That Cannes-do spirit

USF student James O’Donnell started by contributing a song to the independent feature “Prime of Your Life”- and ended up at the Cannes Independent Film Festival.

O’Donnell, a junior majoring in environmental science, offered his experimental band Vuela’s song “Stardust” to the film’s soundtrack. The group also includes USF student John Silvestri, a junior majoring in business marketing.

The movie began accruing awards within the Florida film festival circuit. Eventually, it was accepted into Cannes’ selection, and the two musicians got the chance to attend.

O’Donnell and producer, actress and story-writer Nicole Abisinio talked with The Oracle about the film and their trip to France.

The Oracle: What has the experience been like so far for your group at Cannes Independent Film Festival?

James O’Donnell: It’s been an overwhelming experience, actually. It’s been very stimulating – from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. – almost 24 hours a day networking nonstop. We get up in the morning and we’ve gone to the Market, which is where the main Cannes Film Festival is. Basically, there’s a bunch of distributors, buyers, sellers, everyone involved in the film industry there – marketing themselves and marketing other films.

We’re in the backdrop a little bit. I feel like we haven’t met anyone else who’s a musician, really. It’s all been film people. It’s kind of a unique experience trying to open up a little and be like, ‘Oh, we haven’t met any other musicians here.’

So it’s been different for us at least.

O: Is there anything else you’re excited about doing while at Cannes?

JO: Tomorrow we’re going to a small 50-person session with Oliver Stone and James Franco for their newest films, and there’s a big questionnaire. Kelly King – who directed “Prime of Your Life” – is hoping to get James Franco a role in his newest film, which (King) will be producing.

Every day is really overwhelming. It’s our first time at any event like this. We met a person by the name of Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, who’s been involved with Sean Penn and Val Kilmer, and he was telling us all of his stories. He’s a very well-known martial artist and person in movie production.

There are things coming up literally on an hourly basis. Tomorrow, we don’t know what’s going on until we get there.

O: What’s the film about?

Nicole Abisinio: “Prime of Your Life” is a coming-of-age story about a girl in the big city who meets a con man at her best friend’s funeral. She ends up becoming a con woman to pay her rent. Through that and the loss of her best friend, she ends up finding herself.

O: How did James get involved with the film’s score?

NA: We were through a lot of the music at that time, and there were some certain scenes that we had not found what we were looking for. For this movie, we were very specific about what we wanted for the soundtrack. We wanted (music) for the film that could stand on its own.

We had some really great people like Ida Maria out of the U.K. and Cinematic Orchestra – who gave us music which we would normally never be able to get because we could never afford it – they had seen pieces of (the film) and loved it. But there was music from interesting or amazing scenes that were missing.

JO: I met her and she mentioned the film. She was looking for people for certain parts of the film and was interested in instrumental music.

I responded by saying John and I work on instrumental music – that’s what we live for, that’s our passion. We write music . . . not only instrumental . . . all types of music. But we started off with a lot of instrumental music, and so we exchanged information.

NA: This is a very funny part of that story. Interestingly, I was at this place listening to a different live band because I was looking for those finishing touches, the perfect song. I met him there – he was actually there separately listening to the music. It was just fate.

O: How did you get the opportunity for your film to be shown at Cannes?

JO: Well, Nicole and her film crew entered the film into the Gasparilla Film Festival, where it premiered. It won a couple of awards there.

NA: We won Best Actor at Gasparilla, as well as the Special Cinema award for Florida filmmaking. Then we were at the Sarasota Film Festival and also the Sunscreen Film Festival, where we won best movie of the year. We were submitting the film into international festivals and got accepted here. All of our team was coming here.

JO: So we just found out maybe a month ago about the film festival, we came here, and that’s basically how it all started.

O: What advice would you give to fellow students interested in breaking into the business?

JO: I would say stick to your passions . . . and follow whatever directions interest you. With John and I, it’s never been the mainstream that we followed, it’s what interested us – we’ve always had eclectic musical tastes. Our music incorporates everything we’ve ever listened to and everything we’ve ever experienced.

Also, I hate to say it, but a lot of it depends on who you know. That’s how connections come about and that’s what I’m learning here at this festival. You can have the most talent, but if you’re reclusive and inside your house all day, you’re never going to meet anyone.

NA: I spent months doing the music for this film –
literally it probably took me three months to find what we were looking for. If we didn’t have such great talent, it wouldn’t have mattered, and so I think it’s always a combination of the two. You have to have the talent or it doesn’t matter.

JO: It’s being open-minded to new experiences, trying different instruments or people. In our band, we have one person that’s really experienced in classical and one person experienced in jazz. John and I are – I don’t know what you would say – a little of everything. We have instruments coming in from different countries that we’ve been working on.

It’s just about creativity and doing whatever really makes you want to go.