For Quinnipiac University senior film student and Shelton resident Cory Maffucci, John Ratzenberger is voice of Hamm the Piggy Bank from the movies Toy Story I, II and III, as well as a host of other Pixar characters.
(Ratzenberger is known as Pixar's "lucky charm," having voiced characters in all 13 of its films.)
But for others, he'll be forever known as mailman Cliff Clavin from the TV show "Cheers," where he was the font of all knowledge trivial ("It's a little known fact...") and compadre to barfly Norm. It's also where he spent the last five of the 11 seasons of the Emmy-award winning show both acting and directing episodes.
On Wednesday, he brought his decades of experience both in front of and behind the camera to Quinnipiac, where he took part in the filming of a training video as part of the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program.
Eighty-nine Connecticut residents "from all walks of life" are students in the program, said Quinnipiac University's Liam O'Brian, who is chairman of the Film Video & Interactive Media Department. They range in age from 17 to 62, he said.
The short film produced will be finished by October, he said, after which it will be entered into film festivals and eventually land on the Quinnipiac University website.
The production of the movie is part of the fifth annual Connecticut Film Industry Training Program at Quinnipiac. The program is for Connecticut residents who want to learn the basics of feature film and episodic television production and pursue entry-level freelance work in the industry. Trainees are learning about union membership, which is required to work on most large productions shooting in the state.
“This comprehensive program equips students with the specialized skills and intensive hands-on experience they need to pursue careers in the industry,” said Charles Miller, administrator of the Film Industry Training Program. “In addition, they have had the valuable and unique opportunity to build relationships with accomplished professionals in the field.”
"Local Commercial" is a short comedy that explores the trials and tribulations of a low-budget commercial crew, and the film industry's youth-centered culture. It's about a 58-year-old director, who's replaced by a 14-year- old director, who's then replaced by an 8-year-old director. Richard and Didi Dobbs of Easton wrote the film and Richard is directing it.
It was the Dobbs -- who were classmates at SHU -- who got Ratzenberger involved this year.
Since its inception, the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program has placed 421 graduate trainees on its roster who have amassed more than 12,000 days of freelance work, paid and unpaid, internships and deferrals. Last year, a record number of FITP graduate trainees worked on feature films and television shows which shot in Connecticut.
Areas of specialization include assistant directing, location management, production office coordination, script supervision, lighting and grip, camera, sound, props and set dressing and wardrobe.
Upon completion of the program, graduating trainees receive a certificate from the state Office of Film, Television and Digital Media.
"It's been absolutely amazing - like living a dream," said Maffucci, who will graduate from Quinnipiac next year, of the month-long program. "It's like being on a real set, a professional environment."
And he describes Ratzenberger as "awe-inspiring."
"There are a lot of people here who are excited for him to be here because of Cheers, but us younger kids are used to him in the Pixar movies," Maffucci said. "That's been everyone's childhood.
"It's been a wonderful experience to be around him," Maffucci said. "He is extremely funny and a really nice guy."
While known for his role in Cheers and in all 13 Pixar films, Ratzenberger also has other projects he has been involved in, including the Travel Channel show "Made in America," where he traveled across the country highlighting American manufacturing and how things are made -- everything from Gibson guitars in Nashville to the Massachusetts manufacturer Yankee Candle.
He's also working on the project Mobile Outreach Skills Training that brings mobile training units to schools to help train the unemployed and underemployed to learn the skills most needed in the workplace -- including machine operation, assembly, inspection and welding.
"Manufacturing is to America as spinach is to Popeye," he said. "Without it we would be a third-world country."
Ratzenberger grew up in Bridgeport, a main manufacturing center in his time, and took with him an appreciation for the traditional blue collar jobs. He attended Sacred Heart University but after college it was his carpentry skills that got him through until the jobs starting coming in, he said.
He has never forgotten his Bridgeport roots. Bridgeport often came up on Cheers, and in one episode Cliff gave the Park City a shout-out when he could be seen sitting at the bar reading an issue of the now-defunct Bridgeport Light newspaper published by Lennie Grimaldi.
But sadly he had some bad news for Cheers aficionados -- there's no Cheers reunion on the horizon. Not that he wouldn't like to see one done, Ratzenberger said.
"I've asked them why my phone isn't ringing," he said. "If it were up to me, we would have a Cheers reunion every Christmas."