Dominick Nero is a young filmmaker based out of New York City with Jersey roots. Attending Rutgers University, he wasn’t sure of what he wanted to do, and after taking everything from Psychology to Creative Writing courses—he realized filmmaking was his true passion. He’s always enjoyed being behind (and in front) of the camera, and hopes to one day have the same respect and recognition as his favorite directors. Mechanical Dummy sat down with Dominick to learn more about how he got to where he is today, and what that journey has been like.
Words by. Nick Sella
Mechanical Dummy: What is your name and what do you create?
Dominick Nero: My name is Dominick Nero, and I am a filmmaker based out of NYC.
MD: What was the first film or video you ever made?
DN: The first “film” I ever made was actually a skate video. It starred me, my cousin, and my older brother, Vincent. Vince was always making me star in his little movies, and there was a bunch of footage lying around, so I snuck into his iMovie file and started cutting it myself. Editing footage, stringing it together into a sequence— I found the whole process so enjoyable, yet so straightforward and simple for me. It took me about 8 years to drop all of my other pursuits (skateboarding included) and realize that filmmaking is most important to me. I would say the first actual film of mine is Cut-Up, made in Spring 2013, my final project in a Directing class at Rutgers University.
MD: Did you go to school for filmmaking or are you self-taught?
DN: I did not go to film school. But, I would not consider myself self-taught either. I graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick with an English degree and a Cinema Studies minor. As I mentioned before, it took me a long time to realize that filmmaking was what I wanted to do, so at Rutgers I pursued Psychology, then Philosophy, then Creative Writing, all the while practicing improv, stand up, and sketch comedy; I’ve found that each of these things has, in some way, helped me in making movies.
MD: Can you talk about the process of editing and how much time not behind the camera goes into creating a film/video?
DN: Editing is sometimes the quickest part of the process. For me, the majority of filmmaking is pre-production. A writer/director must be attentive at all stages of production, but without a good script, a project is likely to fail. So, writing can take anywhere from a few weeks, to many months. But, it’s different for everyone. Nicolas Winding Refn, one of my favorite young directors (the man behind Drive and more recently, Only God Forgives) writes a light script that acts as a sort of outline, and then the majority of his writing process occurs during the production—I look forward to experimenting with the process in my career too. I can tell you this, I’ve been working on a feature length screenplay for about 3 months now, and I don’t see it nearing a final draft any time soon…
MD: Who are some of the directors and films that have inspired you?
DN: A favorite teacher of mine, Ms. Rachel Sherman at Rutgers University, once told me that everyone should have both high-brow and low-brow tastes. I’ve tried to let films of all kinds inspire me. I love the film The Elephant Man by David Lynch, and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, but I’m also a huge fan of absurdist comedy, and greatly admire the work of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, and the old sketch show SCTV. I try to soak it all in!
MD: What has been some of the most challenging stuff you’ve had to learn while making films/movies?
DN: The single most significant challenge for me as a filmmaker is with subtlety. You may have been hoping for some sort of production-based response, but I personally believe that films are too easy to produce these days, and that no director should be complaining about getting funding when you can shoot an HD-quality film on your phone. Anyway, subtlety in cinema is a huge test of great director. When to pump the brakes, and when to blow things up— audiences sometimes desire to be told exactly what’s going on, they sometimes want to see the gun…but other times, revealing your cards is the worst thing you can do. Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street fails, in my mind, to address the intimate characterizations of Di Caprio’s Jordan Belfort, and instead depends on excess and frivolity to tell the story; but, the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, is masterfully personal, and by revealing so little to the audience of the emotional crisis at hand, we somehow know Llewyn in a much more intimate way, without seeing him naked, drug-infused, crying, or any embarrassing situations of Jordan Belfort. Balancing clarity and ambiguity, mastering the tiniest elements of the story, this is my central challenge, and seems to challenge even the greatest of filmmakers, like America’s best, Martin Scorsese.
MD: What advice would you give to others who are just starting out and want to make films/movies?
DN: Though I can hardly differentiate myself from a “starting-out” filmmaker, from the small perspective I’ve gained since graduating college, I would say, very specifically: buy a DSLR with a 50mm lens, a tripod, and find yourself access to Final Cut Pro. That is the golden rule to becoming a young independent director. A DSLR will give you the versatility to set up shots from any angle, and with a tripod you’ll be forced to compose rather than just run and gun, which has become the mindless alternative to cinematography today. A 50mm lens will make you think about the shot, about the beauty of the frame, the aperture, the focal length— all the things that define cinema that have somehow been lost to the popularity of shaky-cam found footage nonsense. Be humble! Don’t think you’re allowed to shoot scenes with the camera hanging wildly around your neck. Honor the craft, and consider each element of the production with great care and personality. If you need more on this type of careful filmmaking, go watch Spike Jonze’s Her.
MD: Where have your films been showcased?
DN: Since I’ve worked in a fairly wide variety of settings, my work has been displayed on everything from Jumbrotrons to white tarps at comedy sketch shows. I’d say my favorite screening of all was at the New Lens Film Festival at Rutgers. I showed my thesis film, Cut-Up, and since the crowd was made up of mostly my friends and family, the anticipation for my screening was exciting and celebratory. When the title screen appeared after the cold opening, there was an applause that I will surely never forget. What’s better than watching your work with the people you love and trust the most?
MD: What camera and software do you use?
DN: I currently shoot on a variety of Canon DSLRs, and Final Cut Pro is my software of choice.
MD: What do you think you’ve improved the most on since you started?
DN: My greatest improvement has been in the personality of my films. When I started at the end of my High School days, I was obsessed with creating videos that would make audiences laugh, and somehow cater to a pop-culture phenomenon. It’s taken me years to realize the importance of self-expression in cinema, as cinephiles will agree that the best directors, the best pictures, are the ones that are strikingly different, that defamiliarizing audiences is ten times more admirable than being safe in one’s work. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, I think I still worry way too much about adhering to ordinary film characteristics, but I’m working on it, and I’m trying to let my own voice come through more unadulterated.
MD: What is the end goal for you? What’s your dream with filmmaking?
DN: The end goal is to gain enough respect, financial stability, and trust from the film community that I can work alongside the best and the boldest. I dream about winning festival awards, and having my work screen at esteemed theaters with high praise from critics— but at the end of the day, it’s the work that matters. I hope that I can enjoy a long, happy career of collaboration with my best friends, and biggest heroes.
MD: What kind of projects do you enjoy making more, or what’s different about making them?
DN: Lately I find that I get the most enjoyment from producing films that are quiet and intimate. I like cinema that has a dark texture to it, films like Inside Llewyn Davis are great examples of this sort of personal filmmaking, movies that really reach deep into the human condition. I will happily indulge in the weirdest and wackiest of projects— as I mentioned before, absurdist comedy is a great love for me— but at the end of the day, my heart’s not in the spectacle, it’s not in the big laughs, but rather in the tragic story, and the great characters. I’m trying to find the truth in film, and until I hit it, I doubt I’ll be invested in anything else.