From Selling Floors to the Hollywood Ceiling
Santa Cruz Grandfather Sells Successful Movie Plot
By Jeanette Prather
Callero, who explains he loves a strong female character that kicks the butts of the male character, wants to have a theatrical screening of Let Us In at the Rio, and 100% of the proceeds go to charity.
“I like storytelling,” said Joe Callero, co-writer and executive producer of Let Us In, a family-friendly movie released in 2021. “I’ve got a bunch of screenplays and for several decades have been a frustrated writer who likes to think logically about plotlines.”
Callero mentioned that his most recent production, Let Us In, will see performance numbers by the end of July, and if it does well, Callero and the production team will likely begin working on a sequel to the movie. “If not, I’ve got a few other projects in the works,” said Callero.
Let Us In, which is currently streaming on most platforms, came to fruition in a roundabout way, according to Callero. “My son got into acting in L.A. after graduating from San Francisco State and he was in some pretty bad movies,” laughed Callero. “He got into making spoof films like Breaking Wind (a spoof on Breaking Dawn) and The 41-Year-Old Virgin [Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It], which were both directed by Craig Moss who also did the Bad Ass film series. Craig and Joe became friends and tried to do several projects that all never got off the ground, when Craig brought the script to me to review, and my response was, ‘Guys, we cannot do some of these things.’ So, I helped to revise and make it more family-friendly, as well as help to secure financing.”
Callero mentioned that Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films, saw the movie with his young son and they loved it, so it was distributed with Samuel Goldwyn Films. “Craig arranged a meeting with Peter Nelson, the head of projects, to get an idea of what SGF was interested in distributing,” said Callero. “I’d never made a formal script pitch before, but I found myself on the phone with Peter pitching The Calamity, which is one of my plays about an environmental disaster that spawns the near extinction of life on earth, while I was out with my grandchildren and Peter was in Alaska, and I thought he asked for another film pitch because the cell phone reception we both had were terrible. I went ahead and pitched my screenplay, Dead End, about a girl who goes out with her friends but ends up with a charming psychopath and now must outwit this guy to save her own life. I have no idea if he was actually asking for another pitch, but I went ahead with it anyway and now I’m revising both of those scripts to send over to Goldwyn’s company.”
Let Us In, Callero and crew’s most recent mainstream film, deals with “a spirited twelve-year-old girl and her best friend [who] start investigating the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town,” according to SamuelGoldwynFilms.com/let-us-in. “Realizing there might be something deeper happening, Emily and Christopher might be up against forces they can’t even imagine.”
“This is a family movie that parents can enjoy with their children,” said Callero. “It deals with bullying, being ostracized, school issues and all of the stuff that kids have to deal with.” And on that note, Callero added that working with children in the professional cinema entertainment industry is particularly challenging, as “Kids under 18 need tutors on set with very structured and restricted hours that require limiting their workday,” he noted. “We went the extra mile with this production and got real kids to play real kids their age in the movie.”
The movie, which cost $700,000 to make and took only 14 days to shoot in Los Angeles, features Tobin Bell of The Firm, Sophie’s Choice, as well as being the character Jigsaw from the Saw franchise, as well as a variety of child stars from Disney productions. “It’s a Disney-ish type of movie with an edge,” said Callero. “Disney said they didn’t want to take it on because it’s too dark, haha.
“Tobin Bell loves the film and enjoyed working with the kids,” continued Callero. “He says Let Us In is a gateway movie to thriller and horror with just a hint for kids and adults to see if ‘thriller’ or ‘horror’ may be something they’re interested in.” Callero added that his 5-year-old granddaughter loved the film and was not bothered by the spooky and thrilling parts.
The star is a 12-year-old protagonist (a real 12-year-old) who is the daughter of director Craig Moss, as well as Judy Geeson of To Sir With Love, to name just one actor who Callero mentioned would enjoy more screen time with. “She’s been in a ton of movies, a lot of good stuff,” said Callero. “Another really cool person who I could hang out with, is Darin Heames who plays Bisquick in the movie.”
In Let Us In, the “black-eyed kids,” which is the term that Callero uses to describe the antagonists in the movie, represent the hooded, pale-skinned, punkish, and black-eyed teen aliens who need permission to enter people’s homes. “They do all of the stuff that aliens do once they capture people,” said Callero. “The 12- and 10-year-old needs to find the captured kids and banish the black-eyed kids.”
Callero, originally from the San Fernando Valley before settling in Santa Cruz around 1979, never attended a formal screenwriting program. “I didn’t go to college,” said Callero. “I got a partial scholarship to California State University, Northridge, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and the only thing I was good at was working, so after a year I bailed out of college and started working.”
After being inspired by David Trotter’s The Screenwriter’s Bible, Callero started writing. “I thought screenwriting would be easier than writing a novel, so I just started writing these stories,” he said. “I feel like I’m finally on the other side of the door, and my partner from Let Us In is already in the Hollywood scene. It’s exciting to see what’s going to come next.”
Callero and his wife owned a flooring business locally until 2003, and then again from 2008 until 2019, Callero now shares his time writing screenplays, playing with his six grandchildren, and enjoying his second retirement. “I’m not really sure how old I am because I don’t care about age,” he added. “I think I’m 67 but I’m this age right now, and I just try to stay as young as I possibly can.”
Callero, who explains he loves a strong female character that kicks the butts of the male character, wants to have a theatrical screening of Let Us In at the Rio, and 100% of the proceeds go to charity. “We had a screening at the Rio with almost 700 people for our Flying Saucer Rock ‘N’ Roll movie (2006) about Martians visiting during the 1950s Rockabilly era amid innocent teen love, and it worked well. The audience was laughing at all the right spots and even more that were pleasantly unexpected,” said Callero. “We’d love to do another one, but this time make it a fundraiser for charities with 100% of the proceeds going to a charity. We’ll rent the venue out of pocket. It’s great for the Santa Cruz community to see our film and generate several thousands of dollars for charity.”