Philadelphia is known for having underdogs.
Whether you’re a sports fan or just a city fan, the gritty nature of Philly is always shown on an upward trajectory with odds stacked against us. Most recently, there’s been another similar tale that has emerged, but this one does not take place on a big screen — it takes place behind it.
The road to the Cannes Film Festival for editing duo Jon Connor and Cristina Valdivieso began years ago, and although their story is one of an underdog, it started out as a comedy. Connor was doing comedy at an open-mic night at a club on South Street when he met Valdivieso, who was in the audience. After sparking up a conversation and eventually a relationship, the two began to use their own skills to advance their editing careers.
Originally, Connor had always wanted to be involved with films, and, after high school, he went on to the Art Institute of Philadelphia for video production. Valdivieso, on the other hand, was in college for photography and took classes in video photography before jumping in with Connor with her own background in software and cameras.
“We developed a shorthand with each other and we had the same taste and style with editing… We just grew together over the years,” explains Connor. Eventually, the editing duo became parents. It was at that point that the family picked up and moved to Indiana for Connor to take on a job as a creative director — something he said he had to do for the stability. The biz isn’t exactly a career where you feel secure, and, as Connor explains there’s no guarantee between jobs. However, two kids later, the couple decided to continue to go for it anyway and made their way back to the East Coast.
It was then that Connor says he really had to begin to hustle, and eventually, he met director Andrew Muscato. Their working relationship began through a documentary on the life of Muhammed Ali.
After that film came out, Muscato and Connor began to work on a film in its very early stages surrounding former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci… though, at the time, Connor didn’t know what political views the Long Island native had.
“He was an interesting character… I’ll say that,” says Connor. Before they even knew it, Scaramucci was fired shortly after receiving the position after he gave an expletive-laced interview to the New Yorker magazine and made derogatory statements about White House officials including Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon. Connor says after that happened, he and Muscato realized they had much more than they thought on their hands with over 5 years of footage.
With Valdivieso assistant editor on the project, the couple thought this would launch their careers.
“I’m proud of what we did, but it didn’t have the success that it looked like it was going to at one point in time,” explains Connor. “We were getting calls from companies but the deal kind of fell through and it didn’t go as far as we wanted.”
“Mooch” may have come up short, but as someone who has called the City of Brotherly Love home for most of their life, it’s also kind of par for the course. “I think being a lifelong Philadelphian… you sort of always expect the worse,” says Connor (It’s worth it to note that this interview was done immediately after a Sixers playoff loss). “I think that has helped me out a lot in this industry because it happens a lot. I’ve learned to temper my expectations.”
Expectations were not high when Andrew Muscato first sent Connor the beginning of “New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilization” either. “I had no expectations… I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that Bill Murray was involved so, whatever it was, I was in,” he says. But, what the editor didn’t know yet was that this go-around would be the one that stuck the landing.
“New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilization” was filmed during a hot summer night in Athens, Greece in 2018. The film captured the final performance of Bill Murray and Jan Vogler’s European “New Worlds” tour. Murray met Vogler at an airport and that’s how the relationship kicked off, while Muscato also received word of the show through friends. With only two weeks out, the director was able to pull together a team to head to Athens and film what is now the documentary film.
As Connor puts it, the film puts a new light on the comedic actor that most know from “Groundhog Day.” Just from the trailer, you see Murray singing, reciting Walt Whitman and rehearsing for the final performance with Vogler.
“I wasn’t expecting him to be reading poetry and literature and [with] a cellist and a piano player… It’s all of these different things that are unexpected, but once we finally got it all together, it’s something I’m really proud of and I think it’s a beautiful film,” says Connor.
For Connor, “Mooch” was supposed to be his own Philly Special, the one project that finally would have him go all the way. That was not the case. The film did not make it to Sundance like he and Muscato had hoped, but that wasn’t anywhere near the end of the road.
“[Andrew called] and said, ‘Hey remember when we thought ‘Mooch’ was going to go into Sundance? What if the Bill Murray film just got into Cannes?'” says Connor. “I was in complete shock…It feels like the Philadelphia underdog story. There were so many times where I thought I was going to get my break and never did.”
The film is set to premiere at Cannes next month, and both Connor and Valdivieso will be heading to the South of France among the likes of Spike Lee and Bill Murray himself to celebrate.
“I’m just thrilled and I think it’s nice to represent Philadelphia out there on that stage. I’m just going to go there to have fun, and I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve never had anything screen at a film festival,” says Connor. “I think just being there, taking it in and watching this film on the big screen… then to say thank you to Bill in person is going to be pretty incredible as well.”
The underdog story has not ended, but just begun for Connor.
The Fishtown editor has also linked up with another Philly-bred filmmaker over at the Neighborhood Film Company, a unique organization that offers paid apprenticeships and career development to adults returning home from incarceration. They also come out with top-notch films— including the recent “Concrete Cowboy” starring Idris Elba.
Alongside Neighborhood Film Company’s Ricky Staub and Dan Walser, the Fishtown editing duo will be working on a feature documentary for a studio to come out in the future.
With “New Worlds” at Cannes, a feature documentary with a local production company in the works, and even with recent hit shows being filmed regionally like “Mare of Easttown,” this underdog story actually feels indicative for the city as a whole.
“Everything is looking on an upward trajectory [and] it feels like a really great time for Philadelphia and filmmaking here,” says Connor. “People told me, to be a great editor you have to move to NY or LA… And I didn’t do it. Philly is my home. I think that’s another thing that I take pride in and it makes me proud: I was able to stick to my guns, stay here and do what people told me I couldn’t do.”
Now, that’s a Philly Special.