“I sometimes think of it as an accidental career because I certainly had no idea what I was going to do or where I would end up, so I was really lucky. But I also had to be prepared.”
Dan Genetti, whose involvement with the day-to-day world of commercial film spanned some three decades, returned to his hometown of Bedford recently for a class reunion and a family milestone.
Bedford certainly has changed physically since Genetti was president of the Bedford High School senior class of 1971. But there are underlying qualities and values that have endured.
“The education and work ethic I got here in Bedford contributed to the career I was able to have in the movie industry,” he said in a recent interview.
“Bedford always was a welcoming place, with a sense of community,” reflected Genetti, a resident of Santa Monica, CA. “It was a very open-hearted town for the most part.”
“We walked to school with neighborhood kids,” he recalled. “From the time school let out until dinner time, we were just running around. I managed to get along with everybody.”
“It was a great school system all the way through – I don’t think I ever had a bad teacher,” Genetti said.
At Bedford High, Keith Phinney, then longtime music teacher and department head, had “a huge impact on me. I did a lot of shows here (he was Arthur in the 1971 production of “Camelot”) and it was a great high school experience.”
“I have friends who don’t like to come back and it always surprises me because it was a great place to grow up,” he continued.
The student population of Air Force dependents was “a great asset” more than a half-century ago, Genetti said. “We met kids who had had different experiences, and that opened me up.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, Genetti said, “I had no idea where I would end up.”
He earned an education degree and taught in a private school for children of American chemical workers in Puerto Rico, then at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional. At Westwood High, he was a teacher and coordinator of the METCO program.
His resume also features a season of skiing in Colorado as well as some time in Mexico. Hitching rides from Yuma, AZ to Steamboat Springs, CO, “people asked me where in California I was from. And I realized that if that’s the vibe I had, that’s where I want to be.”
On a winter day in the early 1980s, “I remember driving to work and thinking that the only time I’m warm is in my car, and I decided I really needed a warmer place,” Genetti related.
Theater was a big part of his high school and college experiences, so he headed for California because “I thought movies would have more opportunities for me. I had no idea what jobs were available.”
Soon after he arrived, “as with many things in my life, things sort of opened up for me,” Genetti continued.
Through an acquaintance, in 1983 he joined a new venture in the film business, Island Alive, an offshoot of Chris Blackwell’s pioneering Jamaican music company Island Records. “There were four founders just opening an office, and I started as the assistant to the four.”
The business took off.
“It was a time when independent filmmaking exploded,” Genetti said. “We were acquiring movies.”
Procurement of film elements was Genetti’s assignment.
“I went to the places where film elements were and I just talked to people. They were helpful, they sort of guided me, and I fell into it.”
Island distributed the first home video release of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It.”
“I dealt with physical elements and understood the concept,” Genetti said. “I had taken a summer course at Boston University that gave me a taste of filmmaking and script writing. My education was by doing, which was a great way to learn. And in the film industry it is possible to have a career without a college major.”
“It took me about half a year to feel like I wasn’t living in a foreign country,” he laughed. “It can be a laid-back, mellow lifestyle.”
“We started out as a distributor, but we also made movies,” such as “Return Engagement,” a documentary on 1983 debates between Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy, which Genetti said is “a fascinating movie.”
He became involved in movie posters and trailers, “ushering them from concept to completion,” and became head of post-production for Island.
“One day during a meeting with Chris Blackwell (the founder of Island Records) and producers, I went through the delivery schedule and at the end, Chris turned to Paul Heller, the producer, and he said, ‘Dan is the guy you will be dealing with.’ Two weeks later, I was in Jamaica, scouting locations. That was jumping into the deep end.”
Genetti advanced to Island’s head of post-production and ultimately senior vice president at Island Pictures. His production roster over his long career is wide-ranging, including the successful Jamaican films “Third World Cop and Dancehall Queen.” The film “Mandela” was nominated for an Academy Award.
“My favorite project was ‘The Basketball Diaries,’” he recounted, for which he served with Blackwell as co-executive producer. He noted that the 1995 biographical crime and drama film opened on the same day as the country’s worst episode of domestic terrorism, the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
“I never wanted to be an independent producer,” Genetti said. “I was really lucky that the company I worked for financed it and I could just develop projects. I never had to go out and find the money – that was never anything I liked.”
“My career has been so interesting because I worked with so many interesting people,” Genetti commented. The late Garry Marshall was the nicest director, he said, while Robert Altman was “the most interesting person.”
Genetti said he doesn’t want to call himself retired, but acknowledged, “I’m not working in the industry anymore. It’s a young person’s industry, really.”
His last movie project was “All Eyes on Me,” a 2018 biopic about Tupac Shakur.
“I don’t want to go back to that full-time world,” Genetti said.
Besides managing a small apartment building, “this year has really been about travel because Covid seems in the rearview mirror.”
He recently returned from three weeks in Italy, and visits to New England during summers.
Genetti is on the Board of Directors of the Santa Monica Bay Foundation, an environmental leader with projects ranging from ocean kelp restoration and removal of invasive species to a 30-mile bicycle path where he likes to rollerblade.
“I can’t imagine living out of California, what with the weather and the vibe,” he said. “I always felt that California for me certainly was the land of opportunity.”