James Di Lullo is a facts man, which may answer why he did so well in Scholastic Bowl before graduating from Batavia High School in 2007.
As for his more recent ventures with film-making and acting, facts have also come into play. With some experience, schooling, research and tenacity, plus assistance from family members and his girlfriend, the 33-year-old Western New York native cobbled together a production to be premiered in Buffalo this weekend.
“Goldenrod” is a short film conceived and produced at DiLullo’s family farm in Cattaraugus County. As the name implies, scenery is lush with mustard-colored goldenrod and foliage, with a glass-like lake nearby the circa 1852 homestead.
“So I was sitting on the deck of a big beautiful, plantation-style, almost farmhouse, looking out over the lake in September, and beautiful fields, and determined that this was the perfect place for me to write about, for me to create a story that could be completely produced and shot on that location,” he said during an interview Wednesday with The Batavian. “And involve local history and entertainment to combine all the three things you need for a great film, which was story, place and time.”
He had the place. And with research and garnering those facts about the geography, DiLullo wrote a story about a modest farming family and how it was affected during the Civil War. His original draft was twice as long and larger, which was cut down to just over 18 minutes and seven characters.
Given the era of the film, fashions are simple — think “Little House on the Prairie” — which features 7-year-old lead character Clara Payne in a simple white dressing gown and bare feet that seem to enjoy running through long blades of grass. The image fits her on-screen personality, that of a kid who isn’t interested in the seriousness of life when there are flowers to pick and water for dipping her toes in.
Clara eventually discovers the answer to the movie’s question “how do you love?” after suffering a family loss and filling in the void with mature compassion. Trust is also a key component in the message, DiLullo said.
“It teaches how we can learn to trust each other, who do you trust and why?” he said. “What I learned the most was how I could trust other people, that was a big step.”
Backing up to high school, the versatile DiLullo took a hiatus to play professional soccer in Finland for one day shy of a year before eventually graduating, he said. He went to Brockport State College for international business and economics, with an intent to pursue the supply chain field. He landed at Microsoft in the marketing department and “I really saw the power of marketing,” he said, in connection with product endorsements on movie sets. Think that can of Coca-Cola is there by mistake? Of course not, he said.
After repeatedly being asked if he was an actor, he got an offer and accepted to try it out. He especially appreciates the movie business and how a set contains every skill, from the creativity of writers and actors to the administrative skill of accountants, and other needs for plumbers, electricians, daycare, and even psychology fields, he said.
He portrayed a character on a website production and took a 20-week writer's boot camp course to hone his skills before “Goldenrod” flashed into his mind in September 2018. Knowing the questions to ask himself, DiLullo pondered the compelling aspects of rural New York. That took him to the Underground Railroad, which pulls the story, place and time together.
Family members Cecelia “Chee” Lullo was the wardrobe designer; Michal K. Lullo served as production assistant, and Joseph Lullo was transportation supervisor.
James was born a Lullo but took the family name DiLullo that was used in the family until 1952, he said.
Others involved with the production include Dr. Mary Reid Gaudio, producer and music producer, composer and performer; Richard Jacobs, producer.
DiLullo reached out to his hometown roots for assistance and inspiration. “Goldenrod” is in memoriam of former Genesee Community College music professor and composer Ann Reid, and was also influenced by retired teacher, historian, and author Anne Marie Starowitz of Batavia, DiLullo said. Select costumes were provided by Main Street 56 Theater and T-Shirts Etc. was involved as a vendor.
Directed by Marjorie DeHey, the film features a cast and crew from across the nation and New York State, he said. It is “considered a favorite for awards and recognition, and will focus on being official selections at NYS-based film festivals including Buffalo, Syracuse, and Cortland.
Top photo by Howard Owens.
James DiLullo and the cast and crew of Goldenrod. Submitted photo.
Production photo from Goldenrod. Submitted photo.