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Faculty Focus: Nicholas Natalicchio

The Tides That Bind

September 23, 2019

The Department of Cinema & Television’s Nicholas Natalicchio wears many hats: adjunct instructor for the Film & Television program, Post Production Facilities Manager, Executive Producer for Dragon Productions—the department’s student-staffed video production company—and independent filmmaker and multimedia professional. Between all of this, Nick found time to sit down with Vivianna Bermudez, Westphal’s Director of Communications & Events, and share some news about his latest project, an award-winning documentary short titled “The Tides That Bind.”

For the schedule of festival screenings, click here.

Getting to know you: what was your path into the entertainment industry? Who are you as a filmmaker?
After earning my BA in Film and Media Arts at Temple University, I worked full-time making pharma videos while earning my MA in Media Studies from The New School. I eventually ended up at NFL Films, and later produced videos for their Fuel Up to Play 60 Program, which is an in-school curriculum that helps teach students and educators the importance of eating heathy and being active. That is when I became interested in working with students, and jumped at the opportunity to come to Drexel. I’ve worked on several passion projects along the way, but The Tides That Bind is my directorial debut.

Can you give us a brief overview of The Tides That Bind and its inspiration?
The Tides That Bind is a documentary short about Clint Buffington, a collector who has found over 90 messages in bottles. Even more impressive, he’s been able to track down many of the senders, which usually takes some detective work. Clint never knows where each message might take him, and he’s made some unlikely friends along the way. I was very much inspired by Clint’s story and unique perspective. He has been the subject of much media attention, but I felt that no one had put all the pieces together to show the big picture of what he is doing. I was eager to take that on. In addition, Cinema & Television Department Head Karin Kelly has really gone out of her way to foster an environment of creativity and collaboration amongst faculty and staff. I was inspired by my co-workers who have taken on ambitious projects over the past few years, and even had the opportunity to work on a few.

What convinced you to make this film in the first place? Old messages in bottles do not seem like an obvious starting point for a cinematic exploration.
I was intrigued by the idea of making connections through such an unconventional way, especially when it’s so easy to “connect” these days through social media. At the same time, many people feel isolated in the word today. Finding messages in bottles is a way for Clint to seek out adventure, but it’s also led to many meaningful friendships. I was interested in exploring that more. Aside from that, sending a message in a bottle is such a romantic concept. I was interested in meeting the people who sent the messages adrift and discovering their reasons for doing so.

The Tides That Bind

How did you meet Clint Buffington, the collector of messages in bottles, and decide to tell his story?
I was in an Uber when I heard Clint on the radio. He had found a message in a bottle in the Caribbean and trying to find the sender. The phone number written on the message had faded, and all Clint knew was that his first name was Ray and that he lived in Philadelphia. From there, I looked Clint up online and found his blog, Message in a Bottle Hunter, which chronicles the messages in bottles he’s found. I sent him a message soon after and we set up a phone meeting to discuss making the documentary. We hit it off right away.

Why did this story feel like it needed to be a documentary vs a fictional narrative film?
I’ve always been a fan of the documentary genre, so the decision for me was an easy one. I also felt that Clint’s inspirational story and engaging personality would bring a unique element to the film. The neat thing about messages in bottles though is that they have been depicted in the arts in a variety of ways, in part, due to them being viewed as romantic by nature. From Edgar Allen Poe to Nicholas Sparks, messages in bottles are often portrayed in literature, and of course, everyone knowns the song “Message in a Bottle” by The Police.

“Nostalgia” is certainly one word that comes to mind when describing this film. What was the production process like? How long were you working on this?
All in all, the film took a year and a half to make. Clint and I took two trips together along the East Coast, where we filmed in Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD, New Hope, PA, Atlantic City, NJ, New York, NY, Montauk, NY, Boston, MA, and Hampton, NH.

What were some of the obstacles you faced in getting the film made—whether financial, logistical, creative. Any production horror stories?
The biggest obstacle was financial, but I was very fortunate to receive a grant from the Department of Cinema and Television in addition to a successful crowdfunding campaign. I also have co-workers who are extremely supportive, and I frequently turned to them for guidance and advise. Last but not least, I am lucky to have a wife and family who supported me every step of the way. The most nerve-racking part of production was definitely opening the message in a bottle on camera. We had no way of knowing who wrote it, so the message could have taken us anywhere! Another challenge was narrowing the scope of the film. With messages in bottles being the subject matter, there’s seemingly millions of different directions the film could have gone in. It just came down to finding the natural progression of the story, which was a difficult process at times. There were no real production horror stories, but I did have a camera component stop working while in New Hampshire. My co-worker saved the day and sent me a new component overnight.

Conversely, what was the most amazing production moment of the process thus far? Was there an a-ha moment when everything clicked?
I was really moved while filming Clint and Paula. Clint had found a message in a bottle addressed to her mother Tina and written by her father Paul. Both had passed away before the message was found, and Paula was deeply moved by reading the message after all these years.

What are the next steps for sharing this film with the world?
The Tides That Bind premiered at the Gallup Film Festival in Gallup, NM, where we won Best Documentary Short. We’re also scheduled to screen opening night at The Charlotte Film Festival on September 25th, and we have a busy festival schedule over the next few months. We’re hoping this early success will continue well into the new year.

Are you thinking about your next project yet?
I’ve been kicking around a few ideas, but nothing definite yet.

In addition to being a documentarian, you are also the Post-Production Facilities Manager and Adjunct Faculty member for Drexel’s Cinema & Television Department. How do these roles influence your film work (and vice-versa)?
I am very fortunate to be surrounded by talented faculty and staff here at Drexel, several of whom I frequently asked for feedback, guidance, and advice. My one co-worker, John Avarese, even volunteered to work on the film for free. I also had several students and alumni work on the film who I had gotten to know by heading up Dragon Productions, our student staffed video production company that operates out of the Cinema & Television Department. I even filmed the key interview at Bachelors Barge Club, which is the boathouse Drexel rows out of. Without support from the Drexel community, there is no way this film would have been made!

Watch The Tides That Bind Trailer