What MAKES Sammy Run? - The Scenes of Our Lives, that make up Our Career
Back again for another round of Sam Borowski-isms.
But, this week, after seeing Martin Scorsese's HUGO in 3-D in a wonderful art-house theater, I thought I would try something different - I thought I would get personal. You see, during this brilliant cinematic experience, the lead character, Hugo Cabret (played nicely by Asa Butterfield) is befriended by a young girl Isabelle (played so beautifully by Chloe Grace Moretz that you almost forget this is the little tough girl who played "Hit-Girl" in KICK ASS!), and the two discover that Isabelle's Godparents, who raise her have a history in the cinema.
In fact, Isabelle's Godfather, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley in a sweet performance), the audience comes to find out is a famous director, who directed one of the MOST famous early films of all-time, "VOYAGE TO THE MOON," (often retitled as A TRIP TO THE MOON). Most filmmakers have seen the famous clip of the rocket ship stuck in the moon's eye. It is often referenced in both film history, and early science fiction films.
And, everything you come to learn about Melies in the picture is true - including the fact that he went from a successful filmmaker to living out part of his life, working in a train station booth, running a small toy store, all the way back to a respected filmmaker, who was honored near the end of his life. He actually became known as "The Father of Special Effects," and his films became both inspirations and stepping stones for great auteurs such as D.W. Griffith.
The journey that Hugo and Isabelle embark on is quite inspirational for anyone who loves film, such as I do. Not just filmmakers, but actors, producers, writers - anyone whose heart and soul belongs to this business. I have to say the film affected me very much, and if you ARE a filmmaker and can't get this film - or how bittersweet and yet lovely at times this business can be, and how the film evokes that - then, you are in the wrong business, in my opinion.
This business has been one of the Great Loves of My Life, and this film got me thinking about some of the amazing things I've had to overcome, and some of the real joys I've had in doing so. Both my small victories, and my large victories. All of the frustrations and losses that led to the victories, awards and current succes I've experienced.
I hear filmmakers - both producers and directors - and actors and writers complain all the time, and I feel their pain. Know how much effort, emotion, blood, sweat and tears it takes to make it in this business. If someone relates frustration, sadness and pain to me, chances are I've experienced all of the same ... long before.
But, as my good friend Scott Essman likes to say, "You just keep banging on doors and doing stuff. Keep kicking them down...and pretty soon they can't ignore you anymore!"
And, while it may seem like a pep-talk, it's completely true. I am here on a Sunday night, after a long weekend that included plenty of work and meetings, inspired to write this particular BLOG.
I love this business. I may not always enjoy the unpleasant experiences, the cruel behaviour by some, the mistreatment of performers, artists and writers or the way the game is always played, but I have come to see that no relationship - be it professional or personal - is perfect.
You can love this business, and still accept there are parts of it that you love a lot less than the victories. (I've always said, "I play the game by the rules that were set forth for me. I didn't create the rules, I may not always like them, but I do play by them.")
But, I also say, "what in life is worthwhile that DOESN'T take effort?" Show me - what job, what person ( be it man or woman ), situation, house, whatever - just comes to you with no effort? I can't think of a single thing, short of winning the lottery. And, I don't suggest any of you pin your hopes on that outcome. Now, some of you say that this career is no better and I scott at that notion. Why? For this reason, I state it again:
"You just keep banging on doors and doing stuff. Keep kicking them down...and pretty soon they can't ignore you anymore!"
It doesn't matter if you are a director, producer, writer, actor, DP - or I don't care what - YOU have to prove yourself in this industry.
Three-time Oscar-Winning Director/Producer and huge movie mogul, Steven Spielberg, used to put on a suit, pick up a briefcase, and claim to be, the attorney Steven Spielberg in the Seventies, so he could sneak on to the Universal lot and try to meet people. Oscar-Winning Director Martin Scorsese, was fortunate enough to get some early help from low-budget, but hugely respected Producer, Roger Corman. Scorsese said this business was akin to attacking a giant monolith every day. Heck, I've received plenty of help from plenty of people - people such as my Producing mentor, Samuel M. Sherman, who has produced over 40 films. He's helped me in ways I can't even go into. I've gotten both advice and encouragement from 2-time Academy Award Winning Producer Albert S. Ruddy, the man who produced THE GODFATHER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, among many others. A man who I look up to, and who I now consider a friend.
Chances are if you are an actor and have struggled - have just gotten a BIG TV or movie audition and feel stressed and drained - I know how you feel. "But Sam you aren't an actor?" How about being offered $100,000 to write a script and then NOT getting the job - not getting it after jumping through hoops? After KNOWING I understood that story MORE than any other writer they could bring in? After putting up with all of the crap you put up with from people who like to dangle your dreams in front of you? Now, think I can't relate?
How about watching a $12.5 million movie deal for me to write and direct with an Oscar-Winning actor in the lead fall through - less than a week before Christmas, no less? How about that for an early stocking stuffer? Not exactly what you were writing Santa about, was it? Still think I can't relate?
Trust me, I relate. And, I feel ALL of your pain.
I still remember some of my best memories that stemmed from rough starts, such as when I had to FAX a script to a major actor - that night - to their home, only to find out that their FAX wasn't working, and I had to keep faxing this 90-something page script over-and-over in the wee hours of the morning, each time calling said actor to see what and how many pages they received. At the time, it was crazy, but that actor turned out to be a good friend of mine, and did do the project! (Keith David for those of you guessing at home. )
NIGHT CLUB, one of my recent films, and my most recent feature narrative, was an incredibly positive experience, though there was one night where we went past the allotted SAG Hours, had to pay penalties, and it never seemed to end. The location gave us crap for filming until 1:30 in the morning, and it was just a hard night to get through. I never forgot Sam Sherman's advice to me on the set that night: "Just get through it - get the shots and coverage you need and get through this night. They are all looking to you for leadership, just push through it - it will get better."
And, it did, almost immediately in fact, after speaking with one of my actors, Rance Howard on the set that night.
I turned to him and said, "I bet Ron Howard (Rance's Academy-Award Winning son) doesn't have to deal with this stuff anymore," to which Rance replied, "Well, Sam, I can pretty much guarantee you that's NOT true. I spoke to him this morning, and he still deals with the same issues you're dealing with (tonight)."
I can't convey to you the comfort I received in those words, that Ron Howard still deals with the same crap and issues I have to deal with!
But, I've had many unique feelings and victories in this industry. I am immensely proud of qualifying my film, THE MANDALA MAKER, in the Best Live-Action Short category for the Oscars, several years back. Thousands - YES THOUSANDS of short films - from many countries, are made for Oscar contention and submit, and yet double digits qualify. How many people can honestly say they've done that?
THE MANDALA MAKER won many awards during that time - including 3 in the prestigious ACCOLADE COMPETITION - and even screened in a block in the very prestigious FILM COLUMBIA FESTIVAL, alongside Oscar-nominated Best Pictures, PRECIOUS, UP IN THE AIR and The Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN.
Not sure I can even explain the kind of night I had when NIGHT CLUB had its World Premiere at last year's PHOENIX FILM FESTIVAL, where they treated us like Kings. I didn't even mind waking up at 5 a.m.-ish to be able to be interviewed on the NBC Morning Show about the closing night festivities or my film. To this day, people compliment me on that interview. Or meeting up with my DP Bill Schweikert at the A Loft Hotel (A luxurious W Hotel they put me up at), so I could grab lunch with him, and sharing a moment by the pool with he and my Academy Award Nominated actress Sally Kellerman.
Riding in the limo with Sally and Bill to the World Premiere to close out the festival in style in a HUGE IMAX-type screen in a wonderful Harkins Multiplex. Selling out the 500-seat Theater, and doing interview after interview before introducing the film.
Walking to the concession stand with Sally to get popcorn, hot dogs and drinks, as if I was 12 or 13, and about to watch STAR WARS. Watching one of my Exec Producers, Barry, throw back kernels of popcorn, while standing in the walkway coming into the darkened theater, just watching the movie intently. For a second, he caught my eye, and gave me a wide smile and a Thumbs Up! Just awesome!!
This festival was the last happy moment I remember before my mom, Joan Borowski, passed, just two short days after I got home from Arizona.
Then, there was the chilly night this past October, where my film, NIGHT CLUB, took home 5 Awards at the GOLDEN DOOR INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OF JERSEY CITY. We swept the acting categories when Oscar-Winner Ernie Borgnine (BEST MALE LEAD), the very talented Natasha Lyonne (BEST FEMALE LEAD) and Oscar-Nominee Sally Kellerman (BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR) all took home trophies. Dedicating the BEST DIRECTOR AWARD, trophy and speech to my mom, who was one of the reasons I took this material on in the first place. Having the legendary actor, Paul Sorvino tell me not to go too far, prediciting we were taking home BEST PICTURE honors next, which we did.
Hearing Oscar-Winning Director Leon Gast - a Jersey City native - tell me he was rooting for me, afterward. Hanging with Paul and Federico Castelluccio and Festival Director, Bill Sorvino, late into the night, while we munched on Italian food from Casa Dante, which catered closing night.
Sharing it with my actor and script superviser, Michael Maugeri, as well as the wonderful ForTalent girls, Melody, Meriden and Regal, who all rooted us on.
Still, to this day, to paraphrase Rocky Balboa, "... one of the greatest moments in the history of my life."
Giving it a close run was watching CREATURE FEATURE: 50 YEARS OF THE GILL-MAN, a documentary about the Creature From the Black Lagoon, that I wrote and produced and that featured Academy-Award Winner Benicio Del Toro, was narrated by the aforementioned David, and starred by good friend, the late, great Ben Chapman, open up for theatrical distribution. Going to its Premiere Screening, and then attending one of the theaters in NYC, doing a Q&A with director Matthew Crick that first week at the 7 p.m. show at one theater every day. Watching fairly large audiences enjoy the film.
Those kinds of victories are made to savor.
But, ultimately, I've always said, this business has been about the great people I've gotten to work with.
Making REX in Georgia, and meeting actors Robert Pralgo, who would go on to THE VAMPIRE DIARIES fame and much more, and J. Todd Smith, whom I gave an opportunity to help produce NIGHT CLUB, and who will one day be a great producer. I have worked with each multiple times, and consider them two of my closest friends in this crazy business. Watching a young actress, and someone very close to me, Robin Anne Phipps blossom and come into her own, as she played the character of Dee in REX, and then collaborated on THE MANDALA MAKER with me.
Getting to work with Courtney Hogan, who became the title character in MANDALA - I have so much respect for what she took on in that role and in the time frame she was given. Or the feeling I get when I turn on the T.V. and see my Oscar-Nominated cousin, Danny Aiello, act in something. Or my good friend, Daniel Roebuck, who has worked with me on just about every movie I've ever made, and who has opened up his home to me many times when I've been in California on business.
The aforementioned Essman and Howard, who compared me to 3-time Academy-Award Nominated director, Joshua Logan.
Duane Whitaker - who is every bit as charming in regular life as he is in PULP FICTION - .
Meeting my favorite Director of Photography, William "Bill" Schweikert, on MANDALA and going on to shoot three pictures - so far - with him. My editor Joann Murano, who I continue to tout as another Thelma Schoonmaker (Martin Scorsese's 3-time Oscar-Winning Editor), who has worked well with me these past three projects. Getting to know the wonderful Bill Sorvino, whose film festival truly is the next Tribeca! Working with him and the aforementioned Castelluccio on POLLINATION * not to mention fellow Staten Islander Maria Rusolo.
Making wonderful friends with longtime idols such as Borgnine, Sorvino, Kellerman, Del Toro and Ruddy. Meeting Jonathan Krane, the uber-producer, who has produced something like 10 films with John Travolta, whom I got to meet at THE PUNSHIER premiere at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
And, I continue to meet new people all of my students - such as Anthony Pallino, Guyviaud Joseph, Mariam Giorgadze, Herbie Williams and Maugeri. Kiera Morrill, a wonderful actress I met at this year's TRAIL DANCE FILM FESTIVAL, who can outbelch any boy I know. Daniel McQueary, a young director I met at the same festival that I now consider a close friend. And so many other people from that festival. All of my current and previous assistants including Lisa Buffington and Brett Rosenberg.
And, I certainly couldn't forget the winner and MY NEXT GREAT SUCCESS STORY, Samantha Tuffarelli, who works as hard as anyone I know. She is not only a wonderful actress, and a welcome addition to my class, but a wonderful human being, as well. And with that combination you go far. I have immense respect for her as both an actress ... and a human being. And, her talent is only matched by her ability to be a chameleon - not a bad trait for an actor to have. I can honestly say that getting to know her personally, has helped to enrich my life. She has as much passion for this business as anyone I know. A kindred soul, to be sure.
In fact, there are so many wonderful people I have worked with, I am sure I am leaving someone out, but that's my point: working with all of these great people I respect has been equally important as the awards and the films themselves.
Yes, this business, much like it was for Georges Melies, continues to be one of the Great Loves of My Life. And that is why I do what I do.
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Film / Theater / TV, Writing
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – ACTORS & FILMMAKERS: MAKE IT HAPPEN ON YOUR OWN! CREATE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES!
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – ERNEST BORGNINE: THEY DON’T MAKE ‘EM LIKE THAT ANYMORE
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – FILMMAKERS YOU WILL NEVER HAVE THIS CHANCE AGAIN!
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – BE THE NEXT SAMANTHA TUFFARELLI
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – THIS CAREER IS NOT A PART-TIME THING
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – ACTORS AND FILMMAKERS – YOU MUST BOTH “BRAND” YOURSELVES TO BE SUCCESSFUL
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – THE THING YOU LEAST EXPECT TO HELP YOU COULD BE YOUR BREAK
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – ‘SO YOU WANT TO BE AN ACTOR OR FILMMAKER? DO THE BARE MINIMUM
- What MAKES Sammy Run? – WHEN YOU REFUSE TO LEARN, THE BRIDGES WILL BURN
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - NETWORK FOR SUCCESS
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - The Scenes of Our Lives, that make up Our Career
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - I would like to Thank The Academy ... for INSPIRATION!
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - Film Festivals can help filmmakers and actors alike to blaze NEW TRAILS in 2012
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - Blazing NEW TRAILS in 2012
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - Start the NEW YEAR with an 'ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE'
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - THIS PERSON could be MY NEXT GREAT SUCCESS STORY!
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - Robert Pralgo, an actor's actor, and a real man's Heath Ledger
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - The Killer Boris Karloff
- What MAKES Sammy Run? - Will YOU be my NEXT GREAT SUCCESS STORY?