I saw my nieces in the basement. They’re up from Florida and are the best.
What is your earliest memory?
At track practice when I was very little, I overran the finish line and was jumped, for reasons I’ll never understand, by two little boys who I’m guessing were brothers. They pushed me down and pulled my hair and kicked me. Then their mother showed up and did the same to them. I wrote about it in a short story published by The Harlem Times called “The Summer of St. Nick.”
If you weren’t a writer/director, what other profession would you choose?
Teacher/coach or maybe married Catholic priest, which I realize isn’t a thing.
Describe a typical work day.
I usually wake up on the late side, because I stay up very late. In the morning I’ll catch up on correspondence. Then I’ll try to pursue some new press opportunities for the film and push new projects. Then I’ll write some of whatever I’m working on. Then in the evening I’ll try to create more awareness about the film via social media. But the truth is that most days are different. You’re constantly prioritizing and allocating focus. Development is very different from production, which is different than post, which is different than marketing the film or pitching new projects. The bottom line is, I’m always thinking about these stories and how to best make them and get them to people.
Is there a time you wish you’d lied?
I can’t think of any.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?
Don’t worry. You’ll grow. Things on you will grow, and hair will grow on them. But no one really cares anyway, so just relax.
If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?
I think The Band’s The Last Waltz could get me through just about anything and has. And it’s kind of a cheat because of the all-star lineup.
What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?
From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?
Name three books that have impacted your life.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley, and Silence by Shusaku Endo. But, honestly, everything I read and finish has a big impact on me. I’ve always felt a little weird after I finish a book, even a little scared. It’s like you’re leaving a world forever, but I guess it never really leaves you.
If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?
A moment is so quick, isn’t it? Maybe something at my wedding, because everyone I love was there and having fun. I’m so glad we hired Catherine j. Gross Photography for our wedding. Or I guess something intimate with my wife. Or really, any good laugh. But wouldn’t this moment inevitably become stale and ruined? That’s a very tough one. I need to know exactly how long a moment is.
What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Hmm. I try not to hold onto anything specifically negative or destructive, but anything like, “Don’t worry about it.” “Who cares?” Any of that defeatist, cynical stuff makes me anxious.
What makes you feel most guilty?
Just my myriad of personal shortcomings. Insecurity. Vanity. Ungratefulness for all I’ve been given. Letting down my family, whom I admire, creates a despair in me because they’ve instilled everything good in me.
How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?
Surreptitiously! No. I try to love and consume enough great art and have very specific ideas about what I’m trying to do so that hopefully the influences fuse into something distinct and new. I think if you favor one artist too strongly, it can become imitation or pastiche, so do your homework and develop your voice. That just takes time and practice. And I’ll say that my protection against any of this is starting from a place of pure emotion. How I feel, my fears and desires, that all dictates the storytelling, so hopefully that starts everything on novel ground. I try to be as specific as possible about what I like and do as much as I can myself. If I can write the script, draw the storyboards, choose all the costumes and locations, and select the music and even write some of the music, then it’s probably going to be pretty specific and personal. And then you invite all these other artists to bring their personality to it, and there’s just no stopping it. It becomes its own thing. That’s what’s so exciting about filmmaking. As much as I plan it, even down to the cuts, I’m going to be surprised and inspired by the process.
Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Beach Pillows.
The idea was to tell a story about where and whom I’m from and how I became the artist I am. I was motivated by heartbreak and longing for love, confusion about my path, passion about my friends and family, and a yearning to communicate and connect — everything I was thinking and feeling for about a decade after college. I was also inspired by bildungsromans and kunstlerromans from my favorite artists, books and films, and even debut albums that kind of announced a voice or perspective on the world but also shared something at their core about individuality and personal freedom. Finally, a Beach Pillow was an actual product that my friend Brian Caslin and I conceived on the beach, and I just thought it’d be a great conceit for this story and kind of a symbol for everything.
What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?
Anything I’d have to say would have to do with finding value in yourself, working hard to bring that value to the world, and treating people with love, kindness, and respect throughout. But I’ll also say that great advice can be ignored and terrible advice can be heeded. No effective or lasting change can happen within a person unless they tell it to themselves and believe it. All of the important information and lessons are available. No one’s going to save you. It’s up to us, individually. And Beach Pillows is about that in a lot of ways.
List your favorite in the following categories: Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor.
Comedian — Louis CK.
Musician — Julian Casablancas.
Author — F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Actor — John Cassavetes.
If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?
The next feature film that I write and direct is written and called The Night. It’s set in upstate New York along the Hudson River, and it’s about how we shine light on the most unspeakable darkness, how in a world of inevitable death and unbearable sadness, we live and love. But it’s really kind of an adventure story, and I don’t want to say too much about it yet.
What do you want to know?
How to kill hate. Although I’m pretty sure the best answer is: “With love.”
What would you like your last words to be?
I don’t want to know them yet, but the sentiment should certainly be: “Thank you. I love you.”
Please explain what will happen.
What we make happen. No use worrying about the rest.
* Photo of Sean Hartofilis by Phil Fischetti. Photo of Hartofilis with actor Richard Schiff by John M. Tyson.
SEAN HARTOFILIS was born and raised on Long Island, New York, one of four sons to Greek and Irish immigrants. He attended Princeton University, where he studied Politics and Film & Video Production and was an All-American and National Champion as member of the Men’s Lacrosse Team. Upon graduating in 2003, Hartofilis moved to Los Angeles, where he assisted, respectively, film director Renny Harlin and film producer Tom Sternberg. During that time, Hartofilis’s feature-length script Beach Pillows was optioned by Iron Films and subsequently purchased and put into development at Reason Pictures.
After moving back to New York in 2006, Hartofilis worked at Crossroads Films and Television, writing treatments, producing presentation reels, developing scripts, and pitching shows. He went on to write and produce on various cable productions.
A few years ago, with Reason Pictures’ option on Beach Pillows since expired, Hartofilis decided to package and produce the film independently, attracting such notable talent as Geoffrey Arend, Vincent Kartheiser, Annette O’Toole, and Richard Schiff. Beach Pillows is his first feature film, set largely in areas around which he grew up and populated by characters with whom he’s intimately familiar.