April 18, 2014

Lifestyles: Moviemaker, Former Princeton Star Sean Hartofilis

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive


Former Princeton star Sean Hartofilis, right, with Richard Schiff ("West Wing") who plays a main role in Hartofilis' first feature film "Beach Pillows." (Sean Hartofilis)

In a two-week span earlier this year, Sean Hartofilis was named among the top 25 players in Princeton lacrosse history over the last 25 years, and the budding writer/director released his first feature film "Beach Pillows."

Hartofilis, who ranks third all-time in Tigers history with 126 goals, has pursued the Hollywood dream — to L.A. and back — since graduating from Princeton in 2003.

(Editor's note: "Beach Pillows," available on iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo and On Demand cable providers in the U.S. and Canada, is unrated and contains content that is not suitable for children.)

Where did your interest in moviemaking come from?

I took film classes in college, which was kind of tough with our lacrosse schedule. There were only a few majors that you could work around. I was a politics major, but we had film production classes that we could take. That's when I started turning things I had written into shorts and movies.

After I graduated, I started writing the thing I thought I wanted to be my first movie, at my parents place. I drove out to L.A. with a buddy (former Bucknell player Dennis Geraghty, Hartofilis' high school teammate at St. Anthony's in New York) and finished it. It was exciting that people responded to it pretty well, pretty quickly, but that was met with equal disappointment throughout the struggle of getting it made. It's been a long haul, over 10 years, but I continue to believe in it.

Ten years is a long time, what else were you doing during that time?

I was pretty single-minded about keeping the ball moving in the right direction for "Beach Pillows." But in order for me to sustain myself and also learn and make relationships, I worked for a producer and a director as an assistant. I played in the MLL for a summer with the L.A. Riptide. I coached at Loyola High in downtown Los Angeles, which was a lot of fun. And I coached some camps, spreading the gospel of lacrosse up and down the West Coast.

Eventually, I came back with my eventual wife. We live in Astoria, Queens, now. I worked in TV in New York, mostly production on reality shows. That's what most of the production jobs end up being these days. I continued to make short films and write other scripts and eventually packaged this, raised the money for it and made it.

What reality shows did you work on?

Nothing that even hit. A funny game show on MTV called "Silent Library." I wrote challenges. Kids had to do weird challenges in a library and not making any noise. It's almost like a Japanese-style game show. I worked for "The Cho Show' on VH1, a celebrity show about the comedian Margaret Cho. We made a show called "Bridge and Tunnel" about these kids from Staten Island, which was almost like a "Jersey Shore." We made that at MTV. I swear we spent $3 million on it, and then MTV never ran it. I just worked on this show "We're The Fugawis," about a group of bikers in upstate New York.

There are opportunities to meet people and learn some things. It's a living. It's a struggle in this business because most jobs are freelance, so you're just hustling constantly.

How did you fundraise to get "Beach Pillows" made?

I had initially wanted to go the more classic route to package it through the agencies or the studios and make a studio film. But there were compromises inherent in that process. It's a just a tougher road for a first-time filmmaker. Everybody who reads the script relates to it and enjoys it. If I could just attach the actors and make it real to an investor, some bankable components, I could raise the money. It wouldn't cost a lot to make, because it's kind of a personal story about where I'm from. We could use a lot of real locations.

So I attached Geoffrey Arend ("Super Troopers") pretty quickly. He read it on his phone. I had seen "Super Troopers" in college, and that first scene is just an insane ride. You almost feel you're in the car with those guys. I always thought he was great. Through a friend in L.A. that knew him, I got him the script.

And then I was able to get it to Vincent Kartheiser ("Mad Men"), and he liked it. My investors didn't necessarily know these guys as well as I know them, but "Mad Men" is one of the biggest shows in the world.

We raised enough money, which wasn't a lot, less than most movies are made, but still a couple hundred grand to shoot it. That came from family, friends, a lot of my college teammates. A lot of those guys have gone into finance and done well for themselves. They were really helpful and supportive, and I could not have done it without those guys. It's very much the model of the Cohen brothers' first movie, "Blood Simple." They raised money from bankers and dentists and lawyers in Minnesota, where they are from.

With actors like that on board, was it easier to raise money?

I didn't want to start raising money until I had people on board that I thought would help sell the movie once we made it. I want these people to have an opportunity for a return. You see a person that you recognize, you're more inclined to see the movie. That was important to be to give us the best chance for distribution. With those guys, it was easier to get someone like Richard Schiff ("West Wing"), who is an Emmy winner, to play Geoffrey's dad, and Ann O'Toole ("Smallville"), who I've always been a fan of, to play his mom.

Once I got Geoffrey and Vinny on board, I assembled a crew and hired a casting director, and they were able to get the script to Richard. He's someone that will read something. We only needed him for a week. He's just a great person. He has been a lifelong actor and didn't necessarily experience success until later in his career. He's a very real guy and a great actor. I lucked out with the cast. It was perfect for me.

A version of this interview originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription!

How would you explain the movie?

It's a story focused on two friends in their 20s growing up and apart over the course of a summer on Long Island. They have very different personalities. One is more of a thinker. One is more of a doer. They have to learn from each other, how to become whole people.

In addition to being inspired by how I felt at the point of my life where I made it, I always loved when you could see an artist's first movie, and understand where he's from and how he grew into the artist he is. Like "Mean Streets" by Martin Scorsese, or even fiction like "This Side of Paradise," by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or "The Rum Diary" by Hunter Thompson, even though he wrote that later. I always felt that was the most relatable. The more personal it was to the writer or director, the more it would connect to anybody. It's real and authentic.

We filmed most of it on Long Island and a little bit in Astoria, Queens, and a little in Manhattan. On Long Island, we filmed at the childhood homes at a few of my good high school friends. The Long Island crowd will definitely recognize some sights.

How did your lacrosse experience figure into your inspiration?

I spent maybe 10 years of my life focused more than anything on lacrosse and being good at that. I didn't necessarily see the opportunity to make that a career for myself, or a life. What's my life going to be? The main character in the movie has to decide what his life is going to be. That's something maybe a lot of lacrosse players face. The MLL, as we know, is not a living wage. But so many of these players have really become businessmen and started apparel companies and clothing companies, and running camps. What's unique to lacrosse and the explosion of the sport is that the players are really fueling things.

How do you relate sports and arts?

Artistic pursuits like singing or dancing, that's very much athletic. That's as athletic as something like lacrosse in the same way lacrosse is as artistic as dancing. It's basically expressing yourself physically as opposed to with your voice or writing down words. You're relying on coach, which might be the director, and your teammates, which might be collaborating performers.

Lacrosse was a good outlet to express myself for those years and be rewarded for it by having opportunities to go to a good school and have some personal value; people appreciated that I was good at it. When that disappeared, I felt a little stifled. This movie is about that emotion. What's my next step?

What did you lacrosse teach you?

From marketing the movie or creating opportunities to make it, I looked at it, maybe subconsciously, as lacrosse. You don't get penalized for shooting. I just took as many good shots as I could.

Also, the entertainment business is a "no" business. There's very few people that success and have a high quality of life from these pursuits. It's so competitive. You're always hearing, "No." The best writers of all time have been rejected by every publication that you could think of. What lacrosse, or any other sport, prepared me for was how to deal with losing — how to not take that personally. I'm striving to be great. I can lose along the way. There were games we played in college where nobody gave us a chance to win, but that doesn't mean you don't play. Losing is not going to kill you, but winning is going to feel great.

What are your goals now?

Pushing this movie. I never want to rest on my laurels. Now all the effort I put into it really bears fruit, because people can actually get the movie. I'm looking forward to telling stories. I'd like it to be my life's work, but it's a difficult business. It requires financing. But what I've proven with this one is that I can do something of a high quality for not a lot of money. It looks a lot more expensive than what we spent. If there are millionaires in the Lacrosse Magazine readership, let's make a movie. I'm ready to go.


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