In Session: Tom and Lora Lee Ecobelli

ALBANY – Some of the hardest stories to deliver are the ones that need telling the most. And that’s what Tom Ecobelli and his sister, Lora Lee, have set out to do with their upcoming short film, Laurina. Based on a true story, the film follows a teenager during the 1920s that faced assault at a time when such matters were swept under the rug. A far cry from a tale – the resilience in the main character is based on their own grandmother – Laurina tackles the tough subject of domestic violence in hopes that it will empower those that witness the short with their own experiences.

I had a chance to sit down with the screenwriters this week. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Tom and Lora Lee, for sitting down with us tonight. Nice to meet you.

Tom Ecobelli, Lora Lee Ecobelli: Nice to meet you.

LG: Why don’t you tell us what you’re working on?

TE: Well, this started thirteen years ago. But longer than that, when we were teenagers, our grandmother told us of a journal she kept in her early twenties about something that happened to her when she was a little girl. Her stepfather abused her. There was a lot of controversy in the town. Everyone wanted her to keep it quiet, and they didn’t want her to say anything.

Ultimately, she became pregnant, and they wanted it to be secret, but she insisted on taking her stepfather to court. There was a huge trial, and it was unheard of at that time, but she prevailed.

Lora Lee first wrote a play about it, and together we wrote a feature screenplay and tried to get that made for a long time. Then, we met the wonderful Christopher Gaunt, who’s Executive Producer, and Michelena  Scorzelli, who’s also Executive Producer. Sylvia Caminer is our director. We put together a short version of the film that got produced and filmed last year. It’ll premiere soon.

LE: April 3rd at the Madison Theatre.

TE: It was a long road to get here. We never thought… we weren’t planning on doing a short but took advantage of doing what we could after such a long journey, and we’re really happy that we did.

LG: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Lora Lee began the writing process?

LE: Yes, it started as a stage play. It was done in New York – it was pretty successful off-Broadway – and it was produced by the Guild of Italian-American actors. When Tom and I got together, we made it into a screenplay.

LG: What you wrote about is a very, very hard topic, number one. Number two, it happened in your family. Even though it was a long time ago, it’s a very personal subject. Some of the best things, whether it is music, art, movies, or plays, come from things that are deeply personal. How did it feel, on your end, to write about what happened?

LE: It was tough. Reading the journal… we knew our grandmother as a very successful restauranteur. She owned a restaurant for 50 years in Upstate New York. She was a loving, kind person who always secretly helped people in need. When we got the journal, discovering what she went through as a child… Later on, having to research it, going to get the court documents, and reading about the trial in the newspapers… was very tough and personal.

The filming of it when Tom and I got to the point of filming it, watching it come to life was incredibly emotional for both of us.

TE: To back it up a little bit, we had the feature written – we worked really hard on that. We had to rewrite it for the short version, and I know that we both were really moved. When you’re writing something, you have to put yourself in everybody’s shoes, and you have to look at it; look at the scene you’re writing, visualize it in your head, and be all the characters. This time, it really hit us both hard; the reality of what our grandmother went through, what she endured, and how amazing it was that it didn’t destroy her. She came out of it wanting to help people, not run from them, and as Lora Lee said, she touched so many lives.

When we were writing the short, we didn’t want to focus on the tragedy; we wanted to focus on her strength. That’s what the story is and was, and that’s how she was. She wasn’t about the tragedy; she was about her strength and love.

LE: She never saw herself as a victim. She was determined to have this story told so it could help other people.

LG: I think that, in-and-of-itself, is the hallmark of an amazing human…

LE: Absolutely.

LG: Your grandmother sounded like a wonderful person.

LE: She was amazing.

LG: Do you find any catharsis now that people are experiencing what you’ve written?

TE: Well, this premiere, we’re going to find out how people react. At the festivals, we didn’t get a chance to talk to people after they saw it.

LE: I think that one of the most important things for us is to use the film as a public awareness campaign for domestic violence and sexual assault. We’ve partnered with Crime Victim & Sexual Assault Center in Albany to show. Hopefully, it’ll empower people who are victims to speak up, find their voice, and stop the cycle of violence.

LG: For those that wish to attend the event, how may they do so?

LE: On April 3rd at the Madison Theatre, there’re two screenings. The later Q&A screening at 7:00 pm is unfortunately sold out. There’s also a 5:00 pm that’ll just be for the film. That has a few seats left. To reserve your seating, you can go to this website. It was amazing, we posted on Facebook, and in two days, the 7:00 pm show sold out.

TE: It’s a free event that benefits Albany Crime Victims & Sexual Assault Center. We hope to raise some money for them.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

LE: If we keep getting interest in it from people, we might have to have another screening.

LG: Well, it was nice meeting you both.

TE: You too.

LE: Thank you, Lucas.

LG: What you’re doing is very commendable.

LE: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to interview us. We think this is an important story. What is also great about this film is that it was filmed almost entirely in the Capital District. That was wonderful. In the film, we used a lot of the locations where the events happened. We had wonderful actors, and a lot of them and the crew members were from the area.

LG: Have a good night, folks.

TE: You too.

LE: Take care.

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