Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/17//19 –John Gallagher is a New York City-based filmmaker, a fixture on the New York scene for 40 years as a director, writer, producer, author, historian, and educator, with a wide range of international filmmaking resources and relationships, and a highly regarded, encyclopedic knowledge of films and filmmaking. His track record is especially strong in discovering and mentoring new talent, both in front of and behind the camera.
Among the Actors, John has worked with in debut or significant early roles are John Leguizamo, Amanda Peet, Zach Braff, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Lillard, Vincent Pastore, Heather Matarazzo, Steve Stanulis and Denis Leary. In October 2018 John was the first recipient of the Cutting Room Film Festival Lifetime Career Achievement Award for Directing, his third such honor.
Share your background.
John Gallagher: I am the oldest son of Vincent and Lee Gallagher. Dad is Irish-Italian American from Woodside, Queens, Mom is Sicilian-American from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I am blessed to come from a loving and supportive family, with both parents still with us at 88 years of age, celebrating 66 years of marriage on November 22. Dad has become an Author late in life (see VincentGallagherBooks.com) I was raised in Queens, Baldwin NY, Chicago, Cincinnati, and suburban Philadelphia, where I came of age. I graduated from Emerson College in Boston, where I made student films, started a film festival, and founded and edited the film journal Grand Illusions, which allowed me to interview Francois Truffaut, Elia Kazan, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Robert Wise, John Frankenheimer, Tay Garnett, and many others. When I was eleven, I started making Super 8mm shorts starring my kid brother Vinny.
When did you discover your love for writing?
John Gallagher: My love of writing began with being a voracious reader as a kid. I was partial to Classics Illustrated comic books, and history, especially anything to do with the American Revolution and the Civil War, interests instilled in me by my Dad. I always had my nose stuck in a book and often would read by flashlight under the bed covers. The other major influence was cinema. In the pre-video era, I would get straight A’s in school so that my parents would let me set the alarm clock for 2 AM to watch a classic film. I would tape-record the credits and write the data on index cards along with notes about the film unintentionally giving myself an education in our film legacy that has served me so well over the years.
You have been a fixture on the New York scene for 40 years as a director, writer, producer, author, and historian. How has New York shaped your view of the world?
John Gallagher: New York is the capital of the world and the center of the universe in so many ways. The culture, the energy, the diversity is unmistakable. As a New Yorker, it is impossible to create without the city informing your every move. It is also traditionally home to repertory theaters and venues like the Museum of Modern Art satiate the cinematic lust of any cineaste.
You’ve written mostly everything you have directed. How has this given you an advantage in your films?
John Gallagher: If I have to argue with the Writer, I just have to argue with myself. I generally do not disagree with me. I’ve often rewritten myself on set because of location or performance. Actors know that I am always open to changing their dialogue if it means a better scene.
When was your first break?
John Gallagher: Right out of film school, my best friend Marino Amoruso and I decided to make a feature film, with Marino producing and me directing from our original screenplay. We chose to make a rock and roll musical comedy called, DOWN THE SHORE, a West Side Story style epic about preppie kids from Philly and Italian from Brooklyn, starring friends from high school and college. We chose Ocean City, NJ as the location and hired a professional crew. We still had to raise the money to make our opus, 250,000 dollars to be exact. After countless rejections, we found an Accountant in Deer Park, LI, Sid Abusch who rolled the dice on us kids. We made the movie in four weeks. I stayed within the budget, and low and behold I was a professional filmmaker. I learned more about filmmaking in those four weeks than I did in four years in film school. New Line Cinema bought the movie, changed the title to Beach House to mimic Animal House, and released it theatrically all over the country. It was one of the last of the drive-in movies. It was quickly followed by an adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut story, Long Walk to Forever, which I directed in Northeastern Georgia, starring my college chum Denis Leary in his first starring role. Long Walk to Forever aired on the Arts and Entertainment network, back when they showed movies.
What makes a great Filmmaker?
John Gallagher: Experience, humility, a good ear, and understanding of people, but most especially awareness and appreciation of our cinematic legacy. I’ve been teaching acting for the camera for 25 years and I always give my students a list of 100 essential films they should know and study. Ford, Fellini, Wellman, Wilder, Wyler, Walsh, Capra, Cassavetes, etc.
Share the challenges you have faced personally. How has it changed your point of view?
John Gallagher: On November 30, 2013, I almost died in an apartment fire. I was in the middle of pre-production on the comedy SAM, which I wrote with Director Nicholas Brooks. His dad Mel was our Executive Producer. I woke up out of a coma 6 weeks later and spent 6 months recovering in the hospital. The doctors gave me a 10% chance of survival, and I thought it was all over for me. With the help of family, friends, doctors, and nurses I rallied, and my friend Steve Stanulis offered me the opportunity to direct the feature film THE NETWORKER. Overcoming this challenge made me realize every day is a blessing, and I have directed two features and three shorts since that horrible night. Dozens of people have called me an inspiration for this so at least something positive came out of this tragedy.
What are you most proud of?
John Gallagher: I’m very lucky that I love all the films I have made. I’m very proud of three features we did in the nineties- MEN LIE, THE DELI, and BLUE MOON. I’m very proud of the actors I have worked with, including John Leguizamo, Ben Gazzara, Rita Moreno, Burt Young, Sally Kirkland, Frank Vincent, Steve James, Tony Sirico, Vinny Pastore, Zach Braff, Gretchen Mol, Heather Matarazzo, and so many others. I love actors and I am considered an actor’s director, a designation of which I am extremely proud. I continue to teach and do private coaching.
You use many of the same Actors for your films. What is it like working with you?
John Gallagher: The advantage of working with the same people is twofold. First, I like to write characters for specific actors. That helps the characters come alive because I have a specific person in mind. Secondly, working with the same people creates a kind of telepathy between actor and director. That allows me to give a great deal of creative freedom to the actor, which they love. Consequently, I don’t have to “direct” them, I just have to be their first audience. This is why so many of the greats from Ford to Scorsese developed stock companies, working time and again with the same actors.
What is a lesson you learned later in your career that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
John Gallagher: I’ve tended to be a very trustful person but have found that there are many people in this business who think nothing of placing a well-aimed dagger in your back. I have helped so many people in this business get ahead yet have suffered from their disloyalty, deceit, lies, and ingratitude. With “friends” like this who needs enemies? Disgraziado!
You are well-known for championing and promoting female filmmakers. Can you tell us about your experience with some of these female filmmakers?
John Gallagher: I’ve always had tended to work with largely female crews. I have found them to be extremely nurturing, I was raised by my mother to respect women and have tried to go out of my way to help female filmmakers. Probably the best example is Sylvia Caminer who was a production assistant when I met her. Overnight I made her a producer on MEN LIE because of her professionalism and devotion to the project, an eleven-day wonder that we made in 1993. We started a company called Caminer-Gallagher Productions, made many movies and traveled to film festivals all over the world. Sylvia went on to win an Emmy and we are reuniting on my next feature ALL MOBBED UP. There have been many other women I have championed especially actresses who create their work as producers. Currently, I am promoting Ashlee Macropoulos, one of the stars of Sarah Q who has written, directed and stars in the experimental short VISCERA, which is starting its festival run.
Let’s talk about your recent comedy-drama film, “Sarah Q.”
John Gallagher: Sarah Q is somewhat based on my many years of teaching acting. It’s the story of a young woman from the country who moves to New York to go to an acting conservatory, encountering all kinds of trials and tribulations. The title character was written for one of my students, a brilliant young actress named Emmy James, who has received two Best Actress awards for this work. I created the story, then enlisted the aid of a very good writer named Joe Benedetto to coauthor the screenplay. It boasts a terrific cast, many of whom I’ve worked with before and introduces twenty young actors, who come from my acting classes. Random Media has acquired the rights and will make the movie available first quarter of 2020.
What is unique about “Sarah Q?”
John Gallagher: “Sarah Q” reunites two of the most popular SOPRANOS cast members, Tony Sirico (“Paulie Walnuts”) and Vinny Pastore (“Big Pussy”), along with series regulars Federico Castelluccio, William DeMeo, Artie Pasquale, and guest stars Steve Stanulis, Burt Young, Garry Pastore, Paul Borghese, and Manny Siverio, making Sarah Q an absolute must-see for SOPRANOS fans.
“ALL MOBBED UP” is a $15 M gangster comedy. What inspired you to write this script? How is “gangster” and “comedy” not an oxymoron? Can you share a pivotal moment while filming?
John Gallagher: In 2015, I was hired to direct a short drama called, “WE REMEMBER,” starring Kohl Beck. 40 festivals and 25 awards later, Kohl asked me to direct another short but I suggested I write a screenplay to star him instead. I saw a photo of Kohl in drag and that inspired ALL MOBBED UP, about the drag queen son of a mob boss who goes on a vendetta with his drag queen posse when his father is assassinated by fellow gangsters. Many of the greatest gangster shows made liberal use of humor such as GOODFELLAS and THE SOPRANOS, going back to 1933 and the Edward G Robinson gangster comedy LITTLE GIANT. ALL MOBBED UP shoots in New York and New Jersey in February and March 2020. The great Craig DiBona ASC is my cinematographer and Emmy winner Judy Henderson CSA is the casting director and my long-time colleague Sylvia Caminer, another Emmy winner is producing. It’s gonna be a good one if I don’t say so myself.
Who would you like to work with?
John Gallagher: All the great iconic Actors like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DiNero, Meryl Streep, who made so many great movies in the 70’s, one of the greatest decades ever for American cinema. I’d like to keep working with some of personal favorites like Brian Vincent, Steve Stanulis, Joey D’Onofrio, Victor Colicchio, Michael Imperioli, Maggie Wagner, Kohl Beck, Paul Borghese, Stefano DaFre, Linda Collins, Makaela Shealy, Eden Wright, Lo Freidenstine, Ashlee Macropoulos, Emmy James, Josie Burke, Samantha Scaffidi, Dom LaRuffa, George Andreakos, Willy DeMeo, Meredith Ross, Kelsey O’Brian, Eve Austin, Jenilyn Rodriguez, Rachel Nielsen, Megan Fulmer and so many others.
What advice do you have for upcoming Independent Filmmakers?
John Gallagher: It has never been easier to make a movie. My first six features were shot on 35mm which is very expensive. The digital revolution has leveled the playing field. For example, my friend Sean Baker famously filmed his feature TANGERINE on an iPod. There is no longer any excuse not to make your movie. I strongly believe that one must have a working knowledge of our cinematic legacy. Watch movies. You can learn as much from a bad movie as a good movie. I was paraphrasing Peter Bogdanovich when I wrote this for TCM’s Robert Osborne: “If you haven’t seen a movie from 1932, it’s not an old movie, it’s a new movie.”
If you could write a script about a man, John Gallagher. What would the title be?
John Gallagher: THE MAN WHO LOVED MOVIES.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
John Gallagher: Over the course of 40 years I’ve made 20 features and 20 shorts, and while I’ve been honored to win seven career achievement awards I am prepping what will be my most ambitious movie. I’ve overcome major personal tragedy to keep on working doing what I love. All this would not have been possible without a tremendous support group throughout the years.