CHESHIRE — He can’t pinpoint exactly when his interest in cinema first began, but Devin Peluso knows that, ever since he can recall, he’s wanted to be a director.
That’s why the 2017 Cheshire High School graduate was making parodies of the movie “Ghostbusters” with his friends in the seventh and eighth grade. It’s why, when he entered high school, he began what he jokingly refers to as the “annual CHS film festival,” which only ran one year.
It’s why, when seeking out his preferred university, he searched not only for a great film school, but one that would provide the kind of personal touch and hands-on experience he craved.
And it’s why Peluso is proud that his most recent project, the short film entitled “The Old Man,” has been shown at a number of national film festivals, receiving accolades and confirming for him that he chose the right path.
“It is always a refreshing and reassuring thing to have people like your film,” said Peluso. “In this line of work, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of self doubt, so to have people say they really connect with the piece, that speaks to me.”
The film, approximately 15 minutes long, tells the story of an elderly man living on his own. Mixing a good bit of humor with several moments of heartbreaking poignancy, Peluso takes his audience on a short but effective emotional ride, watching as a man comes to grips with his own limitations and the new demands being placed on his life.
The story of “The Old Man” is loosely based on Peluso’s grandfather. Shortly before beginning work on the script, Peluso and his family had helped his grandfather move into an assisted living facility. The move came on the heels of his grandmother’s death.
“You had all of the emotions going on there,” remembered Peluso.
But Peluso didn’t just want to tell the story of one man’s change over a short period of time, but how change impacts people of all ages and in all ways.
“I wanted to talk about change, and have a character that was so afraid of it,” he explained. “At the time, I myself was going through so much change, starting my life as a college student. When I wrote (the character) Allen, it was really a mix of myself and my grandfather.”
For Peluso, making his art personal is perhaps the biggest area of growth for him as a director. While in high school, “playing around” in video art classes or on his own with a camera, his works were general with little connection to something deeper happening in his life. Upon entering film school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem, he began to explore how to add his own life experiences to the plots and characters he developed.
“As I’ve gotten a chance to read screenplays and write my own, it has really inspired me to take a step back and ask, ‘What do I want to express?”’ Peluso said. “If you’re going to spend a year or more of your life on a project, you have to make sure it is something meaningful to you.”
“The Old Man” revolves around the character of Allen, played by veteran actor Steve Coulter. Casting Coulter was a dream come true for Peluso, who had always admired his work — Coulter has appeared in numerous movies, including “The Conjuring,” as well as popular television shows such as “The Walking Dead” — and he decided, on a lark, to reach out to Coulter’s agent to see if he’d be interested in acting in Peluso’s film.
“I mean, we are just a bunch of college kids making a movie, but I took a shot and contacted his (representatives) and within a few weeks we heard back,” Peluso explained. “He really connected with the character and wanted to do it.”
Peluso credits Coulter, who is an alum of UNCSA, for making the shoot an inviting and warm environment. Many of the students who worked on the film were admittedly intimidated to be on set with an established actor, but Coulter, Peluso stated, made sure to put everyone at ease and fit right in.
“We have stayed close ever since,” said Peluso. “We are talking about working on another project in the future.”
The script was written in 2018, and casting began in the fall. Peluso and his team spent about three to four months in pre-production, a long time he admits, but worth it in order to fully prepare.
The shoot lasted for four days — 12-hour days — in the spring of 2019, then post-production lasted another few months before the film was ready for its first festival late last year.
“The Old Man” was an official selection of the New York International Film Festival, the Carrboro Fest, the Summer in the South Film Festival, and, closer to home, the Greenwich International Film Festival.
Now, having completed their “festival season,” the movie is available on Vimeo and Peluso is hoping it continues to find an audience. And as for what the future holds, Peluso is committed to making more movies that inspire him and, hopefully, his audience.
“The way I judge the success of a film is how much you’ve learned from it,” he said. “If you make something and didn’t learn anything, something wasn’t done right.”
To view “The Old Man,” visit https://vimeo.com/353775571.