Movie credits add up for ex-police officer
FOLLANSBEE — Franco Pinacchio of Follansbee became interested in acting and films at an early age, but it wasn’t until two years ago that he decided to pursue that interest.
Since then he’s appeared in 21 films and shows and now he’s adding director to his list of film credits.
Pinacchio has been an extra in episodes of “Precinct 69,” “The Outsiders” and “Copycat Killers;” starred in “The Dark Room,” an independent film; and appeared on film with Bryan Cranston and Matthew McConaughey in the upcoming “Last Flag Flying” and “White Boy Rick.”
Pinacchio said he became interested in acting at a young age while watching Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But it wasn’t until he was laid off from a job in coal mining that he decided to actively pursue it.
Prior to that he had worked in law enforcement, including the Wintersville and Wellsville police departments, for several years. Looking back on that time, he noted his work sometimes involved acting, with him posing as a teen for underage drinking stings.
“I was in my 20s and had a young face,” he said.
Pinacchio said serving as a police officer also had been a longtime dream inspired partly from watching Erik Estrada in episodes of “ChiPs.”
But he could find much better pay elsewhere.
“When I walked into the coal mine, I tripled my income,” he said.
Experience handling firearms has helped Pinacchio to win small acting roles, and it’s not unusual to find him donning a police officer’s uniform for a bit part in a television show or movie.
“I’ve played a cop a million times,” said Pinacchio, whose many roles have included a potential recruit for the underworked police department in the USA network comedy, “Precinct 69.”
“I’ve always wanted to be the guy who saves the day or solves the crime. That’s just in my blood,” he said.
But Pinacchio also has played a landlord in an episode of “Copycat Killers” aired on the REELZ cable channel; an airfield worker in an episode of “Gone,” an upcoming NBC crime drama starring Chris Noth; and a man in the street on two episodes of WGN America’s “Outsiders.”
Asked his most unusual role, Pinacchio recalled playing a Russian American bank robber for a Pittsburgh area re-enactment group. He and another actor played the perpetrators of a real-life crime.
“We didn’t have any lines. We just came out of a bank shooting blanks,” he said.
Pinacchio also learned to do a Serbian accent to play a mob leader of that ethnic origin for “Heroin Burg,” an independent film shot in Pittsburgh.
Pinacchio’s largest role was as the main character in “The Dark Room,” a short, independent film about a stockbroker who is not what he seems. Because the character was a Harvard graduate, the role called for him to convey confidence and eloquence.
“You have to become the character,” he said.
Pinacchio said he had auditioned for the part of the character’s father.
“That was exciting, to go from this small part to the lead,” he said.
Pinacchio said being a supporting actor or extra isn’t a glamorous role and often not profitable.
“I might make $8 an hour,” he said, adding he’s acted for free in some independent films because it’s given him valuable experience, including a credit he can add to his Internet Movie Database entry.
He said flexibility and free time are prerequisites, because extras may be called the night before for a job, and all actors spend a lot of time waiting between scenes.
“I’ve sat in holding for about 10 hours,” Pinacchio said, adding that turns many would-be actors off.
“But with that down time, you get to meet a lot of people,” he said.
Among the more famous actors he’s met, while on the job, are Emilio Estevez, while working on “The Public” in Cincinnati and Bryan Cranston and Steve Carell while working on “Last Flag Flying” in Pittsburgh.
Both films are expected to be released later this year.
Of meeting Estevez, Pinacchio said, “That was really neat. He’s been a favorite of mine since ‘The Breakfast Club.’ He’s very nice, very down to earth.”
He said Cranstown and Carell offered him advice, with Carell encouraging him to continue seeking roles in independent films.
“He said that’s actually where you get noticed,” Pinacchio said.
But for a while, at least, he plans to go behind the camera to write and direct his own films.
Recently he began shooting scenes for “Litchfield,” a film he’s scripted about a serial killer in a small community “with a lot of twists and turns.”
Pinacchio said a few major films, including “The Deer Hunter” and “Super 8,” have been filmed locally, but he believes there’s opportunity for many more to be shot in the Ohio Valley, particularly his native Brooke County.
“I want to keep it close. I hope that people watching my movie will become interested in this area,” he said.
With the cooperation of local officials, business owners and residents, Pinacchio is using a variety of settings in the film.
He and a small film crew have shot scenes at the Follansbee Den, a local bar; and the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, and he’s received permission to film at Brooke Hills Park later this month.
Appearing in scenes at the sheriff’s department are Lou Consolo and John Iwanonkiw, both longtime Pittsburgh actors who have appeared in small parts in numerous films and television shows.
The two met Pinacchio while working on “Castle Rock,” a horror series for Hulu based on the stories of Stephen King.
Consolo, who has appeared in more than 100 films in roles ranging from zombies to detectives, said the demand for supporting actors has increased with the growing number of films and series produced for cable channels and online entertainment sources.
Iwanonkiw, who plays a prison guard in the film, got his start in the 1979 comedy, “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh” and appeared more recently in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Unstoppable.”
He said he enjoys working with independent filmmakers because they are open to suggestions from himself and others on the set.
Consolo shared some ideas with Pinacchio as he rehearsed a scene in the sheriff’s department’s interview room with Tony Taibi, a friend Pinacchio recruited to play one of the characters.
Pinacchio said there’s a tight-knit community feeling among the makers of an independent film, whether they are in front of or behind the camera.
Among the many aiding him with the film is Zack McKnight, a young Pittsburgh filmmaker who cast Pinacchio as a cop in his senior project at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Pinacchio said he plans to compile the scenes for a trailer he will use to seek financial support for the finished film.
“If that doesn’t happen, we will still make the film, but it will take longer,” he said.
Once it’s completed, the plan is to enter it into any of more than 100 film festivals held throughout the United States, Pinacchio said.
He also plans to try his own adaptation of a Stephen King story for the Hulu series and is working on another screenplay about an abused boy who grows up to be a pastor.
Pinacchio said when he met James Gandolfini, star of “The Sopranos,” at an appearance at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, the late actor offered him advice he will always remember.
“He asked if in the last two minutes of my life, I would want to dwell on the regret of not pursuing my dream,” he said.
Pinacchio is enjoying pursuing that dream.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)