Cinematographer Paolo Cascio understands that working in the movie business is anything but predictable.
“The thing about working in movies is that you never know if something will be a hit or a flop. Never know,” he said over lunch in Schaumburg on a recent visit home to see his parents.
“All of these millions of elements have to come together at the right time at the right place in order for audiences to connect with the movie, connect with it emotionally.”
“When I worked on 'The Babe,' I thought this would be the greatest movie I would ever work on, because of the historical nature of the story,” he said of the film, based on the life of Babe Ruth.
“'Babe' tanked! And there's Arthur Hiller directing it, and he's the president of the Directors Guild of America at the time. And Haskell Wexler, award-winning cinematographer, is shooting it! Just because the ingredients of the cake look great doesn't mean it's going to come out of the oven just right. It's one of those crazy things.”
Speaking of crazy, Cascio — a Schaumburg High School graduate and former Harper College student — also worked on the horror movie “Child's Play,” which was shot in Chicago. It introduced horror fans to Chucky, a deranged killer doll.
“'Child's Play' became a huge hit!” he said. “It looked more comical than scary. That spun off like five sequels. We see things through our own colored lenses, you know? It's like looking at the Mona Lisa with your eyes up against the painting.”
People frequently ask Cascio how to break into the movie industry.
“I tell them, 'I don't know. Why don't you do it and tell me?'” he said.
“I can tell you what I did, but that doesn't help anyone else. The path you fall into is very different from the paths of everyone else. It's not like I'm going to go get a law degree, receive a certificate and open an office. That's a franchise.
“In the entertainment industry, it's more about your head, heart and gut than it is about common sense. There's nothing common-sense about our industry. We're like eccentric savants that somehow find our way.”
As you might guess, Cascio is something of a philosopher. He found his life's calling in prison — Alcatraz.
He was 16 and had gone to San Francisco with his parents for spring break. A movie camera crew had set up for a shoot at Alcatraz. The moment that Cascio spotted a Panavision camera, the arc lights went on.
“Something inside me just turned on. It hit me like a bolt of lightning,” he said.
“It's like when you see somebody and it's love at first sight. Just like that. I knew in that moment that this was what I was meant to do.”
Cascio moved to California to find his dream. But the reality was harsh, for he wound up living out of his car while looking for work. He joked that he lived at “Hotel Honda”: only one room, but a great ocean view.
“You live and die by the sword,” Cascio told us. “Living in my car was the greatest challenge of my life. But it was the greatest victory of my life.”
Cascio has worked on local movies such as “The Untouchables,” “Groundhog Day” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” plus “Gladiator” and “The Babe.” He also did reshoots for the ill-fated “Gigli,” and not even his footage could save that movie.
His TV credits include USA's “Necessary Roughness” and “The Vampire Diaries” on The CW.
Cascio now lives in Atlanta where he's been shooting features and other jobs.
“Honest to God, I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this every day,” he said. “I'm so blessed to be able to do what I love to do for a living. When little kids daydream, adults say, 'Stop that. Stop screwing around.' They get told to stop that, but that's what I get paid to do.”
Cascio's parents were different, though.
“My dad always told me to do the things that scare you a little bit,” Cascio said. “That's all I know how to do, Dad! It takes your head to make a decision. It takes your guts to follow through.”
For the record, Cascio claims he has the greatest parents on the planet, at least on Slingerland Avenue.
“My dad is my best friend. He's my mentor. My coach. I talk to him about stuff all the time. I've got awesome parents. Why would I not want to spend time with them?”
So Cascio comes home when he can.
“When I went to speak at Schaumburg High School last year, it meant more to me than it meant to the kids,” he said. “I felt like my life made a difference at that point. I've done a lot of things.
“But when you get a message from someone on Facebook — someone you don't even know — and he says, 'I just want to let you know that you made a big difference in my life. I see your posts and I see the things you do. And you inspire me. I'm not living my dream, but I'm watching you living yours.'
“And that kills me.”
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