A Queer Vietnamese-Houstonian-New Yorker Writer musing about the arts and absurdities when not screenwriting or playwrighting

Houstonian Coog Filmmaker Imparts Wisdom at Comicpalooza


While this was written for the University of Houston Daily Cougar, it was not published. It really didn’t have to do anything with the quality, the editors did like this article and helped me out a whole lot, but they came to a final decision not to publish it because of how little the chosen subject fit the definition of “relevancy” among the general UH readership.

So I placed it here, free of Daily Cougar constraints. Well, it is structured according to some Daily Cougar guidelines (such as using “said” verb). The way it’s presented here is still very much written in mind for the UH demographic.

Many thanks to Joe Grisaffi for allowing me to approach him at Comicpalooza! Much luck to your future projects! And a shout-out to the other directors at the Q&A panels, including (especially) the UH alumna, Michelle Mower and Carlos Tovar. Because I’m bias toward Coogs this way.


Houstonian filmmaker imparts wise words at Comicpalooza Q & A

Someone in the audience attracted “ooos” from the crowd by daring to ask a panel of Houston filmmakers, “If you could change anything about the Houston film industry, what would it be and why?”  As he waited for the gwaffing to die down, director Joe Grisaffi replied matter-of-factly, “I have developed a two-step program. One, do the best you can. Two, don’t be a dick.” His response garnered an eruption of laughter and thunderous applause.

“You follow the rules. The community will benefit,” Grisaffi said.

Houston-born filmmaker, actor, and UH alumnus Joe Grisaffi made an appearance in the “MicroSearch Presents From Script To Screen: Houston Directors Q & A” at the Comicpalooza convention held at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Saturday, May 23.  Along with other Houstonian filmmakers, Grisaffi bestowed wisdom to filmmaker-hopefuls.

“Where I truly fell in love with (filmmaking) was in the editing room. Sitting there in the dark … cutting frame by frame … like magic,” Grisaffi said.

Before choosing to wield the camera as a full-fledged filmmaker, Grisaffi dabbled in various other interests like video games and radio. Initially, his heart was set on designing Ataris, but then “a light bulb went off and I changed my major to television and film.”

When Grisaffi underwent academic advisory at UH in 1992, Professor Robert Musburger gave him fair warning. He would say, “There’s nothing for you (in filmmaking) when you graduate. There’s no jobs. You’re going to create the opportunity for yourself.”

“Fine, I’m going to create,” Grisaffi said. He would spend his spare time on campus crafting screenplays, some of which were “pretty personal,” he said.

Now over two decades since he made that decision, he found himself invited to Comicpalooza and sharing a Q & A table with fellow directors, including fellow Coogs alumni Michelle Mower, director of “The Preacher’s Daughter,” and Carlos Tovar, director of “Doll Factory.” Grisaffi pulled no punches when stressing that a filmmaking career is an arduous climb.

“You gotta have a job, and the job often conflicts with your creativity. If you have a nine-to-five job you can’t make feature films – short films, maybe – but one day you have to make the decision to stop working and make a feature film, like we did with this one,” he said as he tapped on a DVD case of “Dead of Knight,” his feature-length film that took four years of preparation.

Joe Grisaffi

Today, his IMDB page serves as a public resumé, displaying a profusion of various positions. Scrolling down the list reveals a plethora of acting roles, including his portrayal of real-life serial killer Dean Corll. It also boasts his technical gigs and directorial works. “I worked a lot of jobs before starting to narrow it down … When I finally put myself in charge, I knew how to communicate with the cameraman and the crew,” Grisaffi said.

Prior to the panel, he raved about the successful screenings of his films “Conjoined” and “Dead of Knight” before passing out DVD copies of the latter. The screenings are a source of lucrative feedback for Grisaffi. “I learn from watching my movies with an audience … If it’s supposed to be funny and no one laughs, then what did I do wrong? I learn from my audience watching my movies.”

Grisaffi’s projects are funded from his own pockets. But he said, “I would like to be making more movies with considerably more budget, and that doesn’t mean a lot of money. It could be about two thousand dollars.”

While he’s no big-budgeting James Cameron, Grisaffi’s low-budget pursuits are not to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant. He has the challenge of making a lot out of little. His personal investment in the creation of smaller projects will lead people to invest in his larger works. To prove to others that he can make bigger works, he knew he had to start small.

“It’s happening,” Grisaffi said. “People are showing more confidence in me.”


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