This week, I was fortunate to have a chat with Sam Platizky, a New York-based actor, writer, and filmmaker from my hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey. Along with working on multiple independent films and web series, Sam has also self-produced and starred in two of his own original screenplays, both featuring everyone’s favorite movie monster—the zombie.
The horror-comedy Blaming George Romero (Official Selection 2011 Bergenfield Film Festival, Official Selection 2011 Golden Door International Film Festival) tells the story of four film-fanatic friends who jump on the chance to be “survivors” when they think the zombie apocalypse has begun. And Red Scare (2012 Gold Kahuna Award Winner at the Honolulu Film Awards, 2012 Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival, Official Selection at the 2012 NJ International Film Festival, Official Selection at the 2012 Golden Door International Film Festival, and Honorable Mention at the 2012 Mockfest Film Fest in Los Angeles) details American hero Rex Steel’s fight against the dastardly Soviet plot to bring the living dead to our shores.
Talking with Sam this week, I asked him to tell me a bit more about the moviemaking process.
The Faux Phantom: Can you tell me a bit about how you first got interested in screenwriting and filmmaking?
Sam: I have been acting since the 7th grade, but I got interested in screenwriting and filmmaking shortly after I graduated from college. After seeing Zach Braff’s Garden State, I remember liking the idea that he wrote himself a role because no one else was going to do it for him. I was growing unhappy with not being cast in things and being cast in things that weren’t that great. So, one day, I decided to sit down and write myself roles that I would enjoy playing.
The Faux Phantom: So in addition to Garden State, what other films and people would you say have influenced your work?
Sam: I am always influenced by Mel Brooks. I have been watching his movies forever, and they are near and dear to me. There are no comedies quite like his. I love everything I have seen Edgar Wright do, especially the Cornetto Trilogy, from the visuals to the scripts to the casting and even his style of editing, so I am sure that there is some influence from him and Simon Pegg in my work.
Kevin Smith, another Jersey Boy who made good on the indie circuit, is another person who I admire. I feel like my first screenplay that was produced, Blaming George Romero, might have been trying too hard to feel like a Kevin Smith movie— in terms of the dialogue, at least. But I just love movies altogether. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching movies, so I guess I have been influenced by all of the movies I have seen in one way or another.
The Faux Phantom: So both Blaming George Romero and Red Scare are about zombies. Would you say you’ve taken some cues from Pegg and Wright’s Shaun of the Dead?
Sam: I’ve been a fan of zombie movies for a long time, but I loved Shaun of the Dead. I’d say there are similar themes in Blaming George Romero and Shaun of the Dead: friendship, living vs. surviving, growing up, etc.
Red Scare is its own animal though. It sprang from [Blaming George Romero] but it was really more of an ode to Mel Brooks’ comedies and the 1950’s as a time period.
Zombies are a good tool, because they are basically blanks. They are scary, but they have no real motivation beyond hunger, so they can be put in any situation and they work. Romero used them to great effect in his films, and I’m just trying to follow his great example. I hope I’ve done Romero, Wright, and Pegg proud.
The Faux Phantom: So can you tell me a bit about Blaming George Romero’s conception?
Sam: I had written a big budget zombie horror period piece, and realized I’d never be able to film it at this point in my career, so I sat down and wrote a smaller, more personal piece that would be film-able. I wrote it with 90% of the cast in mind, and that was BGR.
I met with a more tech savvy friend of mine, Brad Resnick, and we hammered out the details of how we could produce a feature length film. We used a crowd funding website called Indiegogo to raise the majority of our funds, and we got to work.
The Faux Phantom: And how was the filmmaking process?
Sam: The actual film making was a wild ride. With few exceptions, no one involved had ever been part of anything like this, so we were all learning as we went. In any group of different personalities you are going to have some conflicts. We did. Everyone was working for free, the conditions and locations weren’t always great, and tempers flared. It wasn’t always easy, but fortunately we kept pushing through and finished. By the end of filming and post production, I was happy that we did it, but I felt like I never wanted to undertake anything like it again. So, naturally, a week after we premiered BGR, I got to work on Red Scare.
The Faux Phantom: And how did the Red Scare process go?
Sam: By contrast, it was much easier and smoother. As a group we had gotten into our groove. We knew what we were doing now. The crew was populated only with people who shared the same positivity and creative vision. In addition, the director, Bill Dautrick, and I shared a nearly identical vision for what we wanted this movie to be. Thanks to all of this, each shoot went much more smoothly/quickly than BGR shoots. Also, the fact that this was strictly a comedy made the mood on set much lighter. It was one of the best experiences of my life, to be honest.
That’s not to say that we didn’t run into our share of problems. I think that on any movie set, some things will go wrong, and not always the things you might think. This time around, though, we knew how to deal with problems a little better, and when things did go wrong the lack of negativity in the cast and crew really made a difference.
I’d be remiss not to mention that there were four people who were there for every shoot with me whose professionalism, creativity, and positivity went a long way towards making Red Scare the success that it was: Loarina Gonzalez, Sean Feuer, Tony Pineiro, and Joey Mosca.
The Faux Phantom: After everything, what would you say the legacy of the two films has been? Both in regard to your own life and work and to the movies’ successes?
Sam: Well, we didn’t make money, that’s for sure. Red Scare won some awards. Both movies are now available on Amazon, and will hopefully be available in more platforms as time goes on. So, its out there and can be seen by anyone who wants to, so that is a legacy of a sort. They got me into the filmmaking side of the business, and I have no plans to quit, so that is another type of legacy.
As far as the future goes, who knows? BGR was released in 2011 and Red Scare in 2012, so it hasn’t been that long. I think both movies touched lives, you know? Both movies will always be a part of the cast and crews’ lives. Whether they go on to bigger and better things, or whether they don’t continue in the arts, the people that were involved can always look back on that time in their lives with, hopefully, fondness. They are their movies as much as they are mine.
But, honestly, what matters most is that I did what I set out to do. I made two movies that I am insanely proud of, and I got to meet and work with some fantastic people while I was doing it. If I never did anything but those two movies, I would be happy. I think I have left the world with something. Hopefully something that people will enjoy for many years to come.
The Faux Phantom: So what can we expect next from you?
Sam: I just finished shooting a web series called “Lost & Found,” and am in the post production phase of things now. It’s about a group of strangers who find each other after a near tragedy and get together to create a show of their own in an effort to help each other. Beyond that, there are a few scripts that are being tossed around my group ranging from horror shorts to feature length romantic comedies and everything in between.
Who knows? He’s centered here in Hudson County, so maybe you’ll see a few familiar faces and places on your screen.