Michael Fiore (R) and Erik Sharkey (L)
1) How did you get into directing?
Fiore: After graduating from NYU’s undergraduate film program, I began working as a producer/editor. Those creative roles helped me build wonderful relationships in the commercial, film, and TV worlds. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller first-and-foremost regardless of whether I was producing or editing. As a producer especially, I keep my finger in every aspect of production, to the benefit of story. In recent years, it made sense to take my broad skill-set and knowledge from producing/editing and apply it to directing.
Sharkey: I went to film school at the Pratt Institute and after graduating I worked as a PA, cameraman and AD for many years before I decided to self-fund and write/direct my first feature film “Popstar, PI”.
2) What is your most recent project?
Fiore and Sharkey: “Floyd Norman: An Animated Life” is our feature documentary about the first African-American animator at Disney. We dissect how Floyd Norman impacted, and continues to impact, the animation industry. We reveal how Floyd (now 80 years old) stirs up his own brand of “trouble” as he contends with ageism in the corporate arts. The movie is very timely given what transpired at the Academy Awards earlier this year regarding racism and ageism. This is our first creative collaboration together and it has been a wonderful journey.
3) What is the best part of being a director?
Fiore: I love seeing pre-vis come to life. It’s very rewarding when the end product mirrors your initial storyboards. When I step on-set, my goal is to have every aspect of a narrative mapped out, but execute it in a way that the end result feels spontaneous and unpredictable to the viewer.
Sharkey: Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I just love telling stories. I love working with talented people and finding creative ways to take an audience on a journey.
4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Fiore and Sharkey: The worst part about being a director is saying “that’s a wrap.” The creative process on-set is so wonderful, but it’s rare to have enough time to do things exactly as we may have planned. The key is to be flexible and to have a back-up plan for the initial game plan. Being open-minded and flexible are the keys to being a successful and happy director. Oh, and a comfortable pair of shoes is key!
5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
Fiore: I develop, finance, and produce feature films through my company — Michael Fiore Films. Getting a feature film off the ground is a slow burn, so my day-to-day focus is the production and post of commercials and branded content. Jumping back and forth between those two worlds, I have to be nimble and versatile. So my creativity is not limited by medium or genre, or long or short format. Up next in 2016, I have a suspense/thriller that I produced being released by Sony Screen Gems called “Keep Watching” starring Bella Thorne (MTV’s “Scream”) and Chandler Riggs (“The Walking Dead”).
Sharkey: Right now my focus is on making documentary films. I love making movies that focus on real people.
6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Fiore: My first film professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts was Nick Tanis. Nick and I have remained close friends over the years. Nick taught me many things about filmmaking, but what has always stuck with me is his passion for movies — the history, criticism, and production of them. I realized that to be the best, and do your best, you have to immerse yourself fully in cinema and storytelling. I caught Nick’s passion and I’m grateful for that.
Sharkey: My mentor is “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” poster artist Drew Struzan. Over the years he has become a good friend and has taught me a lot about hard work and how to express myself artistically.
7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Fiore: David Fincher is a master storyteller and craftsman. He gives equal interest to performance, camera, visual effects, and editorial. His films are precise in their execution, but never formulaic, or predictable. Films like “Se7en”, “The Game”, and “Fight Club” redefined the language and execution cinema and commercial production.
Sharkey: I know it’s cliche, but growing up my favorite director was Steven Spielberg. I loved his versatile storytelling abilities. His films always had a great mix of drama, comedy, imagination and heart.
8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Fiore: “Back to the Future” is the greatest movie ever made. It balances multiple genres with ease, while evoking a sense of nostalgia, wonder, and adventure. Director Robert Zemeckis manages to ground a far-fetched premise with lovable and identifiable characters that make the audience feel heartfelt emotion.
Sharkey: My favorite movie is “Ed Wood,” directed by Tim Burton. I think that movie perfectly captures the spirit of a filmmaker and how far you have to be willing to go to get a film made.
9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Fiore: I grew up in Far Hills, New Jersey to two science-minded parents. But they have a creative streak of their own, down deep. They recognized my creative impulse and supported it at an early age. My Dad would let me use his over-sized VHS camera to make stop-action videos of my “Star Wars” action figures. When you couple that with my maternal Grandfather’s insatiable appetite for movies and music (he had a collection of nearly 1500 Beta and VHS tapes — which I now own) it became clear that I was destined to work in the visual arts.
Sharkey: I was born and raised in New York City and used to love going to movies in Times Square before they cleaned up the neighborhood. I went to film school at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn on a full scholarship and I’ve been very lucky to work in many facets of film and video production in New York over the years, culminating in directing.