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Some Guys Have All the Pluck

Frank Lisi, a longtime Rutgers–Newark employee, fulfills a dream of writing and directing his own movie.

Katherine Mesa, Frank Lisi and Valerie Bauer
Frank Lisi, photographed here in a boiler room at Rutgers–Newark, is the creator of The Red Corvette, starring Katherine Mesa (left) as Bella Fagone and Valerie Bauer as Cindy Reese. Photography by Benoit Cortet

In 2004, Frank Lisi was a shop steward in the central heating plant at Rutgers–Newark when he decided to give a go at acting. Soon, he had work as an extra on The Sopranos and Law and Order, but a bout with cancer derailed his new career—and also got him thinking big. What was on his “bucket list”? Lisi wanted to direct a movie.

That’s a dream for plenty of people. But Lisi made it happen. Drawing on his experience on the set (“it was like on-the-job training”), he produced a short film, A Sicilian Tale, which garnered the Best Crime Short award at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2009. Next was a feature-length movie, The Red Corvette, about a high school girl in a volatile friendship with the daughter of a reputed mob boss. The film appeared at the New Jersey Film Festival at Rutgers–New Brunswick this spring. The budget? Under $30,000, with about 100 people involved in the production—and Lisi himself in a supporting role.

“I shot maybe once a month for a year, and I did side jobs and saved money here and there and got it done,” says Lisi, who continues to work at Rutgers, where he started out in 1989 as a maintenance mechanic. “It was something I always wanted to do.”

— Allan Hoffman

Check out the trailer for The Red Corvette.