By Sally Deering
An actor’s life brings surprises with every part and when George Pogatsia of Jersey City found himself on a film set about to play a role, something happened that eventually led him to make his own films.
“I heard a little voice like Kazoo from ‘The Flintstones’ that said you can do this,” Pogatsia says on a break during post-production of his new movie. “I heard ‘you can do this’ then I heard ‘maybe not’. Then I heard ‘let’s try’.”
From that day on, Pogatsia set out to pursue a life not just as an actor, but as a screenwriter and director. He wrote the screenplay THE PIZZA TAPES which was optioned and then he set out to write FAMILY ON BOARD, which went from the page to film.
‘At the end of the day, it’s all about telling a story and hopefully doing it well,” Pogatsia says. ‘Maybe all the times I was acting, maybe subconsciously I took mental note.”
Pogatsia wrote, directed and plays the lead Mike Petito in his new film FAMILY ON BOARD about a family that loses someone to the criminal justice system and while on his way to report to prison, catastrophe strikes. Shot in New York and downtown Jersey City locations like outside School No. 5 and inside a funeral home, the film also stars Tony Sirico, the actor who played Paulie Walnuts in “The Sopranos” and Eric Roberts who starred in POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE and other great films. In FAMILY ON BOARD, Roberts plays the prosecutor who sends Pogatsia’s character to five years in prison.
“I’m a true believer that it starts with the script and I got him the script,” Pogatsia says about how he cast the popular movie star in the film. “Eric responded to the material, and we negotiated from there. He’s everything you think he is and gave me what I needed for the movie.”
Working with Sirico was a great experience. Pogatsia says: “Tony is as pro as they get. Came in ultra-prepared and he’s a great guy, very professional.”
Pogatsia worked with Sirico before when Pogatsia had a role in “The Sopranos” episode “Stage 5” where Christopher is shopping his movie CLEAVER and Pogatsia performed in scenes with Alex Baldwin and Anthony LaPaglia.
“Tony and I have the same manager,” Pogatsia says. “My character’s name was Frankie, I was an actor playing an actor. It was interesting being around the set. It was probably one of the greatest shows in history. It was a nice, almost surreal experience.”
After appearing in a couple of episodes of “Law & Order” Pogatsia says he learned a lot from watching directors work with actors and applied what he observed when directing actors in FAMILY ON BOARD.
“You have to let an artist do their thing,” Pogatsia says. “You don’t want to over-direct and put them in a box. They bring their own perspective to the work. I would talk to the actors about the character and the story and jumpstart their creativity and let it happen from there. I want them to feel safe and free and have fun. I want them to explore. I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas.”
He turned to writing when he got the idea for THE PIZZA TAPES and wrote the film in three days.
“I could not sleep,” Pogatsia says. “Ideas poured out of my head. When I was an actor, I would find myself writing backstory on the character I was playing and it would turn into 150-200 pages. It was more than just doing the work as an actor. I always loved creative writing as a kid.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Pogatsia moved to Jersey City in 2002. He studied acting with Sheila Gray and Paul Calderon in New York, but credits his cousin Gregory Rozakis, a “solid working actor” for inspiring him to be an actor. Rozakis earned a Golden Globe Award nomination in 1963 for his role as Hohannes Gardashian in the film AMERICA AMERICA. Now, 50 years later, Pogatsia keeps memories of his cousin Gregory as his inspiration and maybe, one day, Pogatsia will take home a prestigious award like the Golden Globe for his film.
As FAMILY ON BOARD goes through the final stages of post-production with music by Los Angeles composer Pancho Burgos-Goizueta, Pogatsia and executive producer Michael Mazzeo who also plays the role of Carmine in the film are making plans for New York and L.A. screenings for press and friends. Then it’s on to film festivals like Sundance, Toronto and Cannes.
“We can’t go too public with the screenings, it violates some film festivals’ rules that want premieres,” Pogatsia says.
FAMILY ON BOARD is also a family affair; Pogatsia’s children play his kids in the movie, too.
“There’s one scene in particular, it’s the morning I go to prison,” Pogatsia says. “I’m up early and fixing breakfast for my son and I’m crying and my daughter sees me crying and she starts crying, I reach over and pick her up and give her a kiss. It can’t be more organic than that. That scene’s in the movie. It’s real. How many people can turn around and share this experience with their kids.”
For more info:
FAMILY ON BOARD
Written, Directed and Starring George Pogatsia
Also Starring: Eric Roberts, Tony Sirico, Karina Arroyave, Matthew Cowles, Gino Cafarelli and Michael Mazzeo.