Indie Icons: John Sayles
John Sayles was born in Schenectady, NY on September 28th, 1950. Who knew he would one day grow up to be such an innovative and influential independent film director? Now he is about 59 and 6′4″. Sayles got his start, like many, from Roger Corman, who had an incredible eye for young talent as he gave Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, etc their starts. Sayles’ first film was called The Return of the Secaucus 7 (1979). This film he made with $30,000 that he’d received from writing scripts.
Based on seven former college friends who get back together for a long weekend in New Hampshire, and reminisce about the good old days and a time they were arrested on the way to a protest in Washington, D.C. This film was shot in one location and the story was set over a long weekend (so as to reduce costume expenditures) and was written about people Sayles’ age (so his friends could be used as actors). This low budget can be surmised from the static master shots that comprise a majority of the film.
After this, Sayles received a five year MacArthur Fellowship award for $40,000. He used this to make Brother from Another Planet, which grossed $3.7 million on a $400,000 budget. This film was based on an alien with three toes who escapes slavery on another planet and finds himself happily at home among the people of Harlem, NY.
In 1989 Sayles had a brief endeavor into television by creating a pilot for a television series called Shannon’s Deal, but it only lasted sixteen episodes. His first film, Return of the Secaucus 7 was one of the twenty five films selected in 1997 by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved…forever.
Many of Sayles’ films have political undertones and social concerns are an obvious theme of his. Funding for many of his films is gained through either writing scripts or doctoring them. He works as a script doctor and has contributed to or rewritten such scripts as Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, and Mimic. John Sayles is an artist with true diversity. To date, he has written, directed, or contributed majorly to horror films, dramas, a television series, two plays, a couple dozen short stories, and three novels.
Some of Sayles’ more well-known films include Lone Star (nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1992), Passion Fish (Nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an academy award), Eight Men Out, The Secret of Roan Inish, and Matewan. His most recent film, Honeydripper (2007), won best screenplay in the San Sebastián International Film Festival. This film is based in rural Alabama, 1950, about the rivalry between lounges and the antics that ensue.
For more information about John Sayles, visit:
“John Sayles.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Dec 2008, 02:19 UTC. 7 Jan 2009 .
Sayles, John. John Sayles: Interviews. Ed. Diane Carson. Jackson: Univ. P of Mississippi, 1999.
Winter, Jessica. The Rough Guide to American Independent Film. London: Rough Guides, Limited, 2006.