Marcelo Dietrich loves telling stories, teaching, and inspiring, and he does it all through movies, as a screenwriter, director and actor.
The 37-year-old Chandler resident recently released a documentary on a talented 16-year-old dancer with Asperger syndrome, in partnership with Dancers and Health Together, Inc., called Dance Your Asperger’s Off. The touching documentary brings awareness to what it’s like to have Asperger’s, and how art such as dance can positively affect someone with special needs.
This Saturday, June 14, he premieres a short film, The Horologist., as an Official Selection at the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival. The film is a condensed version of the first act of a feature-length screenplay of the same name, and Dietrich hopes the short film can be used to get funding for the feature-length.
Dance Your Asperger’s Off is also at the fest on Saturday, June 14. Find more information about the film festival here, and keep reading to see what drives Dietrich, who has written, produced or directed more than a dozen films and documentaries. Keep scrolling to see him talk about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
My parents moved here from Thermal, California when I was 3 years old, and I grew up in Tempe.
How has your film career evolved?
I started in film doing production assistant jobs for different projects around Arizona. Film is a really interesting field, as it’s really about putting yourself out there and pursuing jobs. About five years ago, I really went head-on into working in production full-time. Whether it’s writing, producing, directing, acting or hosting for film, television, theater or Internet media, I’ll do it.
About four years ago, I took a classes in TV production and screenwriting at Scottsdale Community College and was hired by the director of Maricopa Community Colleges Television. I worked there for two-and-a-half years as a producer, writer and host while picking up other gigs related to production.
What’s your typical week like?
My typical week is so random, it’s ridiculous. I’m so busy, I’ll often forget to eat lunch. It’s hectic, but it’s fun.
I’m working on three different projects right now, which are all in different stages of production. We’re in post-production for The Horologist. right now.
I’m in pre-production of a feature film for Dragon Stone Entertainment, that I’m producing and will direct. I really like this story. It’s about the hottest country music star today who has an epiphany, leaves tour, and flies back home to Kansas, where his parents and sister live, to look for that one thing he’s always been missing.
I’ve also been hired to write a feature-length film and am working on scripts for a webisode series.
What is The Horologist. about?
The Horologist. is a feature-length screenplay I wrote about two years ago. A horologist is someone who has studied horology, the study of timekeeping, measuring time, and watch- or clock-making. The tagline of the movie is, “After the death of his father, Alex grows up with an obsession with time-keeping. He must protect his revolutionary invention from his father’s long-time rival.”
I had the opportunity to shoot a short film, so I wrote a condensed version of the first act of the feature-length screenplay. We had a two-day shoot for the short film, which is about 18 minutes long, in April. I’m one of the producers, I directed it, and I have a small role in it.
The short version also serves as the teaser to show investors to fund the feature-length film.
The Horologist. is an Official Selection of and premiers at the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival, in Jerome, Arizona on Saturday, June 14. We’re talking with a few venues right now to screen it in Phoenix, as well.
The truly amazing aspect of The Horologist. is the team that came together to put the film together. Every cast and crew member went above and beyond their expectations, and that’s with a cast and crew of 40-plus people.
It was truly amazing to a heartfelt degree to watch this idea I created in my imagination come to reality.
What inspired The Horologist.?
I’ve always had a fascination with timepieces and the passing of time. As a writer, it’s said we write from our subconscious. I can almost pinpoint the exact moment the idea for this film started to come to mind.
Back in 1998, my younger brother, James, our dad and I took a road trip to the Mogollon Rim, just east of Payson, Arizona. We went out to Woods Canyon Lake and rented a canoe. While we were out, just paddling around, I realized that some day in the future, I would think back to that memory. Then, I realized I should really appreciate and cherish that time, now, while I was living it.
One of the themes of The Horologist. is cherishing and appreciating those special times, while you’re living them. That’s actually why the title of the film has a period after it. Periods indicate a full stop.
What inspired Dance Your Asperger’s Off?
Dance Your Asperger’s Off is about a 16-year-old boy who has Asperger syndrome, and since becoming involved with dance, his life, scholastic education and social life has improved. He’s a dancing phenom. Dance Your Asperger’s Off is one of my proudest achievements because of the opportunity to tell his story.
I was hired by the dance group Dancers and Health Together, Inc. to do this documentary. It’s also an Official Selection of, and shows at, the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival.
What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be a filmmaker?
I’ve always loved acting and had wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. When I was a sophomore in high school, 16 years old, I was playing with G.I. JOEs in my bedroom, and I realized I had created a production. I had a first act, a second act and was coming up on the climax of the third act. I thought to myself, “Marcelo, you’re imagination is too great to limit yourself to just acting.”
Not to discount acting, but I realized I needed to be a writer and director and create these worlds characters live in. It wasn’t really an experience of, “Oh, that’s what I want to do,” it was more, “Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to do.” It was a realization of my purpose in life.
Why are you passionate about filmmaking now?
I’m passionate about filmmaking because I love being a part of an entity whose purpose is to convey messages and themes that elicit emotion and stimulate thought and dialogue.
I’ve long loved the concepts of storytelling of every medium. When storytelling is applied to film, there are a number of aspects at play. The story in the script, and all that entails is just the very beginning. As a filmmaker and storyteller, we have a responsibility to tell great thought-provoking stories.
Even the name of the film, The Horologist., causes people to question what a horologist is. I’m educating them about a career or an art form. I love it when people ask me what a horologist is.
What are your goals with film?
To continue to tell what I hope are great stories for as long as I can.
How would you characterize the Arizona film community?
It’s amazing. There’s actually a very vibrant, professional and supportive film community in Arizona.
I actually planned on a move to Los Angeles two years ago, because to me, it’s the birthplace of production, but I keep getting projects that keep me here. I realize that’s a sign I’m supposed to stay here for the time being, and I’m completely content with that.
I also suggest people exercise all avenues for networking for film production in Arizona before just going to Los Angeles.
Related to screenwriting, do you have any tips for getting over writer’s block?
Yes. If you’re a writer, you should be writing as often as you can, and look into other genres. Don’t just write feature-length screenplays, but write shorts, theater, write a blog.
You should constantly be writing other projects. I would sometimes get writer’s block while writing the short version of The Horologist., so I would work on one of my other feature-length screenplays. It sounds a bit misleading, but the best way to get over writer’s block is to write something else.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to get involved with film?
The same advice I’d tell anyone who has a goal: Do it. Do whatever it takes, and believe you can do it.
Find out what you love to do and are good at – there’s no way I could run a camera or edit a film – and find people who can pick up the slack in the things you’re not good at.
How do you find quality people to work with?
Film production is a lot of word of mouth. A lot of people hired to work on The Horologist. were people I or my production manager had worked with in the past.
It’s a lot of who you know, being good at what you do, and, most importantly, having a positive attitude. Anything else will have a negative effect on your career.
Are there any local networking groups you’d recommend for filmmakers?
There’s an organization called Independent Feature Project: Phoenix (IFP/PHX). It’s a state-wide organization for those involved in film. They offer awesome networking events, panels and discounts on their many filmmaking competitions. As a member, you also get a subscription to Filmmaker Magazine, a quarterly publication.
What tips do you have for getting funding for your films?
It’s my experience if you want to gain funding for your film, or you want to gain a cast and crew for your film, you need to have a great story. Every actor, director, producer and audience member just wants a great story. If you provide that, that’s the genesis. Have a great story, and you will find producers who want to invest in you.
What makes a good director?
I have to think about my favorite directors — Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan. I think there are a number of components of being a good director. They first must have a great sense of the story they want to tell. They need to be aware of the themes, the tone and the speed of the script. They need to have in-depth and personal knowledge of each of the characters in the story.
It’s important for the director to have brilliant storytelling abilities and know storytelling components and devices, especially if it’s a script they’ve written.
To me, a good director can also write a script. A good director must be passionate about the story. They must know the story and all of its necessary pieces. They must stay true to their story.
They must understand the importance of camera angles and lenses, lighting and shot composition. This knowledge is quite crucial in telling the story.
I’ve long stated if you want to be a director, you have to have studied acting. You have to understand the mentality of an actor and understand and appreciate what it takes to give a great performance. The best way to do that is to take acting classes yourself and do some film and theater acting.
Furthermore, a good director will trust their actors to fill those roles and give them permission to become and live that role. A good director will give them the permission to deliver a line and react how they believe that character would.
I love giving my actors that allowance. There were a few times in The Horologist. when the actors would deliver a line or react to a line differently than how I wrote it, and it was beautiful. The actors in The Horologist. are truly wonderful human beings and actors.
A good director must know how to rally their production team. They must be able to run their set in a productive, positive and supportive way.