They Say

Stephen Vitale

1) How did you get into directing?
It was kind of by accident. I watched movies constantly growing up but working in entertainment never seemed like an option. I went to college to study business thinking maybe I’d work on Wall Street. Then when I was 19 I decided to make a short film for fun. I taught myself screenplay formatting, how to use editing software and took my parents camcorder and shot something. From then on I was addicted. I started taking film classes along with my business classes and would lug camera equipment across campus whenever I could to shoot and experiment. I ended up being a dual major with a degree in Marketing and a degree in Media Arts/Film. Right after college I moved to LA and have been directing as much as possible. The love for directing was always there, it just took me awhile to realize I could actually do it.

2) What is your most recent project?
I have a short comedy film coming out in May called The Untrained. I like subverting genre tropes so I’m riffing on the noir/spy/thriller trope of a hitman waiting in a dark corner to kill someone. It’s a very visually executed joke so I’ll leave the description at that. I’m also currently prepping a bigger science fiction short film/proof of concept titled Jettison. It’s an idea I think would make for a great feature film and something I hopefully get the chance to expand on.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
I really love seeing an idea come to life on set. It’s thrilling when everything coalesces in a way that not only achieves what you prepared for but also surprises you.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
The time between directing. I love directing and wish I could do it non-stop, all the time. So when you’re in a holding pattern, which can be for any number of reasons while trying to get a project off the ground, that’s the worst part. There is a silver lining though, whenever one project is idle I spend that time dreaming up new ones.

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.?
My main career goal is to direct features. I don’t want to specialize in one genre. The filmmakers I admire most are the ones that can go from one genre to another seamlessly. I also recognize and appreciate the benefits of trying it all: directing commercials, music videos, web content and television. I want to take what I learn from the various formats and add to my skill set as a director. Why rule anything out?

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?
At the risk of this turning into a list of names I’ll focus on one person. Gerry Speca. He was my screenwriting teacher at Bentley University and an immediate source of inspiration. I would go to his class twice a week and then I would go to his office a few more times a week to pick his brain and talk movies.

One of the many lessons he taught me was to be my own creator. Not to limit myself to one role in the filmmaking process. Not to wait for other people to write me a script or give me a directing opportunity. If I wanted to make a film I should go do it. So I do.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Without question my favorite director is Steven Spielberg. His films jumped off the screen and sparked my imagination and curiosity in such a powerful way. No matter how spectacular or extraordinary the subject matter he’s always able to make it feel so possible. After I first saw E.T. I stayed up late for days staring at the shed in my backyard from my bedroom window. After I first saw Jaws I re-evaluated how worth it swimming in the ocean was. I could go on and on. A lot of my work so far has been comedic so I do need to mention that Mel Brooks, Harold Ramis and Edgar Wright have greatly influenced me as well.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
I guess the movie that means the most to me personally is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial but I have so many favorite films. Favorite horror films, science fiction films, comedies, thrillers, dramas. It’s too hard to say one film is my favorite. My obsessive, eclectic and ever-growing movie collection paints a very clear picture of this. It also takes up a ton of space. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As for my favorite commercial, the one my brain went to first was Spike Jonze’s Ikea “Lamp” ad. Works so well on so many levels.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Garden City, NY. It’s a small town on Long Island. My first job in the film business was working as a development intern for Hasbro’s Motion Picture Division on the Universal lot. After I graduated from college I worked as a development intern and then as a director’s assistant at 21 Laps Entertainment at Fox. Then I jumped into television as a production assistant for the first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Most recently I was an executive assistant at Amblin Television and am currently a post production Assistant at Amblin Entertainment/DreamWorks. Actually, I was wrong. My first job in the film business was making popcorn at a movie theatre.