This is the next post in a series of interviews with writers who have had their first films, web series, television assignment, etc. make it to the big or small or computer screen. It is an effort to find out what their journey was to their initial success.
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Next up: an interview with Louis Pappas writer of the Halls of Jacob and The Last Hit
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1963, Louis Pappas began his career on stage, with the Drexel Hill Players in 1971. In 2004 he founded Angry Pig Productions with the idea of using the camera to bring about social change. His first film, Off Ramps, a documentary dealing with the issue of the criminalization of the homeless population in his town, had a successful run being selected in five festivals out of only seven submissions. Since that time, he has written and directed several short films winning festival accolades and awards all over the world. In recent years Louis has also returned to acting, and has booked roles in several films including: The Shift starring Danny Glover, and The Last Hit, where he plays the lead, a hitman who saves a young girl from a ruthless gangster.
What is the name of your first screenplay that was produced?
I have been writing all of my life, but my first produced screenplay, called The Halls of Jacob, came shortly after my fortieth birthday. I think I spent too much time prior to that imitating the styles of writers I admired. Though I don’t believe any time spent writing is a waste, I feel strongly that, at the risk of sounding trite, you definitely have to find your own voice. I also believe the reason I finally gained traction on that project was that I chose a subject that had real meaning to me. If a story moves you, there is a good chance it will resonate with others as well. I am amazed at how many people donated their time and resources to help get that first film made because they believed in the story. The film, about an abused child and a dream that he has after being beaten unconscious, went on to win many festival awards and more importantly made me many dear friends who I still collaborate with to this day.
- Can you tell us a bit about the journey as to how it came about?
After writing the script, I set about trying to produce it myself. Truthfully, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. A gave the script to an actor I met on the festival circuit. This actor, Reed, who is now one of my best friends in the world, decided to help produce and did a hell of a job putting together the pieces necessary to make the movie. One of those pieces, Justin Marx, our DP, is another friend for life. As is often the case with DP’s, Justin brought some industry pros to the project with him. This was huge. With my friends, and a combination of students and professionals, we managed to make a movie.
- Tell me a little bit about the experience of having the project come to completion.
I’m embarrassed to say, but the very first time I saw my movie on the big screen, I got emotional. I was thinking about my father who had passed away a couple of years prior, and how supportive he was, and how proud he would have been if he could be there, and I totally lost my shit.
- What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in achieving that first project?
I think the hardest thing about that first project was figuring out how to direct a movie without letting on that I was a novice. I had industry experience working as an actor, but I had never directed a narrative. I never let anyone involved know that I had exactly zero experience behind the camera. I was terrified the entire time thinking they would figure out that I was a fraud. Fear can be a tremendous motivator. I spent a great deal of time prior to the shoot learning the language of production so I would sound like I knew what I was doing. I also read everything I could get my hands on regarding continuity and just how to put a film together. Rick Schmidt’s book and Film Directing Shot by Shot were my bibles.
- What have you learned about the industry when it comes to being a writer?
The most important thing I’ve learned about being a writer is to listen to what others have to say about your work. It could be that they like/dislike something or perhaps they have a character idea or story element. Whatever it is, listen. Why not? I’ve gotten wonderful ideas from friends by just being receptive. Everyone wants to tell their own stories. That is natural. But why not take some free advice from a friend who is engaged in your story? You decide what goes in ultimately, but use all of the weapons in your arsenal and don’t take advice as criticism.
- What are you working on now?
I’ve spent the last three years producing and promoting my first feature, The Last Hit. Unlike many independent films, we were lucky enough to be picked up by a good distributor. They have found us numerous outlets where you can watch or buy the film. The movie is doing very well and we are all thrilled at how we have been able to pay for the film and are now eagerly anticipating actual profits. I am also working very hard to try and breathe some life into my next feature-length script. It’s called Scars and Stripes, and without giving anything away, it’s about war, its effect on two lost souls, and how they develop a surrogate relationship that begins the road to healing.
- What is your favorite movie or TV series?
I know I’m late to the TV coming out party, but I have always been a silver screen kind of guy. I love movies. All genres. I think this last year was remarkable considering how the industry has been stifling creativity. When future generations look back at 2014, I think they will consider this one of the great years, right up there with 1939 and 1994. I loved Birdman, probably my favorite film of the year. Boyhood was an amazing achievement and a unique movie-going experience. Grand Budapest, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Whiplash…I’ve only scratched the surface, but what a year!
- Where do you think the movie and television industry is heading? What do you think its future is?
I think the industry is heading to smaller, more personal, story-driven movies. I hope there will always be a place for summer films on the big screen, but big budget blockbusters don’t play very well on your IPhone. Since more and more of people’s movie viewing is trending towards smaller screens, I think the natural direction is for smaller, more cost-effective films that play well in the palm of your hand.
- What parting advice do you have for writers?
I think there is too much emphasis on writing what you know. I think it is much more important to write what you care about.
- What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to get away from the industry?
I never feel compelled to “get away from the industry.” It is all I ever think about, and all I talk about to the extent that my friends will allow. I love everything about it. When I’m not writing, I still take the occasional acting gig. I don’t act for a living, so I can afford to be selective in what roles I read for. I’ve been known to take any job just to get on a production. I’ve PA’d and gripped. Even my day job as a video editor for CBS Sports allows me to stay somewhat creative and involved. I’d have to say that though fame and fortune have eluded me, I’ve been very lucky so far, and wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.
- Tell us something about yourself that many people may not know.
I grew up in a home that had two pianos in it. One, a small grand in the living room, and an old upright in the basement. At a very early age, my parents caught me playing from some of my father’s old sheet music. I guess they were impressed, because they immediately went out and found me a teacher. That teacher, Mrs. Mayerski, was also the director of a regional theater troupe called the Drexel Hill Players. She gave me my start in acting, and that eventually lead to everything else.
And check out the other interviews in the series:
Allan Brocka, http://ow.ly/LfQNy
Gregory Blair http://ow.ly/KZj9s
Josh Kim http://ow.ly/K7obx
Jim Thalman http://ow.ly/JQ8YT
David Au http://ow.ly/JwM0A
Dwayne Alexander Smith http://ow.ly/J8GJI
Haifaa Al-Mansour http://ow.ly/ITabq
Chad Crawford Kinkle http://ow.ly/HXLq0
Mikey Levy http://ow.ly/HA9Xm
Hilliard Guess http://ow.ly/HcOmr
Amir Ohebsion http://ow.ly/H8aPq
Donald McKinney http://ow.ly/GvPfn
Michelle Ehlen http://ow.ly/GvPr1