EXCLUSIVE: Indie Filmmaker Bridges Generation Gap with Bocce in Debut Feature ‘Team Marco’

Owen Vacarro and Anthony Patellis star in TEAM MARCO. ©Samuel Goldwyn Films.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Staten Island, N.Y., native Julio Vincent Gambuto makes his feature directorial debut with the heartwarming comedy “Team Marco,” about a multi-generational household overcoming the generation gap.

The film is set against the backdrop of bocce, similar to outdoor bowling in which the object of the game is roll an orange-size ball down the lane of a court and come as close to a small white ball known as a polina, without getting your ball knocked away by the opposing team, who also is trying to get as close to the target as possible. Anyone who has visited Staten Island or South Florida knows that the sport, which traces its roots to ancient Egypt, is popular with seniors, particularly those with Italian roots. Yet bocce continues to attract an ever-widening fan base of all ages and nationalities that can be played even during a pandemic.

Gambuto, a Harvard and USC School of Cinematic Arts-educated filmmaker, has written for Nickelodeon, PBS, E! Entertainment and James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini. He founded Boro Five, an independent film and television production company, in 2017. The bi-coastal company (Staten Island and Hollywood) is developing a slate of projects. “Team Marco,” inspired by members of Gambuto’s large Italian family, is the first film project out of the gate.

“Team Marco” stars veteran actor Anthony Patellis as Nonno, an elderly Italian immigrant who comes to live with his divorced daughter Anna (Anastasia Ganias-Gellin) and her 11-year-old son Marco (Owen Vaccaro), after his beloved wife of 50 years passes away. Nonno is frustrated by his 11-year-old grandson, Marco, who appears to be glued to his iPad or TV, playing videogames day and night. Nonno urges the boy to go outside and play with his friends, but Marco is perfectly content to live in the virtual world of videogames with his online friends from all over the world. He is especially fond of a game that his game-developer dad made, but who is too preoccupied with work and his new girlfriend to visit the boy.

Eventually, after a lot of friction, Marco agrees to join Nonno on a visit to the local bocce club (filmed on location at the Staten Island Bocce Club) where he meets his grandfather’s elderly friends. After some resistance, Marco agrees to try his hand at bocce, and remarkably begins to like it. Nonno also introduces Marco to Neapolitan cookies, riding on the back of a Vespa scooter and being open to getting his sneakers dirty.

Meanwhile, everyone in the household is having to deal with emotional adjustments. Nonno still misses his beloved wife, and watches old home movies. Marco is confused and saddened by his dad’s ambivalence toward him now that he has a new girlfriend. And Marco’s mom, Anna, has to acknowledge that she has to move on with her life with her husband out of the picture.

Through sport, laughter and love, Marco finds connection to real life people and rounds up a team of neighborhood kids to take on his grandfather and his pals on the bocce court. Marco also proves to his grandfather that technology isn’t all bad when he creates a beautiful tribute for him that is sure to melt viewers’ hearts.

The family friendly comedy set and shot in Staten Island was entirely funded by more than 200 private investors who invested in Gambuto’s production company’s first slate, which includes “Team Marco” and two subsequent feature films, slated for 2021 and 2022. The slate fundraising was a hybrid model of private investment and online micro-share equity crowdfunding.

A film festival favorite—the comedy won the Audience Award at the 42nd annual Mill Valley Film Festival and subsequent accolades at dozens of other festivals in the U.S. and Europe— “Team Marco,” distributed through Samuel Goldwyn Films, is set to open in virtual cinemas On Demand and Digital Friday, Nov. 20.

Front Row Features: This film has received a lot of accolades at film festivals. How does it feel to be getting all this love from these festivals and now that “Team Marco” is going to be available for everyone to see?

Julio Vincent Gambuto: It’s feels pretty incredible. I’m really proud of the film and all the people who were involved. We had about 500 people involved in making the movie. For an independent film, it’s just a lot of folks. It was very special. The fact that it gets birthed into the world, even during this time (of the health pandemic) isn’t something I expected. It wasn’t my plan to release a movie during a pandemic but, funny enough, I think it’s a movie we all need right now.

FRF: With the increase in the number of multi-generational households, “Team Marco” seem right in sync with what’s happening in right now. What was the genesis of the story?

Gambuto: I’m an uncle to six nieces and nephews here in New York. We have a special relationship. As an uncle, you get all the fun stuff and none of the bad stuff (in child-rearing). I walked into my nephew’s house one day and he didn’t look up from his iPad to say “hello” which, in our family, is a cardinal sin. It was a strange moment because I looked at him and I instantly became my grandfather. I said, “Enough with that screen. Come over and say ‘hello.’”

I always thought of myself as the young one in the room and then, overnight, you become the older generation, which is a very strange experience. But out of that experience, a movie was born. That nephew has a grandfather on the other side of his family who plays bocce almost daily. I just kind of imagined what it would be like if these two people lived in the same house.

FRF: Is that your nephew Marco?

Gambuto: Yes.

FRF: Has he learned to play bocce?

Gambuto: It’s funny because he came to the set pretty frequently and sat with his iPad in the corner. (He laughs.) I would go over to him and say, “There are 70 people here trying to tell a story about life is lived better off of that (electronic device). Come over and say ‘hi.’” So, it was a funny experience.

What’s interesting is that anyone who see this who is their age (teenagers), they want to engage in a conversation about it. They have strong opinions as to how long they should be on their devices, what it means in their lives, and why they think it’s important. Sometimes, especially now with the pandemic, where parents are looking for any reason to make sure the kids are occupied in doing something—I think parents are struggling right now with how much screen time to allow their kids—and the kids are very aware of that struggle.

FRF: Could you talk about casting “Team Marco.” You have a seasoned vet with Anthony Patellis and you have this young actor Owen Vaccaro who seemed very natural in the role of Marco. You also have Anastasia Ganias-Gellin, who plays Marco’s mom.

Gambuto: I love casting. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process. You get to meet so many different people and see so many different versions of your characters who you’ve had on your head and on your (computer) screen. So, it was a joy, really. I met Owen on Facetime. I didn’t meet him in person until he started working on the film. He was recommended by my sister who had seen him in “Daddy’s Home” movies and “The House with the Clock in its Walls.” I thought this could work. Owen is an incredibly talented actor. On set, this kid is the real deal. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He has an ability to not play (the role) in a surface way. He was willing to go there and make his performance count. So, I really appreciated that, especially from someone so young.

Tony (Patellis) was wonderful. He walked into the audition and stole my heart immediately. As soon as he left, I said, “We gotta get him. He’s exactly the kind of character I have in my head.

Anastasia walked in, and she had just had a baby two weeks earlier. She said, “What you see is what you get.” It was really that rawness that I wanted. I wanted someone who was struggling with motherhood and wasn’t going to hide behind makeup, hair and costumes, but someone who was really going to get in there and do it. She has an important part in the movie because she represents that middle generation between these two very different characters. It was important for me to find the right person and Anastasia was just that. So, it was important for me that these people be cast right.

FRF: You used home movie footage not only from your collection but photos and other images from your cast.

Gambuto: I wanted it to be personal; I wanted it to be special. All of the vintage footage from the 1960s, that was all taken from a box of 8mm film that my grandfather left me. When he died, it was the most special gift you could imagine. We digitized all of that footage which includes my grandmother, who is 95. She and I sat in the dining room and watched all of these films from their life together, and she helped me pick out what to put in the film. So, it was a special process.

FRF: Do you play bocce?

Gambuto: I play a lot of bocce now. I played some while growing up but I actually played a lot of cards with my grandparents but cards don’t make sure a great movie.  I was lucky when we were developing the movie and I was writing the script with a friend of mine that I’ve known since the sixth grade. He and I would spend a lot of time going down to watch the local bocce team, meeting them and playing with them. Members of The Staten Island Bocce Club which appears in the movie were incredibly supportive to us.  So, I’m a much better player now than I was before.

It’s a great sport. You can actually play it in a socially distanced way because the court is pretty long and you can make modifications with two separate teams.

FRF: This is the first film from Boro Five and you’re the executive producer of the company. Do you have other features in the works?

Gambuto: There are. We were going to shoot our second feature this summer but that got pushed back because of the pandemic, so we’re looking at next summer for that. It’s another family, heartfelt story. I’m going to stay in that lane, but I’m also going to expand it beyond the family audience. It’s a little rougher, a little more raw and a little less PG. It’s based on my own family. It’s a story about a young boy who discovers his mother can sing. It’s about how he encourages her and empowers her to find her voice in her own life. There’s a lot of music involved although it’s not a musical, per se. It’s been a wonderful journey so far, and hopefully that will get made next year so we can put that into the world as well.