Actor, writer, director, and producer Tony Spiridakis has for years worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood on stage and screen — Timothy Hutton, Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Bacon, John Malkovich, and Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few. He’s known for writing great roles for world-class actors like Academy Award winners Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton and Eddie Murphy.
But at the end of the day, Spiridakis, 54, says that he is first and foremost a teacher. The native of Astoria, Queens teaches filmmaking at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in California and splits his time between Los Angeles, New York City, and the North Fork, where he’s summered since he was a boy and now owns a house in Orient.
This filmmaker’s love for the beauty of the North Fork and for teaching lead him to create the Manhattan Film Institute, and its first-annual summer film camp will take place begin July 2 at locations across the North Fork — a place he feels is still largely undiscovered by filmmakers.
“It is surprising there are not more films made out here, but people just don’t know about us,” he said during a phone interview with Patch this week. “It’s a perfect place for a film institute, and I think it will have a positive effect on the community as a whole. Education is good, clean fun and a good attractor to the area.”
For the director’s film camp, 20 filmmakers, each of whom were carefully selected from an application pool of hundreds, will work with 20 actors for two weeks — some well-established professionals — rehearsing, shooting and directing a five-minute film that has already been scripted, all under the supervision of faculty. After editing, the films will be screened in front of an audience.
Spiridakis said that the sky’s the limit for young filmmakers when they work with a script only three to six pages in length and only two actors for a five minute film project.
“You really have to focus on the written word, the performance and the script,” he said. “You focus on the basic fundamentals of directing, and these films end up being part of your reel.
Spiridakis added that working with established actors like Michael Knight, best known for his work on the classic soap opera “All My Children,” and film actor James Gerard, and working on location “ups everybody’s game.”
“There’s nothing like it, to actually go away and live on location and take classes,” he said. “There is quality control here. A lot of these kids are high school juniors and need to get reels ready to apply for college, and they’ll have professionals in their films instead of their sisters or cousins acting.”
Other camps to take place later in July include an actor’s retreat with acting coach Larry Moss and a writer’s retreat with actor Chazz Palminteri, probably best known for his roles in “A Bronx Tale” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” Spiridakis has also set up film lectures for the public to take place at auditorium in Greenport. Actor Tony Goldwin, for instance, will screen “Conviction,” the 2010 movie he directed starring Hilary Swank, on July 21.
After nearly 30 high-profile years in show business beginning with work on “Full Metal Jacket” in 1987 and his break-through screenplay for 1991’s “Queen’s Logic,” Spiridakis said he’s most excited now to start building his legacy, helping the next generation of filmmakers rise through the ranks at the Manhattan Film Institute.
“I’ve always wanted to start a school,” he said. “I have a lot of friends in the business now, and I love the idea of bringing everyone together in the firehouse and playing. On a selfish level, this keeps me fresh, keeps me on my game. I learn as they learn.
“And I’ve been blown away by the community support here,” he added. “My dream is that I’m here all the time on the North Fork doing this. I’m most comfortable here.”
Spiridakis is currently collaborating with director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) and Todd Komarnicki (“Elf,” “Perfect Strangers”) on “The Command,” a series for TNT.
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