Monday, April 23, 2012


I’m in an emotional state right now. My son Joshua and I just finished watching Marlon Brando’s film On the Waterfront. He’s so good, he gets to me every time.

The first time I saw the movie was in my first drama class at North Allegheny High School in Wexford, Pennsylvania. I was seventeen. Our acting teacher, Mr. Woffington, had an old 16 millimeter projector, a print of the movie, and a fold out screen. I didn’t understand why, but I knew Marlon Brando was doing something on a higher level from everybody else. His acting was more natural. There were moments with the other actors in which I was conscious that they were giving a performance but with him, I believed every moment. I was fixated on the now famous scene of Brando and his brother in the taxi-cab.

For months afterward, I walked around school saying Brando’s lines, "I coulda been a contender." Some of my friends teased me about my Brando obsession and came up to me in the high school hallway and fed me Rod Steiger’s lines so I could start the "Contender" monologue and entertain them.

I know now why Brando’s performance was a demarcation that changed acting and moved movies towards more realistic and natural work. I understand The Method and see how Brando took everything, even a mistake like Eva Marie Saint dropping her glove, and put into his work without batting an eyelash. Like all great art, the emotional feeling stays with me, like I’m soaking in it, even though we finished the film a while ago.

What makes great art? Art captures truth and emotion in a natural, non-manipulative way. The true artist is genuine in their work. Brando’s acting is real and makes me feel. My eyes mist up and cloud over as I watch his redemption unfold. The true artist makes others feel.

Friday, April 13, 2012



God created you as individually as a snowflake. Your expression, your personality, what you have to say in your art, your business, will be forever lost to the rest of us if you do not say it.

I discovered this after by making a documentary short film entitled "Saving Sister Aimee." The project was birthed when I went on an Artist’s Date to the temple Aimee Semple McPherson built in 1927 near Hollywood. ("Artist’s Date" is a term I learned from Julia Cameron. It means taking a few hours alone to do something that interests you.) My Artist’s Date resulted in my meeting older people who knew Sister Aimee. I shot interviews with them and working with my talented editor Jaime Prater, interspersing them with other footage.

The resulting thirty-seven minute film was in the 2001 Academy Award competition for Best Short Documentary. The Oscar qualifying screenings were at the Art Theatre in Long Beach. At the documentary screenings I met some of the prestigious people attending such as an Academy Award judge and famed producers of big budget blockbusters.

One producer told me he liked my documentary and that he was "making a feature dramatic film on the life of Sister Aimee." I learned that several of Hollywood’s biggest stars were committed to make an epic movie about her. Crazy monster thoughts invaded my mind. They stole my idea. (Doing the documentary engrossed me in her story, so I’d decided earlier my next project would be to make a feature length dramatic movie using talented actors to tell the story of Aimee’s life.)

What chance do I have to make a dramatic feature on Aimee if the big boys are doing the same thing? They will do it better and get all the attention.

I felt discouraged.

I walked in the woods by myself and prayed. A spiritual epiphany happened. The still, small voice inside me reminded me that God made me unique and even if we told the same story our films would be different. As a boy attending Joseph Fitzpatrick’s art class at the Carnegie in Pittsburgh, fifty of us could look at the same human model and sketch him. And guess what? There would be fifty different drawings.

I made my film on a wing and a prayer using drugstore $300 camcorders my friend Jeff Griffith purchased. My feature dramatic film "Sister Aimee" (the one I initially thought I shouldn't make because someone with more resources would do it better) was released into every Blockbuster store and nominated for best feature in Milan. The other big budget version with the superstar cast is still stuck somewhere in development hell.

I face the same issue today as I finish my film on baseball great Roberto Clemente. Several major studios and big names have had a film in development about him. But I learned from my past experience to keep doing my work. I will most likely be the first to release a dramatic feature on Clemente.

A rich producer friend of mine said, "Richard, I am jealous of you. You just go out and make the edgy movies you want to make. I’m bogged down with bureaucratic red tape. I’m stuck dealing with the suits at the studio. They aren’t artists. They make hardware movies that dumb down America. You’re free."

"I’m jealous of you because you make more money," I said.

He laughed. "Trust me, in this David and Goliath story, you may be David, but you’re a free artist."

Maybe it’s not so bad being David after all.

Psalm 139 says "You are fearfully and wondrously made." My friend and assistant director on our Roberto Clemente film, Claudia Duran shared this quote: "There is no offense you could ever commit that could rob you of the magnificence of who you are."

Don't let the song inside you be buried. Someone could write a song, make a film, paint a picture on the same story or subject as you, but yours would be completely different and special.

You have so much time left. Do what you came here for. If you don't share your unique expression with the world, it will forever be lost. There is only one person in all of history exactly like you. As Elvis used to sing, "That's the wonder of you."

(This is an excerpt from Richard Rossi's upcoming new book "Create Your Life: Daily Meditations On Creativity" due out this summer)

Thursday, April 12, 2012


You can’t spell “FLAKE” without LA. There are many narcissistic people in Los Angeles. They beg you for a meeting and then they don’t show up. They promise to invest in your movie and you meet with them repeatedly and they waste your time and drain your energies and never do a damn thing.
Recently, a friend of a friend from my hometown met with me and passionately pitched to me that he was the best guy to be one of the cameramen on my next film. He had never shot a feature but had done some short films and earned a film degree in New York. He sounded like a used car salesman or someone trying to get me into Amway or a religious cult.
He did have talent. The visual style of his short films was impressive. I forwarded internet links of his short subjects to some director friends and they too were impressed with his talent with a camera.
I sent him a release to sign so he could me one of our cameramen. (I learned from my experience making Sister Aimee that it’s important to get signed releases. When Sister Aimee sold to a distributor, they needed a signed release from every participant so I had to chase down people who vanished form Hollywood. It delayed the film’s release. I got most people to sign releases on set but the handful of people who didn’t were hard to find. Some were in other countries, some were on the lam.)
Back to the charismatic cameraman. Months went by. No release. I asked and asked and asked. Finally I decided I can’t wait, I need to get going. It’s been a while since he had the paper. I told him I was going to get someone else because I never got the paperwork back.
“Why didn’t you tell me that was important, Richard? You should’ve reminded me better.”
Flakes often have “Borderline Personality Disorder” (Google it for a list of symptoms). People with BPD will blame you for their flakiness. They are the type of people who don’t show up for a meeting. A meeting you agreed to at their insistence. When you confront them about the no-show, they turn it around and blame you.
“How did I know you would show up, Richard?” they say.
I have a two flake rule. Someone can flake once and I give grace for the fact we are all human. But when they flake twice, they are on the potential flake list and I pull back. The artist must be careful about getting involved with flakes. Flakes are in constant drama and trauma. The artist must keep their drama on the stage and on the page, not in their life. The successful filmmaker must keep the drama in front of the camera, not behind the camera.

Monday, April 02, 2012


Sometimes I'm asked, "As a filmmaker, how many hours of practice would you recommend to an aspiring filmmaker before attempting to produce a really well-crafted film?" My answer is that it’s important to get started making art, without worrying about the result. We learn to write by writing, we learn to act by acting, we learn to make films by making films. We must take care of the quantity, and let God take care of the quality. In other words, make movies, keep doing it, and your craft will grow.