Rocco Pucillo can recall the creative writing lessons he was so fond of during his time in grade school. It was there the seed was planted for the career he would come to pursue so passionately.
“When I was in grammar school, the principal (taught) a creative writing class where she did all these exercises,” Pucillo said. “You had this moment where you got to stand up and read your story in front of everybody, and I always got a rush out of that.”
With nearly 14 years in the business, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television graduate student Pucillo has navigated nearly every avenue within the film industry, including his most recent project, “Imaginary Foe,” a feature pitch he sold to Warner Bros. From being a production coordinator for “The Simpsons Movie” to being a visual effects coordinator for “Snow White and the Hunstman,” Pucillo has always sustained an abiding passion for the film industry.
Despite realizing his passion at a young age, Pucillo submitted to familial pressures and pursued a career in the sciences rather than in entertainment. As an undergrad at Loyola University Chicago, Pucillo majored in biology and minored in philosophy, taking the Medical College Admission Test shortly after earning his degree.
However, Pucillo said he had a change of heart, lighting his test results on fire before knowing the outcome.
“I didn’t want to know how I did because I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to medical school,” Pucillo said. “I didn’t have it in me.”
The journey to a screenwriting career, however, was filled with several odd jobs. It wasn’t until 13 years after moving to Los Angeles that Pucillo began to rethink his strategy and applied to UCLA’s screenwriting program.
Having previously been rejected, Pucillo said he was unwilling to take no for an answer. Instead, he became devoted to composing an entirely new piece to submit when he reapplied.
“I thought, ‘How am I going to write another writing sample? I can’t write a whole script,’” Pucillo said. “On my lunch breaks I started writing a short story and I ended up with a 17-page short story.”
Pucillo’s drive to achieve what he wants is something that Dave Johnson, lecturer in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, finds admirable.
“Rocco is really good at being determined. He stuck to it when he could have easily given up,” Johnson said. “He is one of the few students I know that was committed to this full time.”
The writing sample Pucillo used as part of his application also won him the top prize at the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards. The script, “Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow,” was the first animated feature to take first place.
The story, which was inspired by an incident on a plane trip to Paris in which Pucillo found a cockroach underneath the lid in the front compartment of his seat, is a mystery in which all the characters are bugs.
“After (the cockroach) disappeared, I thought, ‘Where did this guy go?’” Pucillo said. “I wondered, ‘What’s he doing? Does he have friends? Are they partying?’ It all just started building around this one little thing.”
His ability to convey such a rich adaption of a seemingly minor event is something that Adam Marshall, Pucillo’s manager, said makes his writing style stand apart from others’.
“What captured my attention about Rocco is that you start reading at page one and you know you’re in the hands of someone who is a storyteller,” Marshall said. “We’re talking about an animated movie based on spiders, but he still was able to ground this and make them feel like real characters.”
It was shortly after winning the Samuel Goldwyn Award that Pucillo sold his screenplay, “Imaginary Foe.” Almost immediately after pitching the story to Warner Bros. earlier this year, Pucillo received a phone call from his representative delivering the good news.
Though he is currently unable to disclose any major details about the film, Pucillo said it will contain supernatural elements and that selling his story is a small step in a rather long and uncertain process.
“Me writing the screenplay is the baby step,” Pucillo said. “It could be two years, it could take five years, it could never be made. My job is to deliver a great screenplay; once I do that, then it’s out my hands.”
Pucillo said he credits his time and experience at UCLA – where many of the highlights of his career took place – for all of the major accomplishments he has achieved.
With his departure from UCLA quickly approaching, Pucillo is looking forward to focusing on “Imaginary Foe,” ultimately directing a feature and having his own production company in the future.
As for those who wish to follow in his footsteps, Pucillo offered a simple piece of advice.
“Keep the ideas going,” Pucillo said. “Don’t sit on one thing.”