Like some kind of concert promoter, filmmaker and make-up artist Frank Ippolito has worked hard to recruit patrons for the screening of his two shorts, Teller 1 and Teller 2, which show at the Cleveland International Film Festival at midnight on Friday. The Cleveland native flew in from Los Angeles last week in time to make the festival’s opening night party and has relentlessly handed out flyers. “If you’re trying to be a filmmaker and someone whose work is taken seriously, you have to promote yourself,” he says one afternoon from the festival’s hospitality room at Tower City. With his backpack and hoodie, he doesn’t look much like a filmmaker, but he’s clearly not just some skate punk.

08fa/1238090468-teller.jpgIppolito says he was first drawn to the world of make-up when he was 10 and saw a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. He made a mask in his basement, and things snowballed from there. He made up actors at Geauga Lake’s Halloween events for five seasons before moving to L.A. in 2000 to be a mold maker at a toy company. That company went under, but he landed a gig on the 2002 fantasy flick Reign of Fire, and that led to jobs on Scary Movie 2, Pirates of the Caribbean and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ippolito met magician Teller through a friend, and the two entered a short-film contest related to George Romero’s 2007 zombie movie Diary of the Dead. “Penn and Teller have a huge fan base, so when the fans saw it, they wanted another one,” says Ippolito. In each film, Teller, who doesn’t speak during Penn & Teller’s performances, talks in a droll voiceover while fending off a grisly zombie and wandering aimlessly in the desert. The two films are strange, sordid tales.
Ippolito says he’s working on a third short with Teller. But for the time being, he’s happy to be back in his hometown, basking in the film festival’s limelight.

“As a filmmaker, I’ve been treated really great here,” he says. “It’s kind of flooring how hospitable they are. This is how I imagined it would be at a festival. This is going to be the benchmark for how I judge film festivals from now on.” — Jeff Niesel

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