Schuylkill professors earn dozens of awards for romcom short, 'Sanitize This!'

"Sanitize This" film poster banner with nine people on red carpet in front of Emmaus theatre marquee reading, "Sanitize This Private Premier"

The cast and crew of "Sanitize This!" convened for a private premiere of their short film at the Emmaus Theatre on Thursday, May 20. Pictured from left to right: Timothy Ring, Alex Hille, Jackie Fiorillo, Catherine Fiorillo, Ashely Reinhard, Evan Stutts, Stefan Fulton, Justin Fiorillo, and David "DJ" Higgins.

Credit: Image courtesy of Catherine Fiorillo

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Catherine Fiorillo, associate teaching professor of theater and speech at Penn State Schuylkill, has been undeterred by the pandemic when it comes to following her passions. Over the last year and following meticulous virus mitigation measures, she wrote, produced, and starred in a short film inspired by the pandemic titled “Sanitize This!”

Film is relatively new to Fiorillo, who wrote, produced, and starred in, “Recipe for Disaster,” released in June 2020. The 10-minute short was something she produced with her daughter, Jackie Fiorillo, a graduate student in Savannah College of Art and Design’s Film and Television MFA program.

After releasing the short, Fiorillo reached out to David “DJ” Higgins, assistant teaching professor of film/video and music at Penn State Schuylkill, for his critique. Higgins encouraged her to submit “Recipe for Disaster” to festivals. “It was an official selection and received three nominations in my first submission.” said Fiorillo. “I was inspired and wanted to start a new project.”

After her work was accepted to her first film festival, Fiorillo capitalized on her motivation and wrote the script for “Sanitize This!,” a romantic comedy set during the global coronavirus pandemic, in July 2020. Seeing an opportunity for collaboration, Fiorillo asked Higgins if he would like to direct the short, and he agreed.

"It was fantastic to work with Cathy and help bring her vision to life,” said Higgins. “She’s a talented filmmaker and actor. Her drive to finish the film was inspiring, and I hope to collaborate on future projects.”

Fiorillo not only wrote the film, but also starred in it, playing opposite Henry James Morello. Again, Fiorillo’s daughter Jackie helped with the production side of the project, putting together a strong production team which included an editor, cinematographer, sound technician, location manager, and production assistant. The Pennsylvania-based six-person crew also included Tim Ring of Wyomissing; Evan Stutts of Bethlehem; Alex Hille of Catasaqua; and Fiorillo’s son, Justin Fiorillo, of York.  “My whole family was in the film,” said Fiorillo. “Even my dog made a cameo appearance.”

Rehearsals were held via Zoom and began in August 2020. Fiorillo estimates the short took roughly 12 hours per day to shoot over the course of two weekends. Using the Pennsylvania Film Office’s location scouting resource, the crew selected two filming locations in the Lehigh Valley. “The locations were absolutely phenomenal,” Fiorillo commented. “We were able to make the two locations we filmed at look more like seven.”

Filming the short during the pandemic was an ambitious undertaking and posed the cast and crew with several logistical hurdles. The film’s location manager doubled as the set sanitation manager, and the team meticulously adhered to COVID-19 mitigation measures, including frequent hand washing, masking, sanitizing, and social distancing. Ultimately, though, these measures played an integral role in the film as the main characters navigate dating during the pandemic.

After wrapping production and sending the footage to the editing room, Fiorillo worked on promoting the film. Knowing that social media plays a critical role in marketing, she reached out to Janelle Gruber, lecturer and program coordinator of corporate communication at Penn State Schuylkill, for help establishing and managing the short’s Facebook page and Twitter profile.

The film is currently making its rounds in the festival circuit and has been met with great success. “There are two different types of short films,” Fiorillo explained. “A long short can be 50 minutes and under, or 30 minutes and under. By opting for a 30-minute long short, we allowed ourselves to apply for more festivals.” Thus far, “Sanitize This” has been selected in over 20 film festivals and won 15 awards, including best actress, best comedy, best film short, and more, and also has received numerous nominations — and the festival season is far from over. The short will continue its festival run until December of this year.

While the filmmakers cannot show the film publicly until its festival run is over, they held a local screening for cast and crew on Thursday, May 20, in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

In the wake of two successful films, Fiorillo is already looking to future projects. Her next piece is a television pilot sitcom that she will shoot later this summer and fall.  She cannot reveal the name of the pilot until it is officially released, which she hopes will occur by the end of 2021 or early spring of the following year.

While the pandemic has slowed the economy and halted many jobs, Fiorillo channeled her newfound free time into creative success. “I was at home all this time, so why not create?” she asked. “We needed the comedic relief in a not-so-comedic time.”

Visit the short’s IMDb page to learn more about the story, cast, and crew.