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The 'Gravesend' Wunderkind : Salvatore Stabile hated film school but Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg loved his stuff. Now Stabile has a DreamWorks deal and a movie in the works.

September 18, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Salvatore (Sal) Stabile the next Orson Welles?

Well, Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg both think the 22-year-old writer-director has that special something.

Stone is presenting Stabile's first movie, "Gravesend," which opens in Los Angeles Friday, and Spielberg has signed him to a two-picture deal at DreamWorks. Stabile has gotten more ink than established directors and was even the subject this summer of a New Yorker profile.

One thing Stabile has for sure is moxie. At 19, the Brooklyn-born New York University film school dropout took a $5,000 inheritance from his grandmother and decided to make a film based on his life and friends from his Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend.

Shot primarily on 16mm and Hi-8 with a barest of crews, most of the filming took place after midnight with no permits. Two years ago, Stabile took a rough cut of the film to the Hamptons Film Festival.

His life turned into a chapter out of "A Star Is Born" at the festival. First, he met the son and daughter of the late Time Warner CEO Steve Ross, who gave him $60,000 for post-production. Then Daniel Edelman signed on to executive produce the film and help supply financing. Edelman also brought the film to the attention of Creative 'I wanted my story told about my four friends. I just decided to go out and do it. I never knew what a take was and how things came together.'

Sal Stabile

Artists Agency. Agent Bob Bookman, who represents Michael Crichton and William Goldman, was impressed with the film and signed Stabile.

The completed film had its world premiere last year at the Seattle Film Festival. After a positive review in Variety, Stabile was besieged with calls from producers and distributors. He came out to Los Angeles to take meetings, carrying his film around in a plastic garbage bag.

With CAA's help, the film got a distribution deal with Island Digital Media, and Stone agreed to present the film, which has now been blown up to 35mm and features a new soundtrack.

Stabile, who turns 23 on Oct. 1, is busy writing his next film, "Dancing With Angels." He recently talked about his remarkable "Gravesend" experience, how much he hated film school and what it's like to be in the company of Stone and Spielberg.

Question: What is it like to get all of this attention before your movie comes out?

Answer: I want to tell you an answer that would just give you the greatest response to that. The words I could use are "overwhelming," "scary" and "funny." I have been thrown into the spotlight.

I haven't slept in days. My nerves are shot because every day you open up another paper or magazine [and there I am]. I am on "The Gossip Show" on E! and my movie has never been seen.

For the three years I put in, I have everything coming to me that should be coming to me because we all broke our asses on this film, from the actors to the [director of photography].

Q: But it doesn't sound like you've gone Hollywood. You still live in Brooklyn.

A: I'm still broke. Up until a year ago, I worked in a restaurant to support myself. You don't get rich easy [being an independent filmmaker]. I'm still fighting to pay my rent. I moved back to Brooklyn because it's cheaper. Living in Manhattan, I still can't afford it.

Q: Here you are just 22 and Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg have taken you under their wings.

A: That's the hardest part because I feel like I don't deserve to be in their company, so I am very humble about it. I realize how lucky I am. I know that they see something [in my film], I just don't know what and for me, I am just glad to be in their presence. It's scary because you have to act and behave with the same class and integrity that they have. For a 22-year-old kid to now act on their level, it's a very strong demand. The respect I am getting from them gives me the confidence to go on and make my next couple of pictures.

Q: Isn't it true when Spielberg first called you, you thought it was your brother Steven?

A: [Spielberg] said he was going to call. I figured not at 7 or 8 in the morning [which he did]. I answered the phone and he said, "It's Steven." I thought, my brother? What's wrong? I said, "Steven who? My brother?" He said, "It's Steven Spielberg." I said, "Oh, my God." I was in boxer shorts and no shirt because I just woke up. All of a sudden the first thing I started doing--don't ask me why--was putting clothes on.

Q: Were you a big movie buff and that's why you got into directing?

A: I never wanted to be a director. I can honestly say that.

Q: But you went to NYU film school for a couple of semesters.

A: I was a writer. At 15, I wrote a novel that was "Gravesend." I put myself in a room and wrote the novel [about my] friendship with my four friends.

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