by director/co-writer Paolo Pilladi
I was brought to Last Call by a longtime filmmaking confidante with whom I made my first feature many moons ago. There was an authenticity that was immediately attractive—honest, raw and unapologetic. A neighborhood on the ropes, its inhabitants—already struggling to hang on in their daily lives—further burdened by rapid gentrification and the crippling realization that they can neither afford to move out nor stay in their beloved town.
My working class upbringing provided me with an intimate familiarity with the world inside Last Call. Simply put, I was made from this world. Overbrook, where I was born and bred, buttresses the western border of Philadelphia. Upper Darby, the inspiration for Last Call, sits on the other side of the city limits and the famous Cobbs Creek. The former predominantly Italian, African and Jewish American; the latter Irish and Asian American. Hard working, blue collar people. Prideful immigrants who took care of one another and whatever lot they were able to carve out for themselves in America. The ties that bind are tight in such neighborhoods. Indeed, most of my closest friends—including my wife Domenica—I have known since childhood.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. It’s why so much greatness emerges from those with limited means. The restraints some view as handcuffs in fact force a resourceful creativity. Some of the most talented artists I know grew up in Overbrook and similar neighborhoods. Some “made it.” Most did not. I didn’t go to a fancy film school, but I did get a Hi8 camera in my early teens and convinced anyone brave enough to get in front of it to be in my little movies. We learned by trying, by failing, by doing. Nothing was given to us, and nor did we ever expect it. Every inch was earned. It is that work ethic and perseverance instilled in me by my blue collar parents and immigrant family that guided me through the various rewrites, rigorous production schedule and arduous post during a Covid world.
I must give thanks to producers DJ Dodd, Rob Simmons, and Ante Novakovic for blessing me with our incredible ensemble and to co-writer/executive producer Greg Lingo for trusting me with his story and having the foresight to allow the film to grow. Our schedule didn’t allow for rehearsals or even a table read, so having so many seasoned veterans proved vital. Jeremy Piven brought the heat from the first take, enabling me to set a tone early on. Taryn Manning is a force. Zach McGowan shined new light into his character that I otherwise would not have seen. Jamie Kennedy had the set in stitches. Cathy Moriarty, Cheri Oteri, Jack McGee, and the one and only Bruce Dern! Legends. Impeccable improv skills. I could go on forever. Suffice to say, it was a masterclass each day on set and I’m most fortunate.
Janet Walczyk, owner of the tavern that bore her last name, passed recently due to Covid. She opened her home to us and allowed our crew to transform it into Callahan’s Pub. Her warm smile was a welcomed sight every day on set and a quick reminder that this film is for the working class that raised me. Last Call is a love letter to the mom and pop shops, a celebration of the hardened, immigrant families upon whose backs this country was built.
I hope audiences come along for the ride to find that the loyal heart of Last Call resides in the right place. And laugh. After the year we’ve just endured, we could all use a bit of laughter.
Posted March 15, 2021