SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK. BUT for the past six years, Miguel Sapochnik wasn’t one of them.
After Miramax won a bidding war in 2001 for the remake rights to his sci-fi short “The Dreamer,” Sapochnik was touted as one of the hottest new British directors of his generation. What followed, however, was frustration and disappointment, as project after project — eight in all, with U.S. studios and U.K. indies — either stalled in development, or, three times, collapsed in pre-production.
His fortunes finally changed last week, however, when Universal gave the nod for his debut feature “The Repossession Mambo,” a sci-fi satire about organ transplants starring Forest Whitaker and Jude Law. Producer is Scott Stuber, with shooting set for September.
Relief is too small a word to describe Sapochnik’s feelings as he knuckles down to work after six years becoming, by his own account, “an expert at taking meetings” and watching his friends and contemporaries leapfrog him into production.
“With ‘The Dreamer,’ I jumped to the front of the queue, and stood there waiting for six years,” he says ruefully. “It’s been a humbling experience.”
“But at the same time, thank God — I’m so much more mature now than I was six years ago. It’s been a massive lesson in patience, which is fundamental if you’re going to be a director. When you’re younger, you want to project an image of yourself through your work, but now I just want to make something honest.”
At 32, time is still firmly on his side. But as Sapochnik explains, he’s been trying to become a movie director for two decades, having found his vocation at age 11 in London’s Empire Leicester Square cinema, under the mind-bending influence of David Lynch‘s “Dune.”
“I had this total obsession that I would have my first movie at the Empire when I was 24, so it was a big disappointment that it didn’t happen,” he admits.
Sapochnik was born and raised in London by Argentine parents who fled their homeland in 1969 to escape the political situation there. He was eight when the Falklands War broke out, which gave him a rapid and uncomfortable lesson in geopolitics.
His parents sat him down and explained that Argentina and England had gone to war to distract people from their domestic problems. But that knowledge didn’t protect him from the schoolyard abuse he suffered for years afterward. “It was painful to feel that I knew what was really going on, but that nobody believed me,” he remembers.
That experience seems to have shaped his attitude to filmmaking, which is infused with a desire to provoke debate as much as to entertain. “Sci-fi works for me as a way of getting across a social conceit couched as entertainment,” he explains. “Social realist movies lost their way because they are just not that entertaining.”
He calls “Repossession Mambo” a “dark and subversive morality tale about credit,” which imagines a future when artificial organs can be bought on account, but get violently reclaimed if you fall behind on payments. He spent four years developing it on his own dime with scribes Eric Garcia (who wrote the original novel) and Garrett Lerner, and set it up with the aid of his U.K. agents Rachel Holroyd and Jenne Casarotto, and Law’s rep Tor Belfrage.
But sci-fi isn’t the only string to his bow. He’s also prepping a bilingual indie drama, “Rainey the Assassin,” inspired by his own family, about an Argentine psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with avenging the killing of a distant cousin by a British soldier in the Falklands.
“The idea is to make a big movie, and rather than wait around to see how it does, to disappear off and make something completely different in a foreign language on a tiny budget,” Sapochnik says.
“The shift for me, after spending a long time trying to take existing projects and bring them to fruition as a director for hire, is going back to where I started as a self-generating director. After trying and failing to get so many things made, I have decided that you’ve just got to do something you really, really love.”
If six years of failure have taught Sapochnik how to get personal movies made that he’s truly passionate about, then he’s one of the lucky few after all.