DO NOT HIRE YOUR FRIENDS BECAUSE THEY ARE YOUR FRIENDS. Or for any other reason than that they are the most talented and perfect person for that specific position.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Adam Sigal.
As a kid, Adam Sigal always wanted to be a sci-fi and fantasy novelist. His dad introduced him very young to stuff like Lord of the Rings, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, and his interest grew from there. Adam actually published a sci-fi novel when he was 18-years-old.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 2000, Adam moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a Hollywood career as a writer/director/prodcer. Like so many others following the same dream, he took a “survival job” as a private investigator, which he did for almost 12 years. The experience allowed him to see so many sides of society that he absolutely would not have otherwise, and it really influenced his writing and worldview.
Adam’s first real film as a writer and director was in 2015 with When the Starlight Ends, a comedy/drama about a writer who goes through a terrible breakup and decides to rewrite his life the way he wanted it to go. His second feature film as a writer and director came in 2019 with Stakeout, a mostly autobiographical account of his experiences as a private investigator working in Los Angeles.
Most recently, Adam wrapped his third feature film, The Chariot, a sci-fi drama toplined by John Malkovich, Thomas Mann and Rosa Salazar. The movie — which also stars Shane West, Scout Taylor Compton, Vernon Davis, Chris Mullinax and Joseph Baena-Schwarzenegger — tells the story of a corporation and doctor (Malkovich) that oversees the process of reincarnation, and a young man (Mann) who becomes a glitch in the system when he encounters a woman (Salazar) he loved in a previous life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up moving around a lot! I was born in New Hampshire, then was in Virginia, then Florida, then NorCal, then Florida again, and I made my way to LA permanently at age 20. I grew up middle class with amazing parents who did their best to give me a great life. So I have no idea why my writing is so weird and dark, because I had a pretty trauma-free upbringing, for the most part. Unless I’m just repressing things…
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
READING. I’ve been an extremely avid reader since I was very young. My dad read me Lord of the Rings when I was about 7 years old and it was all over from there. As a child, I always thought I would grow up to be a novelist. When I moved to LA, obviously the film industry was everywhere, and one day an actress friend showed me a script that she was auditioning for, asking for my help. I read it and it was absolutely awful and I thought, THIS is a movie script? I could write something better than this in my sleep…
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Haha, hmm…a story that will not incriminate myself or anyone else, let me think. Ah, sure…for the first 10 years or so of my career as a filmmaker, I was also working a semi full-time job as a private investigator. I did surveillance on people, investigating worker’s compensation fraud (and the occasional cheating husband or wife). One day I got a case file on my desk and the name was immediately familiar…this was a film producer who I not only knew, but with whom I’d been speaking regularly about financing one of my upcoming films! In fact, I actually had a meeting scheduled to get coffee with him for later that week! I read the case and he was under investigations for defrauding a company he had worked for, claiming he could not even leave his house because of how traumatized he was by his experience there.
I called my partner and told him what was going on and I said, “If you’re trying to track down XXXXXXXX, I can make it easy for you, I’m meeting him at the Starbucks on Ventura Blvd on Thursday at 2PM…” My partner showed up, parked across the street and did surveillance on our entire meeting (conveniently keeping me off camera haha), and submitted the evidence that this guy was definitely not so traumatized that he could not leave his house. Needless to say, that producer did not end up financing any of my films.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
From a broad, philosophical perspective, the biggest mistake I made starting out in the film industry was assuming everyone knows what they are doing. In fact the opposite is true, and there are no real rules or guidelines or processes you need to adhere to, when trying to get your film made. Films get financed and set up via any number of ways, so whenever anyone says “this is how you get your film made”, they are lying, and you should ignore them.
As far as just me being an idiot, on the set of my first real feature film (I still cringe when I think about this), after my on set stunt coordinator had spent an hour setting up a squib for a gunshot scene, I stumbled like a clumsy oaf onto set, tripped a string and made the squib explode, undoing not just her work but causing my production and costume designers to have to clean and find a replacement t-shirt.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m in post-production on my latest feature film, The Chariot, a sci-fi reincarnation drama starring John Malkovich, Thomas Mann, Rosa Salazar, Shane West and Scout Taylor-Compton. The movie tells the story of a corporation and doctor (Malkovich) that oversees the process of reincarnation, and a young man (Mann) who becomes a glitch in the system when he encounters a woman (Salazar) he loved in a previous life.
I’m also in early development on my next feature, a post-apocalyptic thriller about dogs.
I’m also producing a number of films over the next year.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Yes. First of all, you can’t be daunted by anything. If you’re easily daunted, this is not the industry for you. You have to have a near-insane level of confidence in your own ability to truly make it. And for the love of God, be original! Don’t try to follow the current industry trends, that’s the easy way, man! Go against the flow…have a unique voice, even if (and I know this from experience) that is the harder road!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Well I am just your average white guy so I’m probably not the most qualified to speak on this subject. But I can say, after almost 15 years now in this industry, talent and competence know no color. If you for any reason pigeonhole yourself to preferring a person of a specific race for any role in front of or behind the camera, you are making a huge mistake. There are incredibly talented people of every race, and discrimination should have no place in this (or any) industry. Additionally — at least from the perspective of a writer/director, you have to realize that people enjoy watching people on camera who look like them, or have had a similar life journey to them, so if you gravitate only toward a specific race within your own art, you are inherently alienating large portions of society, and I have no idea why you would possibly want to do that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Do your own research! Do not rely on people who say they know how something works, because they probably don’t.
- Do not be patient! If you don’t hear from someone reasonably quickly, they are not interested.
- The people in this industry are, in the end, people. Connecting with someone on a personal level is way more important than talking about money/scripts/projects…everyone has a script they are pitching or an idea or a film fund…but people remember you when you talk to them about the things that are actually important in their lives.
- Let everyone do their own job on set! The biggest problem you ever face on a film set is when departments start doing the job of other departments.
- DO NOT HIRE YOUR FRIENDS BECAUSE THEY ARE YOUR FRIENDS. Or for any other reason than that they are the most talented and perfect person for that specific position.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For me, it is to constantly be writing. Don’t be discouraged if you are writing and not selling scripts/making movies at that precise moment. Keep creating as though all of your creations are going to one day be massive hits.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love a movement toward more originality in Hollywood, less concepts that are just slight twists on existing concepts, or spin-offs, or reboots, or remakes, or remakes of remakes, or re-takes on a specific genre…I don’t know if this would do much good for anyone, but it would sure make me happy!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
One thing I discovered early on is that there really are very few truly kind and helpful people in the film industry. There are a lot who pretend to be but really want something in return. An exception for me was the actor Sam Heughan. Sam was the lead in my first real feature film, and heading into production, some major changes came about, which easily could have torpedoed the film. To be clear: the producers not only cut Sam’s pay for the film by like 90%, but they wanted me to break the news to him, with the warning that if he was out, there was no movie. So I called Sam, certain that it was all over, but rather than walking, Sam just said that he’s doing the movie no matter what, and that his fee would at least almost cover his travel and living expenses during production. This level of kindness and loyalty was entirely unwarranted and completely unexpected, and I will never, ever forget it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Probably the age-old saying that life is what happens while you’re making plans. It’s so hard for me sometimes to stop and look around at what is happening to me now and be grateful for it, I’m just an absolute maniac always striving for something more/better.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Right now, the person I am most inspired by/would like to speak with is unquestionably David Lynch. I just have such massive admiration for the way that he tells stories and his general life philosophy.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m most active on Instagram, @soaringsigal, although I do just post a lot of pictures of my kids and bad memes on there. 😉
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!