Q&A: Director Ralph Macchio on ‘Across Grace Alley’

A young boy struggling with his parents’ divorce seeks solace in his infatuation with a captivating woman he discovers through a neighboring window. Across Grace Alley will screen at the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival as part of the Connections shorts program. It is also featured in our Views From Long Island section.


Please describe Across Grace Alley in your own words.

Ralph Macchio: Across Grace Alley is a classically told slice of heartfelt cinema. Infused with music and dance, the film thematically touches upon coming-of-age, innocent voyeurism and how lives can be touched through brief encounters. I set out to tell a poignant story that was grounded in the heart of human emotion and inspired by artistic expression—themes that often resonate and move me personally.

As the writer/director, what inspired you to tell this particular story?

RM: I always find myself intrigued by a story that is told through the eyes of a child. Seeing the world from that point of view—a time for all of us that is open and pure.

This project initially was born out of a newfound friendship with Karina Smirnoff. I had the opportunity to learn a bit about the girl beneath the dynamic “celebrity” woman and felt she would make a fascinating character/subject on film. Just by chance, around the holidays, I had seen The Artist, Rear Window and Cinema Paradiso—my family and I were preparing to spend New Year’s Eve with Karina in NYC when the framework for the story just came to me. I started writing the outline soon after the ball dropped. A new year, a new project!


What appeals to you about directing as opposed to acting? (And will you ever act in one of your own projects?)

RM: Creating the world… Collaborating with other visionary artists. Working with actors, sharing the vision and the storytelling while absorbing and learning from the process.

I love acting, and there are similarities, since both the foundation of a character and foundation of a story require the building of layers from the ground up. I just find with directing, it’s a natural progression for me, having learned from so many iconic storytellers I worked with in the past—Francis Coppola, John G. Avildsen, Walter Hill, to name a few. I did cameo in Across Grace Alley (a request by an investor), and I have learned to “never say never,” but at this stage, I prefer not to split creative focus.

What can you share about your directing style? How do you work with your cast?

RM: Flexibility is one word that comes to mind. Communication is the other. In this film I had a 10-year-old boy in Ben Hyland, who has a beautiful expressive face and minimal acting experience. I had Karina, a world-class Russian dancer acting on film for the first time… in her second language. And I had Marsha Mason, a Golden Globe-winning, four-time Best Actress Oscar® nominee.

My “directing style” with Ben was to walk him through the emotions of what his character was going through and keep him relaxed in the frame. With Karina, it was about having her trust in our friendship and draw from conversations we had had… to allow her real and understated self to come to the forefront. With Marsha, it was to share my thoughts on the character and stand back to watch her do her thing. All three are so wonderful in the film!


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

RM: I was so pleased to hear that Across Grace Alley is part of the Connections Shorts Program; it is the perfect program title for us. I want people to “connect” with our film from an emotional place, to be moved by the story because of a human connection they have with one of the characters. That would be a home run for me! In these current times of unrest in our world, I am hopeful that the heart of this film will resonate for audiences.

Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

RM: It’s a cliché, but it is the advice I get from my filmmaking mentors: “Never give up.” Keep creating and striving forward. Write what you know, shoot what you know, and share your uniqueness with others. Talk with actors, talk with designers, directors, production managers, editors; shadow other filmmakers—learn as much as you can.

Obviously, it costs money to do these projects—and that remains the biggest challenge for everyone on every level. But the more knowledge you have going in, the better served your project will be.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival?

RM: I am a native Long Islander, so I am so excited to share in a festival that is from my “hood.” This will be our East Coast Premiere. I have a summer place in Montauk, so I know the area and have always wanted to be a part of HIFF—very excited to have our film selected for this year. I am planning to attend and be as involved with all the festival has to offer. Connecting with other filmmakers will be a highlight, I’m sure. Looks like an amazing line-up of films and events. See you out there!

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Ralph-Macchio-headshotRalph Macchio’s debut short film Love Thy Brother premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival to audience and critical acclaim, and was distributed to HBO, iTunes and Shorts International. An executive producer of American Gypsies for National Geographic Channel, Macchio has developed projects for Fox, ABC Family, Nickelodeon and MTV. His FunnyOrDie.com video Wax-On, F*ck-Off remains one of the site’s most popular of all time. Having worked with a variety of iconic filmmakers, Macchio strives to implement what he has absorbed into his own filmmaking endeavors. Film acting credits include highlights The Outsiders, The Karate Kid, My Cousin Vinny, Crossroads and Hitchcock.