I hear…the “Rocky” theme…
According to the title of the great Italian comic/filmmaker Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film, “Life Is Beautiful.”
Grion, the son of an Italian who raised him in Argentina, set out to Los Angeles as a young man, set on making a movie.
Twenty-five years later, now living in Phoenix, a Rocky Balboa-like, never-give-up dream that took several nightmare turns is coming true. Grion’s “The Prototype” will screen at five Harkins Theaters (click link for showtimes) in the Phoenix area starting Friday, Feb. 25.
The plot: "A government agent stumbles upon an alien conspiracy to conquer Earth. Using a blue liquid created by the aliens to make soldiers stronger, he becomes The Prototype — the only hope for mankind.”
As his social media accounts note, "THE PROTOTYPE" sci-fi thriller is ready to hit a theater near you!”
Grion's journey from wanna-be filmmaker to actually having a feature-length movie in the can, ready to go up on the big screen (and streaming March 8 on iTunes) has been an epic, danger-filled adventure that would make Homer shiver.
“I tell people who want to do something, ‘How bad do you want it? How bad do you really want it?’ Grion said, during a Zoom interview with HARK Valley last week.
“Everybody has talent; but are they willing to wash dishes, like I did?”
Scraping dishes to scrape together money for what almost destroyed him, he has been a dishwasher, busboy, and, fittingly, waiter.
While waiting for financing, waiting for actors to make up their minds and waiting for studios to create special effects, Grion has been serving the likes of the 3-pound, $136.95 porterhouse steaks (or, for the lighter appetite, the 14-ounce New York steak for a mere $71.25) as a waiter at Durant’s, the high-end, historic steakhouse downtown.
Grion settled in Phoenix with his second wife a decade ago. He never gave up the project he started in the late Nineties, though it sent him to bankruptcy, cost him his life’s savings—and his first marriage.
Friends, co-workers and regular customers have been sharing Grion’s hopes and painful blows for years.
“The Prototype ready for theaters this year!”….that was a 2015 Facebook post.
His social media accounts have been making similar proclamations every year, only to have that finish line keep moving. Grion was a 21st-Century Sisyphus, and every time he would get that boulder near the top of the mountain—it would roll back over him.
Grion, now 48, was 23 when he started “The Prototype.”
“I didn’t want to give up. I don’t even want to think about giving up,” Grion said. “My father is an Italian immigrant in Argentina; he sees the world through different eyes. I’m doing the same thing.”
If you know Italians, you know they can talk like no one else. Example: Ask Grion the simple question, “Why did this take so long?”—and be ready to spend half an hour or so listening to the answer.
He starts out with a simple enough response:
“Money. Funding. I’ve been mostly self-financing it.
“I came here from a different country, speaking a different language, no contacts, very little money,” he continues, spinning a story of a nobody who refused to give up on his dream of making a sci-fi movie.
After a few years working every shift he could take in Los Angeles restaurants, he walked into a Kodak store and put all his tip money into film and equipment.
This was the late Nineties. He spent the next few years sending out his resume (lightweight as it was) and a patched-together trailer, emailing, faxing and calling investors to beg for money.
He shot some footage, but his visa ran out before he could put anything together. Off to Italy, where he shot more footage while waiting three years for another visa.
“I get back to the (United) States, shoot more footage, got a green card…
“Years go by. I ended up bankrupt, my wife divorces me…anybody will tell you, ‘Please, quit! It’s enough, you’re done!’ I heard that many, many, many, many times from many, many, many, many different people.”
Not that the repeated advice convinced him.
Grinding away in restaurants again to get out of debt, “I’m thinking about it every single day: How I’m going to finish this? How I’m going to get it done?”
He found two investors (one a piano player at a restaurant) and poured more of his money into the project.
By 2013, he had a rough draft—but no special effects.
People told him, “You can’t have a sci-fi movie with no effects!”
It seemed easy enough: Get together 10 to 15 minutes of scenes with special effects. But on his shoestring budget, it took years to get anything decent. “I’m not trying to make ‘Star Wars,’ but I want quality,” he said.
Things looked pretty good last year…until a quality control review raised issues with several scenes. “So I shot a new ending near Tombstone, hired talent from Tucson. We shot 16 minutes of action, Western-style…I’m spending money again. A lot of money. I’m going into debt again.”
As 2021 ended, after spending nearly $1 million, Grion finally had “The Prototype” finished, in good condition. He got a video on demand deal with iTunes, then put together a “limited theatrical release” deal with Harkins for its theaters in Tucson, Avondale, Chandler, Mesa and Tempe.
If you go, you may sit next to the excited rookie filmmaker.
“I have not seen the finished film on the big screen, so I’m excited about that,” Grion said. “I’ve seen the movie many times on the monitor, but when you see the movie on a big screen, it’s a different experience.”
Once the deals were in place, his sales rep asked him, “Marcelo, do you have a sequel planned?”
His answer: “If you can get me financing! I’m never going to do this again—finance something on my own for 23 years.”