SUMMIT, NJ — Frank Guastella never imagined himself as a documentary filmmaker, let alone an Emmy Award-winning one.
Guastella’s first documentary, “I Can’t, I Have Rehearsal” which features six New Jersey high schools — including Summit, Union, Rahway — and their productions of “Mary Poppins” opened his eyes to the world of filmmaking. The film takes an in-depth look at how the demographically different high schools across the state put together their productions, and focuses on the different challenges that they faced.
The documentary also features the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards, as many of the high schools he was filming were nominated, with Summit High School winning it all for 2018.
“This film is basically an apples-to-apples comparison of the schools and honestly, any of those six schools could’ve won,” Guastella said in a phone interview on March 20. “They all put on great productions of a musical that’s not so easy to put on.”
Guastella, who released his film in partnership with PBS/NJTV in May 2017 and received his Emmy last year, has opened a full-service studio in downtown Summit called Creative World Media. The studio, which he opened with a partner, specializes in audio and visual arts. From recording and engineering, to videography and web/graphic design services, their studio is a “creative space to shape any idea,” according to its website.
“We offer anything that has to do with audio and visual,” Guastella, who is passionate about music production and videography, said. “The basis of it all is to remain creative.”
His companies, ISH Productions and Creative World Media, have provided music and visuals for many recording artists, such as CeeLo Green, Raekwon, Wu Tang Clan, SchoolboyQ, John Amos, Talib Kweli, Styles P, KRS-One and others. Guastella’s work has also been featured on a variety of outlets, including HBO, the NFL Network, PBS, MTV, SiriusXM and “The Today Show.”
Guastella, who has been teaching biology at South Orange Middle School for 15 years, said he believes that his experience with students gave him a different perspective when creating the documentary.
“I teach children every day, but it was nice to see these kids outside of school in their extracurricular activities,” he said. “I feel that being involved in education, as well as the arts, brought a nice edge to my involvement in it.”
After looking for a studio space for quite some time, Guastella and his business partner fell in love with Summit’s overall “respect for the arts.”
Documentary filmmaking is a challenge that Guastella is looking forward to tackling again in the future, he said, adding that he never realized how much collaboration goes into making a film until he stepped behind the scenes.
“The number of hands on deck that were all very involved in it was more than I was used to in the studio,” he said. “Many people were involved and dedicated to see its completion.”
He added that one of the biggest challenges in making his award-winning film was sifting through the hundreds of hours of film to create the one-hour documentary.
“This has really taught me how to manage a huge production,” Guastella said.