LINCOLN — Ron Truppa sat at a table in his parents' expansive, luxurious home late Tuesday morning and admitted, with a chuckle, that he one day aspired to be the governor of Rhode Island.
He never quite achieved that lofty position, though says he's having a blast as a Hollywood film writer, producer and director.
The 36-year-old former Lincolnite also owns TRUPPA Entertainment, a production company based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. that produces films, television pitches, scripts, public service announcements and commercials.
“I wanted to be the governor, because my cousin was J. Joseph Garrahy, and I thought that was inspiring,” noted Truppa, who on Monday flew home from Los Angeles to spend time with his parents, Ron Sr. and Lori, and other family members.
In addition, he made the 3,000-mile trek to take in the Flickers: Rhode Island International Film Festival, which began with a grand opening fete Tuesday night at “The Vets” (formerly the Veterans Memorial Auditorium) in Providence.
“When I was a kid, we lived out of state, first in Nevada, Mo., and then in upstate New York, in Clifton Park,” continued Truppa, whose family home was set on fire and burned to the ground just six months after they moved there.
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“Despite the fact we lived away, we're all very proud of being from Rhode Island, even though people outside New England like to poke fun at it.
“They call it such a tiny state, and say, 'What has it got to offer?' At the time, people called it the 'Pothole State' because of all the issues with I-95, but I want people to understand how cool Rhode Island is. Our entire family lives here, so it always has had a deep emotional attachment. We were the only ones to leave it; that's another reason I love it here.”
Truppa – who began acting at Lincoln High and later honed it at Trinity Repertory Theater, among others – founded the Santa Catalina Film Festival, a three-day celebration of independent film-making, held in May. He promised it went off without a hitch.
That event, he said, is a “sister” with the Rhode Island International Film Festival, slated for Aug. 9-14.
“I created the one in Santa Catalina because it has been Hollywood's playground for over 100 years,” grinned Truppa, the festival's executive director. “Marilyn Monroe used to live there, and Ronald Reagan was discovered there. The Wrigleys, of chewing gum fame, owned the Chicago Cubs, and they conducted their spring training there for 30 years.
“The thing about Santa Catalina is it hasn't changed; the world-famous Avalon Casino building, a 1,200-seat theater built by the Grauman architects in 1929, is still there, and so is the 6,000-person ballroom,” he offered. “Everyone in Hollywood used to go there; Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffiths would screen their silent films there, and later their 'talkies.'
Truppa maintained he never had traveled to the island until about eight years ago.
“Originally, my manager had her birthday party there, and – when I saw it – man, I was sold!” he said. “Every summer when I was younger, I went to Block Island, so I've got my block off the coast of Rhode Island and another off L.A.
“Here's what I tell people: There are 7,000 film festivals per year around the world, so you need a really good reason to start another one,” he added. “This one had reason: Hollywood history and value, iconic buildings and the first sound theater ever built on Earth. It's also the only West Coast resort island in the United States, so it was a no-brainer.
“My partner is the Catalina Island Conservancy, so calling back here to Rhode Island to ask if they wanted to partner with us was one of the best phone calls I ever made. They were so receptive. The Catalina fox is home to the quickest recovery of an endangered species in the world, and that's why other animal preservation organizations have looked to see what the conservancy does.”
Truppa indicated the filmmakers attending the event issued the organizers outstanding laurels, and that directors and producers deemed it the best festival they had ever witnessed. He also explained that the festival collected much-needed funds for the conservancy, which owns and protects 88 percent of the island.
“We had 44,000 people watching us live on the Internet on Saturday night, May 7,” he said. “We also had 22,000 watching our new media panels, who advised filmmakers on how to properly market themselves on new social networking devices.”
It's his love for films and the Ocean State that he came home – and to promote the relationship between filmmakers in Rhode Island and Hollywood, as well as his project, currently in pre-production.
He went on to discuss how he discovered the book, “Men In My Town,” written by fellow Lincolnite Keith Smith. It wasn't by accident, but not far from it.
“It was going to be my 15th reunion, as I graduated from Lincoln High in 1994, but I couldn't go; we had a lot going on (in L.A.),” he recalled. “It was in November 2009. Because I couldn't attend, I went to the Lincoln High alumni page on Facebook, and saw all these headings under Keith's name.
“When I read the synopsis of the book, I was floored,” he continued of Smith being abducted, beaten and raped at age 14 by a stranger, all on the streets of Lincoln, in March 1974.
“My dream always has been to come back to Rhode Island and shoot a project. It's one thing to do it in Hollywood, but quite another in my own hometown. It's beyond my wildest dreams; I never thought I'd come across a book written about my hometown. I was always thinking, 'If I could only find a project I could bring home, even if it was written in Canada, Idaho, wherever.'
“It's a horrific story, what Keith experienced, but I called him and identified myself as another Lincolnite. I told him I hadn't read the book but the synopsis, and said I would like to talk with him about producing the film. This was in, like, January 2010, and he was really excited about it.”
Smith sent Truppa the book, and the latter mentioned the author signed it, “From one Lincoln guy to another, these are the men in our town.
“It gave me chills,” Truppa insisted. “When I read his book, I was traveling down the streets that I used to ride my bike down. Not only could I picture what happened to him and where, but also the locations; they were already laid out. It's tragic, what happened.
“I mean, he was 14, and he was beaten and raped by a guy who lived in Central Falls, and also Charles Street in North Providence, two buildings from where I later owned a restaurant (called 'Ron T.'s, when he was a student at Providence College, also Smith's alma mater).
“Right now, the second draft is being finalized, and I'm working on it with my mom (Lori),” he added. “No actors are attached to it yet, but – once this draft is finalized – it will go out to talent and financiers.
“It will also be discussed at the Toronto Film Festival in October. That's another reason I'm back here, as there's a film marketing scene where you can talk to people about pitching a project and building alliances.”
Truppa co-wrote the initial script last January with “Ma Truppa,” whom he said was integral in developing the story's emotional side. Not surprisingly, Lori has the same talent, as she submitted a screenplay entitled “The Winers” to the festival now occurring in Providence and other locales.
According to the Web site, Flickers offers an artistic exchange and opportunities for the global creative community that are not available in the established entertainment industry.
It's designed to foster contact among film directors, artists, producers, distributors, backers and audiences. Filmmakers will have an opportunity to share new film products, test-market films in development and share the film-making process with industry peers, students and the general public.
“It's like 'Sex in the City' meets 'The First Wives' Club,'” laughed lone son Truppa. “It's got to do with sex among women in their 60s, and it will be in competition with other Rhode Island screenplays.”
As for making Smith's book into a movie, Truppa – who owns the option rights – can't wait.
“In 11 years in California, I've screened so many projects that could've been made, but they didn't have the emotionally-driven plot that I've searched for,” he explained. “This was exciting to me at first because the storyline is in Lincoln, and everything I do involves a quality element. It must have artistic integrity and be content-rich.
“This is an 'edge-of-your-seat' kind of drama,” he added. “Keith is a first-time author, but I've learned so much talking to him and his friends and family members. In the book, he's going on memory recall, so he naturally has blocked out some elements. Friends have helped with what was going on with him at the time.”
He hopes production will start in Lincoln as soon as the autumn of 2012, or perhaps that winter.
“I'm so excited, but I also know how important this is to Keith,” he said. “It's a lot of responsibility. Throughout the whole process, I've told him my greatest concern is how he feels when I'm telling his story. He couldn't have been more understanding about the process, and gave me full reign to make the film the way I saw it.
“I mean, this involves the FBI, pornography chains, the Mafia, child abduction, rape, and – in the end – vigilante justice and the corruption of the system. I truly want him to be thrilled with the final product.”