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John Sayles

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Also Known As: John Thomas Sayles Died:
Born: September 28, 1950 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Schenectady, New York, USA Profession: screenwriter, director, actor, producer, playwright, novelist, meatpacker, nursing home orderly, factory worker, laborer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

a, "The Alamo" (2005) ¿ most of his Hollywood writing work was of the uncredited variety ¿ Sayles directed "Honeydripper" (2007), a well-crafted, but sometimes flawed look at a 1950s juke joint in the rural south. Once again displaying his knack for period detail and local dialect, Sayles also reveled in the time¿s music, indulging himself in down-home southern blues. But the film as a whole failed to register with some critics, who cited some scenes as being stereotypical of blacks. Still, Sayles delivered another confident feature that only confirmed his status as filmmaking¿s leading independent director. Following shared screenplay credit on the children¿s fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (2008), Sayles was tapped by Steven Spielberg to rewrite the script for "Jurassic Park IV."deos for "Glory Days" (1985) and "I¿m On Fire" (1985). After writing and acting in the Vietnam vet drama "Unnatural Causes" (NBC, 1986), he had a small role in Jonathan Demme¿s dark comedy "Something Wild" (1986) while he wrote the script for "The Clan of the Cave Bear" (1986), a rather simple-minded look at Cro-Magnon women, starring Daryl Hannah.Turning back to his own films, Sayles finished screenplays for two pet...

a, "The Alamo" (2005) ¿ most of his Hollywood writing work was of the uncredited variety ¿ Sayles directed "Honeydripper" (2007), a well-crafted, but sometimes flawed look at a 1950s juke joint in the rural south. Once again displaying his knack for period detail and local dialect, Sayles also reveled in the time¿s music, indulging himself in down-home southern blues. But the film as a whole failed to register with some critics, who cited some scenes as being stereotypical of blacks. Still, Sayles delivered another confident feature that only confirmed his status as filmmaking¿s leading independent director. Following shared screenplay credit on the children¿s fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (2008), Sayles was tapped by Steven Spielberg to rewrite the script for "Jurassic Park IV."deos for "Glory Days" (1985) and "I¿m On Fire" (1985). After writing and acting in the Vietnam vet drama "Unnatural Causes" (NBC, 1986), he had a small role in Jonathan Demme¿s dark comedy "Something Wild" (1986) while he wrote the script for "The Clan of the Cave Bear" (1986), a rather simple-minded look at Cro-Magnon women, starring Daryl Hannah.

Turning back to his own films, Sayles finished screenplays for two pet projects: "Matewan" (1987) and "Eight Men Out" (1988), both of which had languished due to being perceived as commercially unviable. The first, "Matewan," explored the personal and political dimensions of union making and breaking in the West Virginia coal mines of the 1920s. A complex study of individual integrity and community solidarity, Sayles demonstrated his knack for regional dialogue, while also heightening both time and place with the help of Appalachian locations, Haskell Wexler's cinematography, and Mason Daring's lively bluegrass soundtrack. Next was the ambitious "Eight Men Out," a detailed account of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, when eight players on the Chicago White Sox accepted mob money to throw that year¿s World Series. A lush film filled with period details that were somehow afforded on a shoestring budget, "Eight Men Out" was a vibrant ensemble piece that managed to shed light on the controversy, as seen through the eyes of all eight ball players (including John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney and Strathairn), each having complex reasons for agreeing or refusing to throw the World Series. Aided by cinematographer Robert Richardson, Sayles relied even more on visuals, using impressionistic lighting and scrupulous production design to help capture this period of American history.

Making another brief foray into television in 1989, Sayles wrote the pilot and became creative consultant on the highly-acclaimed, but short-lived drama, "Shannon's Deal" (NBC, 1990-91), which was about a once-powerful Philadelphia lawyer (Jamey Sheridan) forced to pay off gambling debts by taking on small cases. He continued to forge his distinctive path in the 1990s with his own projects, which were largely financed by his writing-for-hire work on Hollywood features. Sayles directed his next feature, "City of Hope" (1991), a somber study of life in a mid-sized contemporary American town that weaved together several storylines to create a bleakly complex picture of corruption and decay. After playing the fictional baseball player Roy "Lefty" Cobbs on "Mathnet: The Case of the Unnatural" (PBS, 1992), he directed one his most affecting dramas, "Passion Fish" (1992), which focused on the life-changing relationship between a paralyzed former daytime soap star (Mary McDonnell) and her live-in nurse (Alfre Woodard). While critical praise was given to McDonnell and Woodard for their central performances, Sayles earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

While continuing to write genre films that were charitably called schlock ¿ including the Dolph Lundgren vehicle "Men of War" (1994) ¿ Sayles managed to churn out an impressive body of work. He next helmed the children¿s fantasy, "The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994), which reunited him with cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Made on location in the western islands of Ireland, the film was adapted from Rosalie Frye's novella The Secret of Ron More Skerry, which centered around a girl living with her grandparents in a mystical fishing town. Sayles ¿ whose films had consistently scored with the critics, but under performed at the box office ¿ registered his biggest commercial breakthrough with the gritty "Lone Star" (1996), earning a second Oscar nomination for his original screenplay. Mainstream audiences responded enthusiastically to the richly textured, thoroughly engrossing drama that featured a strong ensemble cast including Kris Kristofferson, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena, Frances McDormand, Sayles regular Joe Morton and rising star Matthew McConaughey. Its story followed a Texas sheriff (Cooper) trying to unravel the life and death of his father (McConaughey) who had been sheriff of the Texas border town 15 years earlier. For several scenes, Sayles moved his camera from a long shot in the past to a close-up in the present, allowing both eras to exist simultaneously in the same tracking shot, a device that proved eloquent in his hands.

Unfortunately, his next film "Men with Guns" (1998), was less commercially successful, thanks to a lack of name actors and all-Spanish dialogue dooming it to the fate of so much of his previous work. Sayles followed up with the haunting and ambiguous "Limbo" (1999), set in an Alaskan community where everyone keeps their secrets closely guarded. Initially, the film seemed on par with Sayles¿ past work, which consisted of a large ensemble headed by David Strathairn as a former athlete-turned-handyman and Mary Elizabeth Mostrantonio as an unlucky-in-love lounge singer. But the writer-director turned the expected love story radically on its head, confounding convention and venturing into continually surprising territory, thematically reflective of the dangerous nature of the Alaskan wilderness. Sayles next delivered another thoughtful, finely etched multi-character story with "Sunshine State" (2002), set on a Floridian resort island caught up in a development conflict and populated with characters seeking to reconcile their pasts, presents and possible futures. Sayles assembled an exceptional cast ¿ which included Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Mary Steenburgen, Gordon Clapp, Mary Alice, Ralph Waite and Alan King ¿ and again bucked traditional narrative and thematic conventions to deliver an engrossing and realistic social portrait.

Lower key and less plot driven was Sayles¿ next effort, "Casa de los babys" (2003), which followed six white American women (Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Susan Lynch, Mary Steenburgen and Lili Taylor) trapped in bureaucratic limbo, as they wait in a South American hotel to adopt Latino infants. Although a bit more fragmented than his usual efforts, "Casa de los baby" nevertheless featured the expected whip-smart distinctive dialogue and all-too-truthful observation on personal politics. The filmmaker next turned his attention to the controversial "Silver City" (2004), a political satire-cum-mystery set against a Coloradan backdrop. The film featured Chris Cooper as "Dickie" Pilager, a doltish, English-impaired second generational gubernatorial candidate with a more-than-passing resemblance to George W. Bush. When Pilager accidentally fishes a corpse out of a river while filming a television spot, it sets in motion a labyrinthine investigation by a world-weary private investigator (Danny Huston) which reveals a deep abyss of corruption. With a cast that also featured Richard Dreyfuss, Maria Bello, Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Billy Zane, Miguel Ferrer, Michael Murphy and Mary Kay Place, Sayles delivered one of his most pointed and important films, released at the time of a hotly contested U.S. presidential election.

After earning a writing credit on Ron Howard¿s epic historical dram

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Amigo (2010)
3.
4.
  Silver City (2004) Director
5.
  Casa de Los Babys (2003) Director
6.
  Sunshine State (2002) Director
7.
  Limbo (1999) Director
8.
  Men With Guns (1997) Director
9.
  Lone Star (1996) Director
10.

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Casting By (2013)
4.
5.
 Toe Tactic, The (2008)
6.
 Honeydripper (2007)
7.
 Obscene (2007)
8.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Cast
9.
 American Storytellers (2002) Himself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Acted and directed with Eastern Slope Playhouse, North Conway, NH
1975:
Publication of first novel, <i>Pride of the Bimbos</i>
1978:
First screenwriting assignment, Joe Dante's "Piranha" (for Roger Corman); also played small unbilled role
1978:
Directed (also wrote, edited and acted) first film, "Return of the Secaucus Seven" (released in 1980)
1980:
TV debut as screenwriter on "A Perfect Match" (CBS)
1982:
Wrote and directed lesbian coming-of-age tale, "Lianna"
1983:
Worked within studio system (at Paramount) to ease the financial burden of making "Baby, It's You"
1984:
Played one of the Men in Black (with frequent Sayles repertory actor David Strathairn) sent to hunt down "The Brother from Another Planet" (Joe Morton); also wrote and directed
1986:
TV acting debut, in "Unnatural Causes"; also scripted
1987:
First collaboration with cinematographer Haskell Wexler, "Matewan"
1988:
Wrote and directed "Eight Men Out" about baseball's "Black Sox" scandal; also played sportswriter Ring Lardner; first collaboration with director of photography Robert Richardson
1990:
Created TV series "Shannon's Deal"; also scripted episodes and wrote lyrics; prominent jazz musicians Wynton Marsalis (who wrote the theme), Dave Grusin, Chick Corea and Lee Ritenour contributed to the score
1991:
Reteamed with Richardson and received almost universally good reviews for "City of Hope"
1992:
Received first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, "Passion Fish"
1994:
Reteamed with Wexler for "The Secret of Roan Inish"; Sayles' first foreign location
1996:
Earned second Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for big commercial breakthrough, "Lone Star"
1998:
Wrote and directed "Men With Guns", a pet project of his put temporarily on hold prior to filming "Lone Star"
1999:
Third collaboration with Wexler, "Limbo"; also seventh role for David Strathairn
2000:
Served as executive producer on the Sundance prize winner "Girlfight"; directed by Karyn Kusama
2002:
Wrote and directed "Sunshine State"
2003:
Helmed the feature "Casa de los babys" about six American women who travel to South America to adopt babies
2004:
Co-directed with John Lee Hancock "The Alamo" starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton
2004:
Wrote (also directed) the political satire "Silver City"; co-starred Chris Cooper, Daryl Hannah and Richard Dreyfuss
2007:
Helmed (also wrote) the musical drama, "Honeydripper"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Mount Pleasant High School: Schenectady , New York -
Williams College: Williamstown , Massachusetts - 1972

Notes

In 1983, Sayles received a 'genius grant' from the MacArthur Foundation receiving $30,000 tax-free over a five-year period.

The three Bruce Springsteen videos he has directed are "Born in the USA", "I'm On Fire" and "Glory Days".

"When you're making something with a lot of story lines, a lot of actors, and all these technical problems, and its very ambitious for the budget, you're juggling a lot of things. Anytime you've worked with an actor before, you can eliminate a question mark. That's just that much emotional energy and time that you don't have to spend working something out with an actor. You know, I've worked with Chris Cooper a couple of times and I know he can take care of himself. Poor Chris! So many of his scenes in 'Lone Star' involve asking for information. He's so consistent and such a deep actor; we could come to him with only two hours left in the day and say, 'Okay. now we're going to do your angle,' and he wouldn't feel panicked. He would have bben doing good stuff with the other actors all day, but he still had what he needed left." --John Sayles in Filmmaker, 1996

"If I had $200 million I'd probably find something more useful to put it into than movies, but if they told me I had to make a movie with the money, then I would probably make about 20 movies with it." --Sayles to Daily News, March 4, 1998

"There are movies which are just 'movie movies,' where the references in the movies are to other movies, where the behavior is a kind of movie behavior, and that's fine because that's the universe you're being asked to enter. Then there are movies on the other side of the continuum which are a little bit more like what goes on in life and is recognizable human behavior, and the references are to things that happen in real life, not to things which happen in movies.

"Ours are way over on that side. Even if there's a fantasy element, they still have their feet planted firmly on the ground of what happens in the world." --John Sayles, quoted in The Boston Globe, March 8, 1998

"One of the problems with my movies is that it's often hard to say what they're about in less than two sentences. I think that makes them more interesting, but much harder to sell." --Sayles in American Cinematographer, March 1998

Sayles is often referred to as the father of modern indie cinema

"I feel like so often you see women in films presented in this language of film that we've seen forever. They're inaccurate potraits, but we're so used to seeing them that we accept them. And John's movie is not like that"- Gyllenhaal on loving John Sayles work. Interview November 2002

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Maggie Renzi. Producer, actor. Has appeared in and produced Sayles' films.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Donald Sayles. School administrator.
mother:
Mary Sayles. Teacher.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Pride of the Bimbos" Atlantic/Little, Brown
"Union Dues" Atlantic/Little, Brown
"The Anarchists' Convention" Atlantic/Little, Brown
"Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan" Houghton Mifflin
"Sayles on Sayles" Faber and Faber
"Los Gusanos" HarperCollins
"John Sayles: An Unauthorized Biography" Renaissance Books
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