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Director to Watch: Spencer Susser

Helmer learned his craft hands-on

Spencer Susser’s path to Sundance began in earnest more than 15 years ago at a commercial post-production house in Santa Monica. Susser, then a movie-crazed 18-year-old from Sherman Oaks who had just finished high school, walked inside to interview for a job as a runner.

When I saw all that equipment, I was like, ‘Cool, now I can re-edit all the movies I made in high school with my brother, Susser says.

He got the job, and thus began an old-fashioned apprenticeship in the craft of filmmaking (college was now out of the question). A few months later, Susser, who had been learning how to use the equipment in his off hours, cut his own version of a Nintendo spot that so impressed his bosses, they used his version for broadcast instead of their own. Within months of scoring his first film job, Susser had progressed from driving through freeway traffic with a bag full of videotapes to cutting commercials for the best directors in town.

I didn’t think about anything else but editing for the next five or six years,” he says. “It was like my film school — but after a while, I realized I didn’t want to be an editor.”

Using his savings, he shot a spec reel with his cinematographer brother Morgan; before long, RSA signed him as a director. After a few years making commercials, Susser expanded into making narrative shorts. He also began writing a script.

I decided to do my spin on a dude who’s really into heavy metal,” he says of the script for “Hesher,” which tells the story of the relationship between a family dealing with a tragic loss and the metalhead (or “hesher”) who befriends them. “I wanted to write a movie that I would want to see. I tried to come up with a way to do something honest that was really silly and fun to watch.”

Susser decided to send the script to his old friend Natalie Portman, whom he’d met on the set of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” while making a behind-the-scenes video for Lucasfilm. She signed on to play one of the leads and help produce; the rest is history.

Next up: a feature adaptation of his 2008 Sundance short “I Love Sarah Jane.”

VITAL STATS

AGE: 33

HOMEBASE: Splits time between Los Angeles and Sydney


INSPIRED BY:
“I have a group of filmmakers that I grew up with, and we just inspire each other, especially my friends from Australia, like (“Hesher” stunt coordinator) Nash Edgerton and (“Hesher” co-writer) David Michod.”

REPS: Agent: WME; attorney: Robert Wallerstein (Hirsch Wallerstein)

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