Fulvio Sestito is a relative newcomer to feature films, having studied his lifelong passion at the world famous Cinecittà in his native Rome before moving to Los Angeles to study filmmaking at UCLA. Starting his career with short films, Sestito finally makes the jump to feature films with the sci-fi film Beyond the Sky, due for release in limited theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on September 21 from RLJE Films.
World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Sesito about what he went through to make his feature film debut, working with the cast, and what he has planned next.
Fulvio, thank you so much for talking about Beyond the Sky. I thought at first this would be another “found footage” movie but it turns out it was much more beyond that and that made it worth watching.
Nice! Glad to hear that?
This is your feature film directorial debut. What led you to become a filmmaker?
I always wanted to make films for as long as I can remember. So, I did my first short film when I was eight. And it’s pretty much a classic filmmaker’s story. I had this little camera that my father had bought and it was one of those VHS type of cameras. My father was always into technology but he couldn’t really use them so he gave it to me. I thought that this was great and so I started experimenting. I would spend most of my summers doing short films with all of my friends.
I’m from Rome, Italy so I went to the only filmmaking school in the country, the Cinecittà school. I was so involved that I didn’t want to do anything else. I moved to Los Angeles when I was about eighteen, nineteen years old and went to UCLA for film as well. And it’s been pretty much filming from there (laughs).
What inspired you to make this film your first feature?
Well, before this film, I was actually developing films, including one for a major studio, Warner Bros., and I felt it was going to be too big for me. I didn’t want to make a big production for my first film then I was developing another feature that was a suspenseful horror film but financing fell through. I was working in commercials and other projects at the time.
I became very interested in the alien abduction phenomenon from not only the alien point of view but the cultural mystification. So I took some time off to turn my “reset” button on and I started traveling. I went to Arizona and New Mexico and I started going to these UFO conventions. I met with people who breathe this stuff day and night. I wasn’t really thinking about making a film about this at first, I just wanted to enjoy the conventions. I just started interviewing these people who claimed to be abducted and the first trip was a pretty long one.
This would lead me to meeting with Native Americans and I had my experiences with them and the correlation of aliens. When I returned, I realized I had an idea for the film. So what you see in the film is actually based on my personal experiences from this trip I went to. I had this great story with all these crazy experiences so I wrote a treatment, an outline for the story. I teamed up with two screenwriters, Rob Warren Thomas and Marc Porterfield, and they did the script.
And the great thing is, I used my camera and did these interviews from my trip so I created a kind of “short reel” made up of these interviews. And it helped get the film made, so that’s something that helped.
The film had a great cast, from Ryan Carnes pretty much playing you to Jordan Hinson in addition to veterans Peter Stormare and Dee Wallace making the most of their cameos. What was it like working with the cast?
They were great! I didn’t just want to make another film about aliens. I mean, that’s been done many times. I wanted to do a film more about the phenomenon of aliens. I knew from the beginning I wanted to bring more characters who can be the emotional backbone of the film. When I met Ryan and Jordan, I knew talking to them about how I felt and telling them my experiences that they understood what I was going for. I like working with actors who will understand the characterizations I am trying to bring and speaking with other people, some, not all, but there were some who do actually believe in the phenomenon of alien abduction.
There are some people who believe you and some who think you’re crazy (laughs). I wanted to bring a more in-depth journalistic view of the characters, especially Chris [Ryan Carnes’ character] because he comes off as a skeptic. He needs to think about what he believes or if he should believe.
I got that from all the actors, from Peter and Dee as well. Peter’s character in particular because he’s important in the story even though he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. I wanted somebody who could give it their all but not have a lot of screen time. So Peter came along and Dee, as well, and I explained to them their characters and what I was going for and they were right on board from there.
There is a funny story involving Dee. I explained to her the character, and I was telling her she was kind of like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. She has the key to the rabbit hole (laughs). And she was like, “Yes!” and we shot the scene and I can say she became one of my favorite characters in the film. The cast was amazing and I am very grateful to have them all involved in the film. They did a great job!
Did you face any difficulties during shooting of the film?
Definitely. I would say the hardest was picking the locations. As you know, the film is based on my experiences so going to Arizona and New Mexico would be very important for me because of my actual experiences before making the film. So that was important to me. So when I made the film, I actually went to a convention with my crew in Arizona. And it was great, because we did these interviews, and these were actually people who attended the convention and not actors. Even the people you see in the background were those who actually in the convention.
Then of course, the linguistics of things are the numbers. What were we going to use the budget for, where can we shoot and how long we had? Like the Indian reservation and everything else. I think we used 12 locations in 3 states in 22 days! I think the movie is great but linguistically, it was insane (laughs).
Will you be doing another feature film in the near future?
I’m actually developing two films right now. The first is similar in terms of being a phenomenon, but this time it will be the Occult religions in Latin America. It will involve the occult and modern day witchcraft. It’s about a family that moves to Colombia and they want to restart their marriage and life and they get entangled in this web of modern day witchcraft. I’m also doing a documentary series in relation to that. About a year ago, I traveled to Cuba and learned about Santeria and voodoo practices for the first time in my life.
I’m also developing another sci-fi thriller with Marianne Maddalena, who used to be Wes Craven’s producing partner. So we’re developing this film that will be set in an outpost in the outskirts of the solar system.
Beyond the Sky comes to limited theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on September 21. If you like alien films and want something more out of it, then this is one film you should check out. Thank you again Fulvio for talking about it.
Thank you and I hope people get to see the film. Before I go, there is one story I want to bring up. Travis Walton, who was the focus of the film Fire in the Sky, he’s in the movie as himself. I asked him what he thought of his movie, he said it was good up until the actual abduction scene. The fact that because it was a big studio, they thought my actual abduction scene sounded very horrible and not visually interesting, so they completely changed it. The producers wanted to make it the usual type of experiments, but that’s not what really happened. When I heard what really happened to him, I wanted to bring that to my movie because I found it more interesting. So I wanted to bring a more realization about what can happen during these abductions.
And I hope everyone gets to see the movie because as you said, I think they will get something more out of it. Thank you!
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Fulvio Sestito for making this interview possible. For more on Fulvio, check out the official website for his production company, ExP Films.