Gaya Lynn: Please share with our readers why you decided to make “Bella Vita” and what lessons or emotional impact you would like audiences to take home after seeing your film.
Jason Baffa: I have made two other independent films about surfing, One California Day (2007) and Singlefin: yellow (2004). I was interested in doing another project but I wanted to grow as an artist and a filmmaker. I was looking for something larger in scope with a sweeping story, high-end visuals, a real “filmic” experience. When
Jason Baffa with Chris Del Moro
Chris and I first discussed collaborating and shooting in Italy, I realized there was great potential to do something unique. Something unique for Italy and something unique in the world of surfing. I guess I’m always trying to be a bit different. So I appreciated that this would not be a typical surf film and I loved the details of Chris’ story, his family roots, his want to go back and experience things that he joyfully remembered from his childhood. I think in part, I wanted those experiences too. Sure, Chris is in front of the camera but I’m right there with him for every part of that journey, experiencing the same emotions he is. So it was really a chance for me to connect with my Italian roots as well. Both my parents, my sister and my wife and son visited while filming. It was truly a life-experience.
I think it was because the experience was so meaningful that the messaging, even the title of the film, BELLA VITA, in English Beautiful Life… these things came out of the amazing experience we had making the film. When Chris and I left for Italy, our production had no money. We didn’t really have a plan but we had a vision of creating something visually sweeping, emotionally intimate, unique, poignant… and we went for it. I think that is the message, chase your dreams, keep what’s important close to you and your heart- don’t take things for granted and share your experiences with close family and friends. If you can do that, you are developing a great foundation for a beautiful life.
GL: Tell us how you and surfer Chris Del Moro met and how this idea came to create “Bella Vita’ came about.
JB: Chris and I first met at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, we were both screening films and we got to hang out. It was years later that we met up in Bali and enjoyed traveling and surfing together with our wives. Bali has a fantastically relaxed pace to life and we spent time talking about films and new ideas. It was then that Chris pitched me his idea of doing a surf film about Italy. I was skeptical at first but then he told me stories and showed me photos of the beautiful waves Italy can have. That got me pretty interested but when Chris opened up about his life story, that’s when I really thought it could be a fantastic film. It took a while for me to convince chris that the film should be about him. He wanted to do a small eclectic documentary about the Italian Surf Scene and his friends who love surfing. But I convinced him to join me in a personal adventure, to explore these people but be the central character. This way, I felt the audience could go on a “life journey” with him and meet
these people, see these places, experience Chris’ experiences first hand. It just seemed more like the type of film I was looking to make. I’m very happy he took me up on it!
GL: Tell us about the challenges you faced as a film maker and any challenges you may have faced while filming in a foreign country…Moreover, what helped you to go forth and not give up.
JB: Masochism, that keeps me going. Hahaha… Look, if you want to be an indy filmmaker, you gotta have drive. Whatever it is, you better be motivated to persevere because it is not an easy road. For me, I want everything I do to be better than the last. I want my films to evolve, bigger, better, etc. So I wasn’t about to short-change
this fantastic opportunity that was presented to me. If not for the support of a small team of Producers in California who slaved over raising money and finding loans
or free deals on this or that – this film would never have happened. That was number one, well, right after my wife saying, Go. So my wife was number one and the Producers were number two and of course the support of Chris and the Italians. Piergiorgio Castellani in particular. These generous people opened not only their country, beaches and surf spots to our cameras but they opened up their homes and their hearts to our team. What an amazing feeling to have some 20-30 people that you just met give you 100% of their love and support. Wow. That really made it special and I think that was honestly a big drive for me. I didn’t want to let the local Italians down. I had to make something special for them. I owed them that.
This project had tremendous challenges from day one. Raising money in 2011 was almost impossible thanks to the U.S. economy crash. Finding sponsors, equally impossible. So from day one, it was an uphill battle. Chris and I left for Italy with no budget, no financing, no camera gear. We just went and the team said, “we’ll figure it out. You guys go meet people and figure out what the film is.”
So we did that. We went. We surfed, we met people. We shot a few things with some gear I own but it was all very simple. Slowly things developed and enough money was raised (mostly family and friends) to fly the Director of Photography Scott Kassenoff over with one assistant, JT. We bought him a 35mm Watercamera and we made in-roads with Panavision Italy to get a deal on a land camara. We bought film (not sure how we’d develop it) and Piergiorgio helped connect us with JEEP Italy, who kindly gave us 3 trucks for the shoot. So we had cars. The locals supported us, filmmakers, photographers, artists and surfers willing to carry a tri-pod or camera case. Ha- although I quickly learned that if the surf showed up, everyone would run to the water. I’d be sitting at the JEEP with Scott, JT and 10 cases of gear with no help. Everyone was surfing.
We also had trouble with weather, which is part of chasing waves in Italy. Oh, and one of our main characters got very sick and had to leave the film. Cameras broke. It was kinda horrible. I remember sobbing in tears on the beach one day. I was thinking, wow, I’ve invested my savings in being here and we can’t get waves, people are sick, cameras are jamming. This film is doomed and i’m wasting my
life. But we stuck with it. Again, masochism might be the best word. Hahaha…
GL: Since the theme of “coming home” and “roots” is significant in your film, please tell us
about your own roots and background as a filmmaker.
JB: Well my roots are 50/50. My father’s entire family was from Italy, a small town in Calabria. They immigrated here in the early 1930’s, eventually moving to Los Angeles where my father met my mother, who is 100% Swedish. So, i’m 50/50 Italian-Sweede. Blue eyes and a big appetite.
My filmmaking roots are very familial. My cousin, Christopher Baffa, ASC is a very talented and successful cinematographer in Hollywood. When I was age 7, he was about fifteen. Our families would get together for big Italian Sunday Dinners and I remember him showing me a small 8mm movie he was working on for school. I was
so hooked. The entire drive home all I could think about was making my own movies. I told my parents that I wanted to be a movie maker and I never looked back.
After studying film for years, my obsession for the ocean over-took me and I really focused on my surfing. It took about 10 years before I realized I could combine the two loves. That is when I quite my job as an Action Sports TV Producer and made my first independent film, Singlefin: yellow (2004). I had about $25K and a credit card. I bought a bolex, a bunch of film and started making the movie. About a year into it, I realized I needed investors to pull it off. So my sister (a University of California Los Angeles, MBA) helped me draft a business plan. I raised about $70K and finished the film. I’m glad to say that all of those investors have made great money on that film. I could not have done it without
their support. It taught me a ton about making films, raising money, being independent. There is truly nothing like learning by doing and I was lucky that my first was a
GL: What did you learn not only about you as a film maker but also as a person through this experience…..
JB: This is such a tough question. These films take years. BELLA VITA was over two years of my life to make and now three years later, it is still something that I do interviews for and screenings. In five years, we change a lot as people and / or experience a lot of things. So it is difficult to define the lessons learned. I think the
hardest lesson is that our new era of digital distribution is very tricky to navigate. Media gets lost and making money selling content is extremely difficult if you don’t
have a big marketing budget. Our only marketing has been word of mouth and social media like Facebook.
I made the assumption that sales would be similar to my previous films but we released those projects on DVD in a day when people would go to the surf-shop and
buy the new film on DVD. Now, we hope people go to iTunes or our website. It’s hard to get that person to buy-in. For example, I just saw that our website has 100,000 unique visits. that’s fantastic, but the sales of the film via that website are low. So it’s been a tough lesson and as mentioned, it’s just been a challenging project from day one. The flip side is that we’ve won more awards, received more emails and comments than any project I’ve ever been a part of. This film really touches people on a deep emotional level. That’s something I take great pride in.
I tell people, if you love our film, tell your friends to buy it – you are our marketing team!
So I suppose there are mixed emotions. Perhaps I’ve learned that life, a bit like surfing, has many waves to it. Ups and Downs, if you can avoid getting too high or too low, you can ride the wave and it really is about the ride. Enjoy it.
GL: Current/future Projects:
Most of my time now is spent working as a commercial director and a father of a 5yr old and a 2yr old. I’m finishing up an indy documentary about golf caddies called,
“LOOPERS, a caddies life.” This has been a very interesting project documenting the long standing but rarely told relationship between golfer and caddie (the guy that carries the bag). It’s a very rags to rich’s story as the modern golf caddie can make a ton of money if their player is successful. We hope that LOOOPERS will release later this year.
I have also been writing and I’m eager to pursue more scripted projects. i think this is a desire for a bit more control in my process. Documentaries are fantastic but also frustrating, there is just so much that you can’t control. I love embracing the magic that happens in life but I also miss the process of dreaming something up, writing it and producing it to a finish.
Lastly and most exciting, my experiences working with Piergiorgio
Jason Baffa, Piergiorgio Castellani, Chris Del Moro
Castellani and friends in Italy has inspired a new journey called ZIOBAFFA Organic Wines. These are 100% Organic wines that Piergiorgio sustainably produces in his zero waste facility in Tuscany. We are using recycled and bio-friendly materials in the packaging
including a new re-usable eco-cork. So this has been fun, wine is a bit like filmmaking, part science, part nature, part craft.
The wines are available in select regions worldwide, for more info: