and better just because you keep making them, and you keep growing personally, and you keep adding to it. You just grow, and your personality just comes into the work that you do. But you gotta keep making stuff.
AD: Where do you want to be in 10 years?
VG: Well, I suppose the goal of any artist is to simply make a living doing what they do. If we’re talking pure dreams, I would hope that in 10 years something that I made caught on to where I’m actually getting money to do this stuff. And I think it’s a possibility, I mean, you certainly look at all the other people who have done that and their success started with making something good that got some attention, and then somebody important probably saw it and shared it… So that’s why you gotta keep making stuff, because maybe the first thing that you make isn’t that good, but you just keep making stuff and you will naturally improve. Well, hopefully!
I don’t have any true ambitions to be super rich, just if I could live comfortably doing [this] I think I would be rather happy. I think it’s a possibility; I’m gonna hold out. I’m holding onto the dream.