Interview: Anthony Giunta Director of "Contest"
First time director Anthony Giunta is very excited for the teen world to check out his new movie “Contest”. The film revolves around a young kid you gets bullied and has to compete in a cooking contest to save his grandmothers pizza parlor. Anthony was kind enough to talk with us here at Movie Room Reviews and tell us about his new film and what it is doing for the younger generation.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Hey Anthony, congratulations on your new film "Contest".
Anthony Giunta: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.
MRR: I know it premiered on the Cartoon Network in October, but it also comes out on VOD on the 17th, right?
Anthony Giunta: Yep, yep.
MRR: Could you do us a favor and tell us about the film "Contest"?
Anthony Giunta: Absolutely. It is basically the story of Tommy, who is a teenage chef, a high school student, and he's a loner. And he is a bullied kid and the person who primarily bullies him is Matt who is also a high school student, they go to the same school, and Matt is the best swimmer in the school, in the area. And Matt happens to get caught on a video tape of giving Tommy a hard time. And basically what happens is two things. Matt is suspended from extracurricular activities, which is very troubling to him because he's entering his senior year, and he's expecting swim team scouts from college to come and hopefully get him a top college scholarship based on his swimming abilities. But if he can't swim, that's a problem. And the school Vice Principal who suspends him says that she will reverse the suspension if he goes out of his way in the next 30 days to be an anti-bullying advocate, and particularly to be helpful to the kid that he had bullied on tape, who is Tommy.
Tommy in the meantime is in a situation where he is a loner, he is shy, and his grandmother whom he lives with, he lost his parents when he was a little kid, has entered him in a TV cooking contest unbeknownst to him. When Tommy finds out about it, he's like, "Nope, there's no way I want to be involved in that," until he finds out that his grandmother might lose her pizza parlor that she runs. And if Tommy wins this cooking contest, then he has the opportunity with the prize money to help her out. So he decides to become part of that. And what Matt does, the bully, when he finds out about this is, he uses the TV cooking contest as his way in to redeem himself and get back on the swimming team. So he pretends to befriend Tommy.
During the course of the movie, even though Matt secretly can't stand Tommy, and Tommy not so secretly can't stand Matt, they're working as team together. And during the course of the movie, what ends up being this kind of reluctant partnership develops into genuine friendship.
MRR: It's a film that reminds me of when you're a kid or when you're a teenager, because Tommy has so many bad things happen to him, and then he ends up doing these great things. I don't want to give too much away on the film or anything, but it's a very feel good movie for a teen.
Anthony Giunta: Yeah. That was my intent. So good. I'm glad that worked.
MRR: Well, it just takes you back to the hero character that's pushed around that you feel bad for. But then at the end, he picks himself up, which is nice.
Anthony Giunta: Yeah.
MRR: Well, bullying is a huge part of the film, and I know that you've and I read about the actors being in an anti-bullying program. How did that factor into the film?
Anthony Giunta: Well, originally, I had read that they were involved in anti-bullying efforts. And so it was a good conversation starter to have people who were really focused on the mission of helping other kids. What that's evolved into, now that the film is made is there is this group called the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, who is actually putting together a program with "Contest" where they're going to teach the film in school starting in October of 2014. And I'm going to be involving some of our kids from the movie in that program, as well as their peers and friends from TV, film, Broadway, etcetera.
And what the idea is with this, is to take this program into New Jersey middle schools and then spread the program out through other schools, other middle schools through out the entire country.
MRR: Wow! Congratulations!
Anthony Giunta: Yeah. Thank you. It feels wonderful because we've gotten so much great feedback from the tween and teen population in terms of how this film has helped them. Not only kids who are bullied, but we've gotten feedback from kids who have actually said, "The movie made me realize what I was doing with other people in terms of bullying them and as a result of seeing the movie, I'm not gonna do that anymore," which is about the best praise that you could hope for in this project. And it was so gratifying to get that from a few people. So it was pretty amazing.
MRR: So the cast wasn't just chosen on the fact that they were involved in anti-bullying program, it just kind of coincided with each other?
Anthony Giunta: No. I think it helped to be conversation starters. They were cast 'cause they were 'the' best people for the roles. And it just so happens that they were driven by the fact that they were involved in anti-bullying efforts. But we literally selected the best people in the role. And they wanted to be involved, I think all the more because of what the topic was and what they said was that they gravitated toward the script and the fact that the message that it was sending as well as being entertaining.
MRR: Well, not only did you direct the film but you wrote the film also.
Anthony Giunta: That's correct. Yeah.
MRR: I want to ask why did you pick a cooking show contest? It seems something different that you wouldn't have normally seen before.
Anthony Giunta: Well, a couple of things. I was a bullied kid in grade school and high school. And among the interests that I have, I have a great interest in cooking and food... And coming from an Italian family in South Philadelphia, it was one of the things that I bonded with with my grandmothers at an early age. And so it was just kind of a natural thing for me to do that because I felt like, it was something that I could write about that came from my heart.
MRR: How much research did you have to do with the film? Because you have the cooking that you know something about, but how much research did you have to learning about kids these days?
Anthony Giunta: I did a lot in terms of a few things. I certainly watched enough cooking shows in terms of the cooking aspect of things just to see how a contest would go. And in terms of kids and the bullying aspect, I did a lot of research on bullying just to make sure that it not only paralleled my own experiences, but certainly brought it up to what was happening today which it's much more pervasive today with texting, social networks, etcetera than it was when I went to school and before the internet. And just in terms of kids themselves, I watched a lot of kids TV and kids films and things like that just to make sure that I kind of got a feel for what works in that family genre.
And talked to a lot of kids.
MRR: You went around talking to a lot of kids, huh? Asked them what's cool and what's not?
Anthony Giunta: Well basically, there were a network of kids from the Broadway community, that I got introduced to and just spoke to them, and spoke to some of their friends, etcetera. And just got an idea of the world that they live in, that they encountered with other kids.
And without exception, people who read the script said it was very much in the vernacular that kids speak and etcetera, and it didn't talk down to them. And so, I felt like "Okay, great!" The research paid off.
MRR: Now you're a first-time director with this film, I believe. What was life like on the set with all these kids running around with your first time directing?
Anthony Giunta: It was pretty awesome and I think I've been pretty spoiled. [laughter] It was amazing because a lot of what the theme of the film is, is the whole idea of team, and I really felt that in a huge way. The actors that we had, obviously the adults, but certainly the teen actors as well were very, very professional. Crew, wonderful, and everyone just brought so much to it and contributed so much to the process that before I got into it, people said to me, "Oh my gosh! It's gonna be a nightmare, it's gonna be tough, you've got a relatively short shooting schedule," and it was wonderful. It was absolutely terrific. People were very, very present, all the time. People were invested in what they were doing. Then, after it was over, the same people that I told what the experience was like, they said, "Okay, don't get used to it." So I was like, "Okay, whatever," but that was my first experience. It was amazing, it was collaborative, it was a joy. Everyone that I worked with in this movie, every actor up there, I would work with again in a heartbeat.
MRR: Well my last question for you is, who do you think is really gonna enjoy this film, Anthony?
Anthony Giunta: Well, I would say from the feedback that we've gotten thus far, I think it's mostly going to be that tween and young teen audience, that kind of 11 to 17-year-old group? They're the ones that we're hearing from a lot in terms of how much they absolutely loved the film when it was on Cartoon Network.
MRR: The film took me back to films I watched as a kid.
Anthony Giunta: Oh good. Oh really? Cool.
MRR: Well, it just takes you back to the hero character that's pushed around and that you feel bad for. But then at the end, he picks himself up, which is nice.
Anthony Giunta: Yeah.
MRR: So I really enjoyed the film, and it comes out December 17th on DVD and VOD.
Anthony Giunta: Yeah, that is correct. Yeah, and we're real excited about it, and I hope everybody goes to Walmart and buys it.
MRR: Well congratulations, and thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate it.
Anthony Giunta: Well thank you, Nick. Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate your time and interest. Thank you.