Meditate. Turn off the volume on those taunting voices deep in the pit your psyche telling you it’s impossible to achieve your creative goal. While it’s true that you might not ever completely delete these signals from your internal software — you need to try. Otherwise you give those ugly voices shape and they start to crawl around in your brain like little black spiders. The power of positive visualization is uncanny and it’s really the first step to opening the gate. I remember as a little boy lying in bed, sighing, thinking to myself, ‘I want to be a movie director but it will never happen. Not in the cards.’ I would put myself down…I’m too shy, too this — too that. Then one day, while visiting my sister’s home in South New Jersey, I found myself meditating in her attic, surrounded by furniture and toys, and out-of-nowhere something clicked — a heart-stopping realization — a pang of destiny — it was as if time stood still — and almost magically, those voices stopped and something new and wordless filled the void.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dante Tomaselli. Dante, an American electronic music composer/film director, studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree there. His first film was a 23-minute short called, Desecration, which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals and venues. Tomaselli expanded Desecration, which he also wrote, to feature length. And in 1999, the film received its world premiere to a standing-room-only audience at the Fantafestival in Rome. The release of Desecration (1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment resulted in laudatory notices unique for an independent horror production. Made on the minuscule budget of $150,000, Desecration received instantaneous acclaim for its nightmarish visuals. The supernatural chiller quickly established itself as a modern horror cult favorite. Tomaselli has been a lifelong supernatural/horror aficionado and is also the cousin of film director Alfred Sole, whose Alice Sweet Alice (1976), made its own mark in the world of Catholic-themed horror films 40 years ago. His second feature film, Horror (2003), began principal photography January 15, 2001, in Warwick, upstate New York. Final cost of production and post production: $250,000. Horror, a visually arresting chiller, had a group of runaway teens escape from a drug rehab and encounter demonic forces in a rural farmhouse. In a bizarre casting stunt, the film starred celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin. Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment. Tomaselli then directed his third feature, Satan’s Playground (2006). Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment, Satan’s Playground starred 70s & early 80s cult-horror icons Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Torture Chamber (2013), the fourth installment in his nightmarish journey exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation, made its World Premiere at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain. Torture Chamber was released by Cinedigm January 28, 2014. The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ‘’Scream in the Dark’’ (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ‘’The Doll’’ (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dante! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in northern New Jersey in the late 70’s and 80’s. I was a shy, superstitious boy who had allergies, insomnia and endless nightmares. These nightmares dominated my existence to the point where for a while, I didn’t know if what was happening was a dream…or reality. I loved…and feared…horror films. I saw many with my mother at a very young age: The Omen, The Sentinel, Carrie, The Brood, Don’t Look Now…When I was 6 in 1976, my cousin, Alfred Sole directed his famous Paterson, New Jersey horror movie, featuring Brooke Shields, Alice, Sweet Alice. It caused a sensation. My father, who owned a Jewelry store and Bridal Shop was asked to supply communion dresses, white gloves and veils for the film and a lot of my relatives were extras. It was a big deal in our family and while I was proud of my cousin, being 6 years-old I was absolutely petrified of the book’s cover-art. It was the image of a white-veiled little girl wearing an eerie translucent doll-like mask, brandishing a dagger, surrounded by darkness. The visual was so macabre, it chilled me to the bone…I couldn’t even look at it. The tagline said, “Pray for Her.” Aside from the back cover, I had no idea what my cousin’s movie was about because I was too afraid to even look inside the book! The frightening clown-like mask gave me nightmares as my curiosity grew and grew. Cut to about four years later, I was 10 in 1980 and finally experienced…on VHS…Alice, Sweet Alice! The movie electrified me. I was floored that my very own cousin was able to direct and release this powerful, magical horror movie. I planned to be a filmmaker myself though I was filled with some self-doubt…I still struggled with insomnia and non-stop nightmares. I was 17 when my father died of a fatal heart attack right in front of me and I felt very guilty about his passing because we had a damaged relationship. After his death, my nightmares intensified while I attended college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Manhattan’s New York School of Visual Arts…There was one week where my insomnia was at its worst and I didn’t sleep a full seven days…I remember I started having daytime hallucinations. When I graduated college, in the 90’s I was determined to make films, to attempt to paint…with these nightmares. I quickly placed an Ad in the back of the NYC Village Voice Bulletin, looking for a film crew to work on my first ambitious short film, Mama’s Boy. Eventually I changed the title to Desecration and created a series of experimental shorts centering on a boy haunted by his mother’s death…and some versions played in international film festivals. One important festival was the IFFM, the Independent Feature Film Market at Angelika Center in NYC. This led to the funding of my first full length feature, Desecration. The budget was very low, $150,000, but the odd little chiller made its world premiere to a standing room only audience at the 1999 Fantafestival in Rome, Italy. Then it was picked up by Image Entertainment and distributed on VHS and DVD. At the time, Image Entertainment put out a lot of well known titles like Silence of the Lambs and Dances with Wolves, so my film was in good company and sold in a lot of stores. Desecration had some healthy buzz with horror fans and genre critics and it sold well, for a film of its budget. I was able to create another independent film… and another and another. So far, I’ve directed, written and scored four horror features. Each movie has found its audience and secured distribution from companies like Anchor Bay Entertainment and Cinedigm…Right now I have two more films in development, one is about a haunting at a family owned wax museum…and the other…I’ve come full circle…a remake of my cousin’s beloved horror film, Alice, Sweet Alice!
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I definitely march to the beat of my own drum, that I can say…I’ve always been an unrepentant fan…and champion…of the strange…the different. For sure, I transmit my visions from the dark pit of my psyche…I feel pregnant with my films. They are commanding me to be birthed…I believe in the power of positive visualization and it’s probably my secret weapon. I’m a shy person but when it comes to the films I direct…the music I compose, I can be pretty brave. I’m probably the same as I was when I was back in school…The weird, quiet boy swirling in a whirlpool of images, sounds…I am a creator.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In my twenties I was on a journey to find a way to cure my chronic neck pain. I visited Chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists…nothing helped. Then I heard about a Chinese Herbalist in Chinatown who supposedly had some secret herbal potion. I met with him and he immediately told me I had a kind of internal blockage. Well, he asked me to take off my shirt, get on top of a table and lie on my stomach. I nervously complied and then out of nowhere I felt excruciating heat, a sizzling. This man was burning my back! Strangely, I felt unable to move or protest like I was a piece of raw meat and he was branding me. He did this three times all along my spine and then I sprung up, grabbed my shirt and looked at him with disbelief. The man was smiling, almost grinning and told me that my Kundalini Serpent is now loose. He said it lived coiled inside my spine and now it’s set free. The snake. I had no idea what he was talking about but when I left there, I was literally floating through the streets of Chinatown…with no pain. I felt bold, boundless. I went home and started writing and that’s when the screenplay for Desecration, my first film came pouring out…I couldn’t stop the words, the scenes, it almost felt like automatic writing, like a Ouija Board experience. I didn’t sleep at all that night and I didn’t need to. I was electrified. My younger brother asked me why I had three horrible burn marks on my back. I think he thought it was some kind of S&M thing. It was hard to explain what really happened. Words would just diminish it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was on the set of my second movie, titled, HORROR filming scenes that included the celebrity/mentalist, Kreskin, who starred in the film as a preacher with hypnotic powers. A lot of his sequences were very bizarre and optical-illusion-like. Kreskin or The Amazing Kreskin as he’s referred — is truly a mentalist and proved this time and time again on the set of my film by reading thoughts. For example if you write down a word on a piece of paper and put it your pocket — Kreskin will ask you to visualize the word and then he would actually reveal it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, he can do a lot of other freaky things, like hypnotize people and cause them to fall to the ground. Well, my Script Supervisor, Susan Parsons was casually taking Polaroids of him for continuity…I glanced at one and did a double-take. I have never in my life witnessed a more surreal, hallucinogenic image. It looked just like the painting in the movie, The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was like a Dali painting, so detailed in its beauty and insanity. It appeared to be completely hand painted…I mean this painting could be hanging in a museum! It was a work of high art and I couldn’t stop staring at it. I showed it to crew and it was like I had an apparition in my hands. I couldn’t wait to reveal this image to the rest of the world. When it was time to go to bed, I brought it into my Hotel room and carefully placed the photo in the top drawer. Something was telling me to hide it under lock and key and I felt guilty like I was doing something wrong. Well, I should have trusted my first instinct because when I woke up the next morning, it was gone! I was so bewildered and I learned that sometimes there are no answers, no explanations.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I think a typical leader needs to be #1 all the time. This kind of leader is often seeking approval from others which causes a kind of built-in insecurity. A “thought leader” is free of this. A thought leader sets the tone. He or she is sensitive but not reactionary. I can block everything out, it’s a blessing and a curse. For better or worse, I see myself as a square peg smashing through a circle, smashing through the structure.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
I think it’s more of an instinct. When you are aligned with who you really are, your purpose, your mission, it opens a gate. I still have more work to do myself and that gate is not always open. I feel we’re all put on this earth to learn lessons. The spirit world is always poking through.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1.) Meditate. Turn off the volume on those taunting voices deep in the pit your psyche telling you it’s impossible to achieve your creative goal. While it’s true that you might not ever completely delete these signals from your internal software — you need to try. Otherwise you give those ugly voices shape and they start to crawl around in your brain like little black spiders. The power of positive visualization is uncanny and it’s really the first step to opening the gate. I remember as a little boy lying in bed, sighing, thinking to myself, ‘I want to be a movie director but it will never happen. Not in the cards.’ I would put myself down…I’m too shy, too this — too that. Then one day, while visiting my sister’s home in South New Jersey, I found myself meditating in her attic, surrounded by furniture and toys, and out-of-nowhere something clicked — a heart-stopping realization — a pang of destiny — it was as if time stood still — and almost magically, those voices stopped and something new and wordless filled the void.
2.) Choose your friends and associates wisely. I remember when I graduated college most of my classmates were seeking to break out as filmmakers. I kept in contact with a lot of these friends for many years later and in some cases, it was a big mistake. I’ve learned that when your contemporaries are insecure and unhappy in their stature and see you succeeding, moving ahead… it sometimes generates an unconscious response and a poisonous atmosphere results. Beware. I had to sever some entities from my world because it became apparent they were clearly envious. Pity them, help them but don’t ingest their negativity. While it’s important to squash those harsh voices inside your head it’s also necessary to shut out the judgmental opinions of others because sometimes they’re even harder to shake.
3) The power of passion. It cannot be underestimated…You must be on fire to achieve your creative goal. You need to crave it with every fiber of your being. Visualize yourself as an unstoppable flame blazing through the landscape. Yes, raw talent is important, developing and honing your skills is vital but none of that will truly coalesce if one element is missing: fire.
4.) Inspire others. As a director, I try to lift up my actors and crew, emphasizing their attributes. While it’s essential to strive for perfection and try to fix creative problems, it’s never cool to belittle and diminish someone — that cruel energy reverberates and comes back in other insidious forms.
5.) Fantasize…allow your imagination to run wild! Don’t censor yourself. The most original, innovative ideas never come from a space of security but uncertainty…danger. Go out on a limb. You’re not hurting anyone in the realm of your private thoughts. Take the risk! Before I go to bed at night, I stare at my hands. I tell myself that I want to find my hands in my dreams. I make it my intent. Once I do — I pop through — and I’m conscious in the unconscious…I can navigate the dream!
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Definitely director/composer John Carpenter…with his signature style. He has built an entire empire of quality horror movies and albums that I’ve cherished for as long as I can remember. This man is my hero. He’s fearless and doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. He sets the tone. Carpenter follows his internal compass 100% and leaves a beautiful example for future generations of filmmakers and composers. What a legacy!
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I’ve heard it a lot lately…the term. I like it. I think ‘thought leader’ is a good way to describe a certain kind of productive and fearless leader…and someone like John Carpenter is a perfect example.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Tenacity. Keep pecking at your creative goals and never stop. I have witnessed a few of my personal friends slowly but surely rise to the top of the filmmaking heap and the evolution is very gratifying. Like Chris Garetano, my longtime filmmaker friend and fellow School of Visual Arts alumni, who followed his childhood dreams… He’s already hosted and directed a successful series, a real labor of love called, The Dark Files for The History Channel and now he has a new show coming out on the Travel Channel called, Strangeworld. Also, Rob GalIuzzo…who really rose in the ranks…Years back I remember talking to him on the phone and he was wondering how he could get a job writing for Fangoria Magazine…well now he’s the director of acquisitions at Fangoria film distribution! If I would have given up after my first film, Desecration, then I would never have created Horror, Satan’s Playground and Torture Chamber…
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
When I was younger I used to purchase subliminal tapes for insomnia…to help me sleep and combat other related issues like anxiety…These tapes never worked but I always wondered if subliminal tapes, well now they would be digital…could be perfected. My new album of electronic music is titled, Out-of-Body Experience and I incorporate subliminal techniques with the layering of tones, beats and rhythms. It’s the polar opposite of the fear-inducing Scream in the Dark, although it has its scary moments. The new one is really music to listen to while you’re resting on a reclining chair…on a balcony…gazing at the sky. I was inspired by synthesizer artists like Jean Michel Jarre, John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, Mort Garson, Vince Clarke, Alan Wilder and Greg Hawkes.
Getting back to the question…I think “Virtual Reality” holds the power to inspire us to learn and grow by experiencing other perspectives…Visually, sonically…Virtual Reality can be a powerful tool. It’s so all-enveloping and emotionally-charged. There is just so much to explore there. I’d like to be part of that movement, not just scaring audiences but helping, healing others through sound and picture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All that we see or seem. Is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe
Ambiguity is the essence of the plot. Taste color. Touch sound. I have sound-color synesthesia which means I can see certain sounds. It’s involuntary, neurological. For example if it’s raining outside, just the sound will produce…I’ll see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of colored light. And when I grab these tiny orbs, my hand goes right through them, as if they’re projected. Truly nothing is as it seems.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.