Don’t get discouraged. This is a biggie, there are vastly more knows and rejection than wins and work, especially till you build your reputation and network. I never took no for a answer and there were times I was very discouraged. You just have to dig deep and keep going with what you can control as apposed to what you can’t. I never knew the odds until I was up to my ass in alligators.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Andrew Heller.
He started in the film industry while growing up in South Africa with his Mother and Father. Since the age of two, Andrew has been a part of that community which led him to his induction into SAG in 1988. From there his career grew and allowed him to work with many well-known actors and actresses. Andrew has followed his passion for the theater through his work teaching film and television with the very same enthusiasm that helped him excel throughout his career. The drive that motivates Andrew in all aspects of life has given him the inspiration needed to reach new heights, whether it’s as a Cameraman, Actor or Director, Andrews’ passion for the theater shines through on every project he is part of. When he is not working, he likes to spend his time helping others who want to grow and better themselves through knowledge and inspiration about the film industry. His latest foray is to Produce a film he wrote, which is also a book called ‘A Gift Of The Heart’. His aim to use a substantial amount of the net proceeds to assist children with cancer and families in need.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up In Cape Town South Africa for the first twenty years of my life. Went to a private school where I did a lot of acting as well as being heavily involved in my mothers cabaret company from the young age of four. I moved on from school to the Rita Maas Drama Academy, who was sanction and taught the Royal Academy of Arts curriculum. I graduated there after a year of full time intensive study.
Once out and desperately wanting to get into stage and film I realized there just wasn’t enough film going on so I went immediately into a lot of Shakespeare. I did not like it however but I used t as a learning tool. In 1980 We moved to Canada where I studied opera un the auspicous of Tatiana Vasilieva, a former Soviet Opera star. Again, I did not like it but it was a great platform for my voice.
As the cold was not conducive to my constant desire to be outdoors so I moved to Austin Texas where I continued in musical theater while I trained in dialects to lose my natural South African accent, as at that time no-one would hire me. Finally with a lot of hard work and determination I started booking more film and television work. I then moved on to Florida where I thought the ‘New’ East Hollywood was going to explode. For about five years I took full advantage of the new and burgeoning industry and quickly garnered my SAG card in 1988 and moved rapidly forward buying my first house on all the work I was getting. That all sadly diminished as the industry moved away because laws became unwelcoming.
I continued on working in the IATSE industry both in conventions and as a GRIP. All these skills helped me with my writing and gave me a good view of everything worked around a full blown movie set. To this day, at the young age of 60 I continue to act, direct, produce and write. Why? Cause I’m happy and I love what I do. Some of my endeavors can be found at www.agiftioftherear.com. I hope this wasn’t too long winded.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had always been singing and on stage from such a young age that I felt it was my destiny. My heart wanted me to be an archeologist. Alas, the immediate excitement of digging and finding this waned when I realized how painstaking it was and how much more joy I got from my fellow actors and the adulation I got from the audience. I was hooked.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Funny things on set did not happen too much. I do recall a scene I was playing in as a buck tooth redneck killer and there was a shower scene where I walked in trying to kill, what was supposed to be a female in the shower, to kill her. Well the scene was all ad lib. I swung open to certain to see an old man with a shower cap, a bum, taking a shower and the dialogue went to town. While both of us managed to keep a straight face for about forty seconds it finally fell apart and we, crew and all just burst out laughing. It truly was funny. You can see it on amazon prime ‘Trailer Park Tales’ episode 1 ‘The Hitching Post’. Keep in mind it was shot as a cult film so the nuances of poor production value and funky lighting where studiously done on purpose.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
When working on ‘Cape fear I had some time to talk to Sean Penn about directing. He was learning from the great ‘Martin Scorcese’ who was directing at the time. I was a photo double for Joe Don Baker, who’s character funnily had the same last name as myself. Mr. Baker was also a lovely person with whom I spent quite some time talking to. Most of the stars I encountered and spoke with did so voluntarily. I never approached them on my own as that was always against set protocols.
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?
When I first started out transitioning from Stage to film I realized very quickly that film was where the money was. After a year of trying to get more film work I realized that I needed my Union card if I was truly going to make that next step up. Well, that proved to be a mountainous task. So I made friends with crew members and got on a new series called ‘Superboy’ as a driver for talent. This not only allowed me access to a lot of stars but it gave me time to have good conversations with them. Every week the script came out I would look for a one liner. I would then go to the director and explain my reason for approaching him, the desire to get my SAG card and see if he would give me the part. I had all but given up when by the thirteenth and last episode for the first season when I found a radio jockies one line and approached Jackie Cooper. He was such a good man and he gave me the part. Of course this was not cosher and did not sit well with the casting director and I was not invited back to drive the following five seasons.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When the passion of purpose becomes the canvass by what we color, the vision becomes more reality than dream”
When people said no, I always said yes. When people said it’s impossible, I found away to make it so. If I couldn’t go through it, I went under, around or over every obstacle. True, the older you get the more ‘No’s” you get but I have never let that stop me. If you believe in yourself and you push forward with all the best intent, with passion and purpose you can achieve great things.
I am 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?
‘Diversity’ I think is a phrase that does not belong in any form. I think the very purpose is dividing and demeaning to anyone who is not like anyone else and it immediately brings, in my mind, a judgmental approach to what you do. I always look to actors of all ethnicities and ability, no matter their disabilities as to ‘Can they do the part?’. SO for me I always incorporate a wide array of available talent regardless, without feeling forced to fill parts based on that criteria. As a point in question, I know certain parts require certain ethnicities inside that stories parameters but I always leave the majority of my cast choices open to interpretation. I find it much more freeing and diverse that way.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently shooting a trailer/Proof of concept for my horror film ‘Grinders. I will then follow that with another short film. I am still pursuing the remaining funding for my big film ‘A Gift Of The Heart’.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
That is truly hard to say. I enjoy all aspects. I do however miss being a grip as my old body won’t hump equipment anymore. If I had to choose in order of like it would probably be acting first, writing and then directing.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Emotion. My mom died right as I launched out to pursue film and I had to deal with the emotion of that and also the constant rejection of not getting parts I went out for. I would have liked a little guidance.
- Training. I didn’t do enough in the beginning and quickly learned that I need to garner techniques and styles from as many as I could. I would have started way earlier but I did learn from some amazing people. Eric Morris, Mike Fenton, Stanislovsky, Meisner and a slew of casting directors. I still study today to keep up with changes.
- Financial. Be prepared financially for the first couple years to haemorrhage money in getting your craft and tools in order. I was constantly working other jobs to keep up. I do however think that you are never really truly prepared.
- Don’t quit your day job. I think that finally falls in the same vein as number three. I do know a lot of people who just drop everything and attack their careers without a back up plan. I had one, thankfully and I hope anyone going into this does.
- Don’t get discouraged. This is a biggie, there are vastly more knows and rejection than wins and work, especially till you build your reputation and network. I never took no for a answer and there were times I was very discouraged. You just have to dig deep and keep going with what you can control as apposed to what you can’t. I never knew the odds until I was up to my ass in alligators.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Kindness and selflessness for me. When you reach a point of being able to sustain yourself comfortably the rest of your life, share your wealth and your knowledge to help those coming up behind. You cant take it with so why not be kind and show that to others with philanthropy and caring. Most people got a hand up from someone who cared. Starting a legacy of purpose I think for me is what I leave behind.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 see this. 🙂
Shaquille O’Neil. I met him on a Pepsi commercial many many years ago. He is well educated and a smart business man. Id love to pick his brain on some of his life experiences in which he has managed to stay very grounded.
How can our readers further follow you online?
My website www.agiftoftheheart.com, facebook: Andrew Heller and A Gift of The Heart. Twitter: @agiftoftheheart1, and instagram @agiftoftheheartoffial. Alternatively I can be contacted through my production company [email protected]
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you again for your kindness and consideration. My everyone’s days be blessed.