Puppet Love— A Heartfelt Change for filmmaker Michael DeSanto

. July 6, 2020.
Callie Bussell and Charles Wetzel Jr. in puppet form.
Callie Bussell and Charles Wetzel Jr. in puppet form. DeSanto had some experience with puppets, having made a short comedy film called "W is for War," a war film made in the style of Sesame Street.
(l-r) Tyler Savino and Charles Wetzel Jr. filming A Heartfelt Change. Director Michael DeSanto has frequently collaborated with actor Wetzel.

(l-r) Tyler Savino and Charles Wetzel Jr. filming A Heartfelt Change. Director Michael DeSanto has frequently collaborated with actor Wetzel.

Toledo filmmaker Michael DeSanto announced on Facebook at the end of June that he had finished the rough cut of his latest movie, a romantic family comedy, A Heartfelt Change.

Spending a lot of time shaping the film over the past few months, ever since Ohio went into lockdown, DeSanto has committed up to 16 hour days into his editing software. He estimates that he has invested a total of over 500 hours in editing A Heartfelt Change.

Puppet curse

Named Best Filmmaker in the City Paper’s Best of Toledo awards multiple times, DeSanto takes an offbeat step with his newest film. A Heartfelt Change tells the story of a man named Jake who goes to a carnival with his estranged girlfriend, only to be beset by evil puppets who place a curse on him— transforming Jake into a puppet himself. “And he basically has to win her love back, as a puppet, to break the curse. So it’s fun, it’s a family film. I compare it to those Hallmark, Disney Channel, ABC Family-type films,” DeSanto adds.

The idea came to DeSanto by way of his friendship with actor and frequent collaborator Charles Wetzel, Jr., who plays Jake. The director frequently gives a gift to Wetzel after wrapping a project— a toy, a doll, etc. “One of the things I found was on eBay, it was a puppet. It kinda looked like him,” DeSanto said. “And I saw that and I basically said to myself, ‘Man, it’d be really funny if we made a film where, you know, he became a puppet.”

An accelerated process

DeSanto began writing the script in 2017, and most of the film was shot last fall. The plan was to get to editing in late spring, as DeSanto has recently returned to college, taking classes at Owens Community College beginning in January.

“While I was doing that, once the semester was over I was going to dive into the editing process. And then when the pandemic hit, and we were locked down, it kind of accelerated the process, because I was stuck at home with nothing really to work on. So I really just kind of dove into it,” DeSanto said.

The rough cut that is now complete is just the latest step in the process– more work needs to be done, such as pick-up shots, visual effects, audio mixing, adding a musical score. And then there’s the question of a release date, which DeSanto doesn’t really want to guess at yet.

“Right now I’m just saying (there will be a release in)  ‘Fall 2020,’ because I don’t want to pin down anything more concrete. Just because there might be a second wave of COVID-19, and they might shut things again.”