Life on Set: Alumna Laila Petrone
John Cabot University welcomed Italian-Dominican filmmaker and JCU alumna Laila Petrone (Class of 2001) on March 4, 2020. Born in the UK, she was raised in Rome and, as the child of an actress, Laila spent most of her youth on Italian film sets, before moving to California. Laila discussed her career in the film industry and explored the many issues of identity, family and multiculturalism in her work.
After graduating from JCU with a B.A. International Affairs, Laila went on to work at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, where she had the opportunity to plan special events and learn about Domestic Television Distribution, one of the leading distributors of entertainment programming to the television marketplace. It was not until a few years later that she decided to experience life on set and start all over as a production assistant.
Laila soon worked her way up to Assistant Director, a role she says is “like doing a puzzle.” “You are given a script and asked to make a schedule for filming, fitting together the numerous parts of the puzzle, from avoiding conflicts with actors’ busy schedules, to making sure each location has the appropriate safety measures and permissions for filming, to advising department heads such as wardrobe and make-up of any minor script or directorial change that might affect a scene.”
“I wasn’t necessarily a student who loved studying,” Laila admits, recalling her time at JCU, “but having professors who cared was life-changing.” And when, in 2014, she set up a Kickstarter campaign for her short film debut as writer and director, Your Love, (which was awarded “Best of Festival” at the Black Women Film Network Summit in Atlanta), half of the donations came from her JCU classmates, even though they are now spread across the world. Your Love is a short film about chemistry, love and family, and it gives a glimpse into the life of a young married couple with children as they attempt to rekindle their partnership and long-lasting romance.
Laila also worked as an actress in Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (2008). “I loved the experience, but I knew that my path lay behind the camera.” Lee’s advice to Laila to “write about what you know” has stuck though, so when writing and directing films her primary concern is how to respect the cultures she is representing.
Laila screened her second short film No me olvidaré de ti which was conceived in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and awarded “Best Inspirational Short” at the 2019 Rincon International Film Festival. The film was a passion project, something that Laila wanted to produce, despite a low budget. “I had just seven people in my crew, and my sister who is studying architecture came over from Copenhagen to do the set design” she said. Set during Christmas, No me olvidaré de ti tells the story of a mourning father and his daughter who set out to connect with their Puerto Rican roots by reaching out to victims of the hurricane.
For her latest project Laila is back in Italy, interviewing daughters of Latino mothers and Italian fathers. The JCU community had the opportunity to get a sneak peek of some of the footage.