Big Vision Empty Wallet: Alex Cirillo, ’08, founds filmmakers’ network
Emerging filmmaker launches network for independent artists
Call it intuition. Call it luck.
Alex Cirillo, ’08, doesn’t know why she decided to ship all her belongings home from Tulane University at the end of her freshman year. But when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, all Cirillo lost in the floodwaters was a Netflix DVD.
When Cirillo decided to transfer to Loyola to begin her sophomore year, she was just following her instincts once again.
“The obvious choice was to go to NYU, but being from New York, and knowing that that’s where I planned on ending up, I wanted to experience a different city. Loyola was a place where I felt I would get a really great education,” said the Rockville Centre, N.Y., native. “I wanted to go somewhere and buckle down, get what I wanted done, and get out.”
What she wanted to do was gain experience and a degree to launch a filmmaking career. It worked. In nearly four years since her graduation, Cirillo has become a producer for Washington Square Films, where she works on feature films, documentaries, and commercials.
As she began her career Cirillo saw the need for an organization offering networking opportunities and resources to artists in the field, and Big Vision Empty Wallet was born.
Today its network extends to 10,000 artists throughout the world. “At the beginning we were geared toward the emerging artist, but now the benefits that we offer are useful to everyone from seasoned professionals to students,” said Cirillo, co-founder and director of operations.
Earlier this year Cirillo took a call from rapper Lil Jon’s team seeking a director for one of his music videos. “I recommended a handful of people, and they chose one of our members,” said Cirillo, who lives in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park.
Big Vision Empty Wallet has held networking events in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Allentown, Pa. They have also had requests for events in cities including Dallas and Athens, Greece. In January the organization launched a speakers series.
“We’re really good at adapting, so we have one idea on Monday, and then we get approached by some other company on Tuesday, and we say let’s make this happen,” Cirillo said.
Path to Big Vision
Cirillo had just returned from London, where she had worked as assistant to the director and producers for a Clive Barker film, and was looking for freelance gigs when she met Dani Faith Leonard, who asked her to help her run some networking events. Together, they started the organization, increasing the networking events and workshops, and bolstering a website full of resources for those in the business—such as recommendations for lighting houses and links to forms for requests for no-parking restrictions.
“It came out of an obvious need for resources,” Cirillo said. “We really just aimed at getting like-minded artists in a room together to spark collaboration.”
Cirillo attributes the success of the organization to its collaborative nature. “There are companies that offer parts of what we offer, but not the whole package. Something that sets us apart is that Dani and I are both working artists. We are tapped into our members and are a part of the community that we serve.”
Cirillo encountered that same spirit of collaboration when she came to Loyola and threw herself into its small film program. As a communication major specializing in digital media and a film studies minor, Cirillo was one of the few students studying film—and that had its advantages.
“There was never any fighting over equipment or edit time,” she said. “We weren’t competing for space. We were looking at each other’s work, giving each other suggestions.”
Cirillo and four other students made a documentary on a nonprofit organization called the Tender Bridge, which offers mentors and support to children and teens. “It was basically the real-life Wire,” she said. “The content was so powerful that it didn’t matter that our camera skills weren’t perfect.” The film won first place in the first Loyola Film Festival.
Cirillo has stayed in touch with the Tender Bridge. In 2010 one of the young men she had interviewed for the documentary called her to say his brother had just been shot. She drove immediately to Baltimore—but didn’t do any filming as she offered support to the two men. One of her dreams is to create a full-length documentary on the organization.
Cirillo graduated without enough people for her own crew, as some of her friends from larger universities do.
Looking to the future
So Cirillo certainly saw the need for helping artists connect to each other through Big Vision Empty Wallet—and she is optimistic about its future. “As much as I like producing, I like what I do with Big Vision Empty Wallet even more.”