The Ninjabot

Interview: Zachary Quinto Talks THE CHAIR, Being a Filmmaker

Posted on August 31, 2014 at 9:12 am by Amanda Andonian

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Whether playing the villain as Sylar on Heroes, or taking over the mantle of Spock in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, Zachary Quinto has a passion for his work. He’s now co-producing a new series on Starz, The Chair, which gives two aspiring directors the chance to make a film from the same script, but give it their own interpretation. He spoke to Sci-Fi Talk’s Tony Tellado in a phone press conference about his upcoming project, which premieres on Starz September 6th, 11:00 pm.

You’ve done Broadway, big screen, small screen, with being the mentor as behind the scenes, how do you see the role of mentor being different from being a mentor to an actor being either stage, television or film ?

I think I learned as much as a participant in so many ways. I’ve had a production company for six years and produced a number of films. I’ve been developing a lot of material as I go. But this is a unique experience for me. Being able to witness a transformation in both in of these young artists. And to watch them grow and find their voice in a way that is really inspiring and really motivating for me in terms of the aspirations that I have as a writer and a director. I was really excited on that aspect of it. Unfortunately because my work as an actor, I was shooting a movie overseas the majority of the time these guys were in production. So I really wanted to be on set and more of a daily presence that I was able to be because of my schedule. But I Skyped in with them and called them through the process and monitored things from a far. But that was the way that it had to go. I look forward to hopefully future seasons of the show where I can be more involved on a daily basis.

So has technology like Skype changed the whole filmmaking process?

Sure, yeah. Technology and the advances in technology in the last fifteen years have entirely changed the landscape of filmmaking and the whole nature of our industry. Accessibility and young artists being able to put their work out there in ways that they were not able to before. It’s been a revolution for better and for worse.

There are ways I believe where it has ‘muddied’ the water. You really have to be commanding of people’s attention in order to get your work out there and be taken seriously. Everybody that is interested can throw up a video on YouTube or on the Internet somehow. So it dilutes the stream of content in a way that it can be a little bit of a challenge. The nature of our civilization is sort of evolving with the things that we create. So technology is a prime example of that.

When you do talk to the filmmakers and answer questions that they have, what was the depth of those conversations? Was it about camera work, working with actors or was it a lot deeper about the script itself, the story?

For me it would have been a different experience had I been able to be on set with these filmmakers on a regular basis. I think the conversations would have been deeper and more substantive because of so much distance. Once they were in production and I was shooting a movie in a completely different time zone, it became more difficult for me to be involved on a moment by moment basis. I would say that our conversations were more preliminary and in the developmental stage of the process before they actually got into production. It was more about script content, more about tone and style. How they intended to use the city.

Shooting in Pittsburgh was an important aspect of this experience for me because that’s where I’m from and where my partners and I went to college. How they wanted to use the city as a part of their experience with their movies, I was really interested in. I feel like the nature of those conversations tended to be more practical than esoteric. I have a pretty good relationship with Anna (Martemucci) and so I feel like I have more of a relationship with her because I knew her a little bit. We had more conversations that were on going but with Shane (Dawson) I felt like, because I didn’t have a familiarity with his style and sensibility. So it was more about the script and his plans to go into production and giving my perspective on that.

After seeing what the filmmakers went through in getting their films made, did it change your impressions of filmmaking?

I certainly respect and admire their commitment and their bravery for lack of a better word to step into this position and to put themselves out there on the line as a first time feature director and also being documented through the process. It was really inspiring. As I watch the show now, it continues through out the first season to see these people come to an experience that was relatively foreign and overwhelming in so many ways. They really inhabited it with confidence with a strong voice and strong perspective. That for me was the gratifying part of the process. I would say that I took that from it. It kind of gave me a little kick in the ass to get my own ambitions motivated in some ways in terms of getting behind the camera which is what I’m really interested in.

I love the show’s cinema verité style. It has elements of a competition series and reality series. Yet you’re doing it very differently. Can you tell us the planning that went into the series and why you chose this direction?

For me the idea of reality television is something that is challenging, and by and large, I’m not really very interested in it. So to be considered part of something as a producer, I had a lot of trepidations and concerns. I feel like that Chris Moore was the reason I ultimately got involved. Because he is an incredibly articulate and accomplished producer in his own right. But he also had this experience with Project Greenlight which I felt like it would lend itself to the kind of story that we would want to tell in this space. I really do consider this a documentary series rather than a reality show. There is a competition element but it’s rooted in a lot of integrity. It was hugely important to me that there was not a lot of interference or manipulation. And that we provided these directors with an environment that allows them to do the best work that they can do just as we would with any director that we’re working with at my production company. Maintaining that baseline integrity was very important to me. And with the regard of the aesthetic of the show, I have a love affair with my hometown. I think it’s a beautiful city. The people in Pittsburgh are incredible, generous and hard working people. I wanted to make sure that we did everything that we could to capture the nuisance of the city and the beauty of the city. Tony Sacco was the director of the documentary aspect of this. Done such an incredible job in terms of sharing the unique beauty of Pittsburgh with audience and really capturing it in a special way. Those were the things that were important to me going in. Making sure that we’re being fair that we’re being honest in terms of what we’re putting out there and what we’re capturing. Maintaining a level of integrity that I think is important in this kind of world.

What do you think not necessarily in this case, but what is the area for the biggest pitfalls for young filmmakers when they are starting to make a film?

It’s different for everyone. I think that becomes clear with this series and that’s why I’m so proud of it. It depends on the personality. It depends on the experience. It depends on the perspective of each of these people as artists. I think that is part of what the series works to capture. What are the pitfalls? Are your particular pitfalls about scheduling, budgeting, sticking to a budget, sticking to a schedule? Or are your particular pitfalls about what you want creatively to your production designer or your actors? Or your pitfalls have a sense of perspective that doesn’t include other people’s opinions. There are many different things with first time directors that can happen. I think both the directors in this case recognize and work through their challenges in an interesting way. And I think you see that through the evolution of the series. I think pitfalls are different for everybody. That’s what makes so interesting is that you get to see that as the audience as the process unfolds.

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