Documentaries by Ramapo alum screened in Sharp Theater

Lodi native Anthony Scalia has a passion for sharing stories of interesting people in New Jersey. Whether it be of people in his life or someone he just met for the first time, the documentary filmmaker has a true skill in capturing the beautiful depths of people through his storytelling, cinematography and editing. 

On Tuesday evening, a screening of Scalia’s “Portraits of New Jersey” was shared with an audience mainly filled with current filmmaking students in the Sharp Theater, which featured three short documentaries, followed by a Q&A. Scalia, class of 2016, was joined with fellow alum Erin DuBee and Rutgers University alum Urmil Dalal, both of which worked with him on several projects and on their production company, Sharkbite Productions

Anthony Scalia graduated from Ramapo in 2016, but could not stay away for long. Photo by Emily Melvin

The screening began with “Jimmy Scalia: An Honest Portrait,” a roughly seven-minute long documentary following Scalia’s father, Jimmy, and his interesting perspective on his life as a soon-to-be retired public school janitor and archivist for musician Bobby Darin. The film, which was actually made in Ramapo’s Cinematography course, was shot completely in black and white and consisted almost entirely of b-roll footage of Jimmy doing his typical school routine. He narrates over the footage about his life as a janitor, his passion for Darin and the impact he left on so many of the students who he saw come and go during his time there. 

After creating this film, Scalia seemed to continue on with the trend of making seven-minute long documentaries. The second documentary, “Backyard Treasure: License Plate Guy,” followed the same format. Scalia takes viewers into the life of the New York Giants’ unofficial mascot, the License Plate Guy, who is a bubbly man with long blonde hair that has worn Giants’ license plates over his shirts to games for over 16 years. He has gained incredible online recognition and built relationships with the players and fellow number one fans. 

The biggest focus of the night was the final film, “Bendix: Site Unseen.” This documentary was initially created with the intention of following Scalia’s seven-minute formula, but as the three-year production journey went on, it was clear that this story was much deeper, and it ended up being 26 minutes. 

“I grew up five minutes away from [Bendix Diner]… but I’ve never been in. And then one night, it was the only place open when I was hungry and I decided to stop in,” he said during the Q&A. He then interacted with his waiter – and the manager of Bendix Diner – John Diakakis, who seemed to be different. Scalia came to find out that John is blind and a single dad to three sons that worked with him in the diner, one of which just got into Harvard. 

“I was like, ‘this is a story,’ I mean, how can you not see a story?” Scalia said. 

After some convincing, Diakakis agreed to the documentary, and the story gradually unfolded in front of Scalia as production continued. Scalia, along with DuBee and Dalal, admitted to planning much of their shoot, compiling detailed shot lists and aesthetic intentions. Scalia said he is not one for spontaneity, but this project allowed him to find some spontaneous moments that ultimately ended up being some of the most impactful moments of the film. 

When Diakakis would begin to open up or go off on how he was feeling or thinking, Scalia would record and capture authentic moments.   

“So the planning was crucial for the moments that it worked, and for the moments that we didn’t plan for, that sometimes is when you get the best stuff, and you do have to be open to it.”

– Anthony Scalia

Scalia, DuBee and Dalal shared some of their own insight on being students and working their way into the industry. Though it may seem daunting, it is possible, it just requires putting yourself out there and making connections.   

“Just get noticed, be loud. It’s an industry where everybody’s self-promoting, and that can get annoying, but there’s some truth to why that works,” Scalia said. “Be confident in yourself and feel free to reach out to as many people as possible because there are some really great resources out there.”

Featured photo by Emily Melvin