I am an independent filmmaker that does a little bit of everything- write, shoot, direct, edit, produce- on a wide variety of projects. I grew up in Philadelphia, and returned to the area in 1997 to marry my high school sweetheart and start Coyopa Productions, my client service business. I’ve done everything from weddings and bar mitzvahs to commercials, corporate, educational, and legacy films. Over the years, I’ve managed to squeak out a few of my own projects, including Invisible Mountains which won Best Film at DV magazine’s 2003 film festival. I first started developing my still-image movie technique with 2007’s Fridays at the Farm, which won several awards and was selected for ten traveling film festivals before airing nationally on The Sundance Channel. Later that year, I created Prayer for Philadelphia, which won the grand prize in a contest held by the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve also I’ve received three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships (for screenwriting, documentary, and narrative filmmaking).
In 2009, I co-founded Spring Garden Pictures, which is a non-profit film organization that creates films and supporting educational materials for science museums. Our first big project is Watermelon Magic, which has been released in seven markets (currently at Harrisburg’s Whitaker Center) and will open in Seattle this spring and at the Smithsonian in D.C. later this year.
You can reach Rich at:
And now, the 12 Questions.
1. What kind of kid were you?
I was a bit of a smart aleck as a kid- always trying to make my classmates laugh and getting in trouble for it. I didn’t mind making myself the butt of a joke if it got someone to smile. I was and am still curious about most things, and never really understood the phrase “I’m bored”. I played lots of different sports, was into comic books, and discovered way too late that I am ambi-dexterous (Catholic school casualty…)
2. What influences have shaped you?
When I saw David Lynch’s Wild at Heart as a sophomore in high school, I thought- “what the hell was that?” I didn’t know you were allowed to make movies that beautiful and twisted. I always loved watching movies as a kid- Star Wars, Time Bandits, The Dark Crystal, Raiders of the Lost Ark come to mind, but they seemed so otherworldly and beyond my capabilities that I never imagined myself as a maker of films. Wild at Heart opened a door for me and allowed me to dream of my own space as a creator in this medium. Prior to that, I had begun to get very interested in art in high school, and thought I might want to be a painter. As I began to make more films, I realized that filmmaking was a better fit for my abilities. I continue to be influenced by art, music, and the natural world, perhaps more so than I am by other films.
3. Ever done anything really dumb?
Oh yeah! One time I put my thumb on a cigarette lighter just to see if it worked. Ouch! That might have been forgivable in a 5-year old, but I was 18 at the time. My thumb blistered up pretty bad and I had a hard time falling asleep that night. Another time I stuck a knife in a toaster to get out a stuck piece of bread. Luckily, my brother unplugged it before I electrocuted myself.
4. How’d you learn to do what you do?
I started out making karate movies with a friend in middle school. He had a big VHS shoulder-style camera that he borrowed from his aunt (and never gave back), and we would make films with in-camera edits. We didn’t have a tripod, so his 8-year old sister would often be the DP. The camera had a cool overdub function, so we would score it with a Casio keyboard and add dialogue after shooting.
As a senior in high school, I took an independent study on filmmaking, since we didn’t have a real course or equipment. I saved up from my job as a dishwasher at a pizza place to buy a camera of my own, then used two VCR’s to crash edit the way I did in middle school. By this time, I had applied to a bunch of art programs and NYU film school. I chose the latter and loved it. After graduating, I worked at a stock footage house in NYC and watched a lot of time-lapse footage. I finished up my senior project (shot on 16mm film), and then moved back to the area with my wife. Since I couldn’t afford film, the arrival of digital video was a great way for me to continue to create at a relatively affordable level. After making a feature in DVCAM, I missed the clarity and color depth of film, but HD was still out of reach. I decided to try making a film with a high-resolution digital still camera, and have loved experimenting with time-lapse and various still image techniques ever since. This ultimately led to my recent completion of an IMAX film (Watermelon Magic) for science museums using over 200,000 stills. I find that I am continually learning new things and trying to expand my palette of abilities. Next up- become a better draftsman for storyboarding!
5. What are you working on now?
I have several fulldome/Giant Screen films in development, including a collaboration with Tim Shepherd, an amazing cameraman that specializes in plant time-lapse photography. We’re also working on more supporting materials for Watermelon Magic, including a children’s book and a hands-on exhibit for museums. I continue to do client work, and am always grateful when someone thinks my talents are worthy of hire! Here’s a piece we just finished for the Philadelphia Flower Show: http://www.vimeo.com/springgarden/whatisbeauty.
6. Walk us through a typical day at work.
When I’m not out shooting or working in Spring Garden Pictures’ space in Philly, I usually am working from my home office. I start by making a big pot of black tea, then take twenty minutes or so to plan my day and center myself. I try to reserve mornings for creative work- writing, editing, drawing, etc. In the afternoons, I will usually do what I call my producing work- correspondence, meetings, planning, billing, etc. At some point, I try to sneak an eighteen-minute power nap, which recharges me for the rest of the afternoon and a night with the family. Sometimes, I have entire days/weeks of producing work, or creative work, but I find that I am usually happier if I can balance my day out with a bit of both.
7. Who do you love?
I love my wife and three kids, my dog, my parents, my brothers and sister, my community of friends, my clients, and of course, my donors!
8. What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about this planet, and hope my work can in some way raise awareness for us all to become better stewards of it. I am more than a little discouraged by the onslaught of dystopian fantasies of the future that are currently pervasive in the media, and hope to counter that with more positive visions that we can aspire to create.
9. What are you proudest of?
I’m proudest of my family and the love that we share. As for my projects, it is usually the last thing that I’ve worked on, though occasionally I see a glimmer of something good in my older work.
10. Describe a great night out.
A date with my wife is top on my list, usually dinner and a movie. I have gotten her interested in good beer, so we like to find places that cater to us beer snobs. I also love playing poker, darts, and other games with my homies. I’m a gamer and much more competitive than I’d like to admit, and I’ll play just about anything except lawn darts. I might hurt myself.
11. So what’s next for you?
One of my joys is that I never quite know what is next. There are always projects swirling in the ethers that are waiting to be manifested. Usually, something beyond my control compels me to bring them into form. Often, this involves funding of some sort. Sometimes, it is an unending nagging from within that tells me I must make a film, but money definitely helps!
12. What will your epitaph say?
Husband, Father, Friend. Shine a Light in the Darkness till the end.
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