MAKE YOUR SHOW: theCreators
Actor/Filmmaker Nick Psinakis

Nick is an actor, writer and director from Long Island, NY. After graduating from The University of Delaware with a major in Visual Arts, Nick attended the conservatory acting program at the William Esper Studio in New York City where he studied the highly recognized work of Sanford Meisner and studied under William Esper, Joel Rooks and Terry Knickerbocker.

     
Nick, along with his writing partner Kevin Ignatius, formed Four Eighteen Films, a production company committed to conceptualizing and developing low-cost, high quality, independently produced films and television. “Four Eighteen” stems from the birthday they both share, April 18th.  Despite talking almost every day, it took them over three years to realize this. 

   

In 2011, they wrote, acted and produced the short film The Adoption Agency in conjunction with FunnyOrDie starring Rex Lee ("Entourage", "Young & Hungry").  In addition to garnering much attention on the website, the film opened the 2011 LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival, won the 2011 Christopher Wetzel Award for Independent Comedy and was an Official Selection for the 2011 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in both Chicago and Montreal respectively.

 

Since then Four Eighteen Films has produced countless music videos, short films and pilot presentations. Their most recent feature film, "My Best Friend’s Famous", is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and Tubi TV.

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NP:
How's it going guys?

 

John Cramer:
Good. How are you?

 

Jason Cicci:

Nice to meet you, Nick.

 

NP:
Nice to meet you as well. I'm settling back down in Los Angeles here. I was here till about the end of May and then went back East to see some family.

 

John:
But it wasn't all fun and games was it, it was a little bit of work too?

 

NP:
Yeah. We ended up shooting a movie during all of this.

 

Jason:

A whole movie?

 

NP:

Yeah. We were planning on doing something a little bigger and my writing partner had since moved to Pennsylvania, so we kind of quarantined for two weeks and wrote a script.

 

John:

Who's your writing partner?

 

NP:

Kevin Ignatius.  It was a little ambitious.  It was me, Kevin and Dave, our sound guy.  We wrote in two weeks, prepped it for probably three.

 

John:

You could do that work from anywhere.

 

NP:

Yeah, at that point, the script was written.  We were just dealing with logistics of schedule...

 

Jason:

Pre-production stuff.

 

NP:

Yeah, you know, all that kind of stuff. A lot of it was outside, almost all of it.  And a lot of it was during the day.  We used the national forest, the waterfalls, the lake, just all the resources that were there, then wrote it with that in mind. Small footprint, small crew, not a lot of people. Kevin had seen two teenage brothers in a local play and he's like, “I know it sounds crazy, man. They're good.  It would just be us and them. They're (playing) boy Scouts.  We can make it a cool horror film through the woods, looking for a mom, you know?”  So that's kinda what we did.

 

Jason:

So, it was a horror film?

 

NP:

Yeah, it's a horror film.  Kind of a psychological thriller more so than slasher.

 

Jason:

Love those.  What did you shoot it with? An actual camera? Was it iPhone shooting? What were you shooting with?

 

NP:

I own an A7, Sony A7, and we rented a 1971 Cook zoom lens that they actually shot “The Shining” on.

 

John:

Wow.

 

Jason:

Awesome.

 

NP:

So it's just the two of us.  We're going to be mobile but we made a creative decision to be a little bit more technical.  We wanted like smooth dolly stuff.  It wasn't gonna be handheld, run and gun.  No crew, zoom lens, you don't have to switch lenses.  You don't have to deal with any of that.  And it just had a cool vibe to it.  I did a little bit of research, rented it at a local production house.  It was like 150 bucks a day or something.

 

Jason:

This was a feature that you funded yourself?

 

NP:

Yeah, we did.  It was the idea of being able to wear many hats. My day job (is) as an editor.  I got into that a hundred percent from acting and making my own stuff.  Never went to school for it.  I only started that out of a necessity to be able to make my own work.  But going back to the movie, we're all fairly capable with the camera.  I edit it, Kevin's a really great musician.  So, you kind of knock out almost all of post-production and even production costs there.  We paid the lead actors and we paid Dave, our sound guy.

 

Jason:

How many actors did you have?

 

NP:

We had two teenage boys, (who were) the primary, bulk of the story and I also played a supporting…another person you don't have to pay.

John:

That's great. So, what you're saying is that while it may seem like this could have been a project you would have taken on earlier in your career, you probably wouldn't be able to pull it off.  You guys have all these new skills that you didn't have when you started making your own work.

 

NP:

That's very, very fair to say. A hundred percent.  We've been able to develop those skills (and) make a really great product really inexpensively, which lets us keep doing it without having to wait a long period of time - raise money, go through any of the red tape or the hoops.  It's not to say that we don't still go out and pitch.  It's more so for us, for our soul.  If we could do this maybe once a year and not break the bank, you kind of get the best of both worlds. You're being productive, you're pushing the bar up and you're getting to be creative on your own terms.

 

John:

So, you went to school for acting?

 

NP:

I did.  I went to undergrad at the University of Delaware.  I was a visual arts major and got scared and double majored in visual arts and business management.  Towards my senior year, I really knew I wanted

to act.  A bunch of buddies from college moved to New York, so I moved to New York City.  I just kind of hit the ground running.  I was getting more opportunities and I was getting in more rooms than I probably should have.  I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  So, I went to (the) William Esper studio, a Meisner-based studio in Manhattan.  Really well known, really great alumni.  So that was really life changing for me from that regard.  While I was in New York, I was doing a lot of different stuff.  A lot of auditioning, a lot of extra work, trying to get my SAG card.  For whatever reason, the casting director at “Saturday Night Live” liked me.  I met Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island Guys.  Three best friends that were making their own videos.  I was fortunate to work a really late night with them once.  They're like, “I don't know how it happens, man. We’re lucky. We're just making stuff.  That was really major thing for me where I was like, “that's what I want to do. I want to make stuff with my friends, on my own terms.”  That was the turning point where I started to teach myself how to edit.  I bought a camera and me and my friends started making stuff.  We actually made a really bad music video parody.

Jason:

What was the song?

 

NP:

I'm embarrassed to say it, but I will.  It was “My Blowout Haircut” and it was about Guidos on Long Island with spiky hair.

 

John:

Nice.

 

Jason:

Can this be seen anywhere?

 

Nick:

I hope not, but it might still be poking around somewhere. Unfortunately.

 

Jason:

We'll do some research, Nick.

John:

So you start making stuff, you get the gear and you start teaching yourself how to edit?  Are you watching videos on YouTube? How are you learning how to edit?

 

NP:

Yeah, YouTube and online.  I never took class in my life.

 

John:

Where do you meet Kevin?

If you're telling a good story or it's unique or personal, that should be enough to connect with somebody and not get so caught up in the lighting and the technical stuff.

NP:

I meet Kevin in New York city in an acting class.  We had similar things in common, similar people that we knew.  He said, “I'm moving to LA with my girlfriend.  You want to come visit, whatever.”  And we just stayed in touch.  He was out in LA for a couple of years before I came out.  So, we were making stuff on different coasts, believe it or not.  The first thing that we made was a short film. It was very, post-college kind of figuring out life type of thing. So, I was just like, “Why don't you come back?  We’ll film it.”  At that time, I had a good bartending job.  I was like, “Fuck it, I'll pay for it. I don't care.”  It wasn't an exorbitant amount of money, a couple thousand bucks.  We shot in two days at my parent’s house on Long Island, in my apartment in Manhattan.  You know, small crew with DP, camera, sound guy.

 

Jason:

Was it written with locations you had in your back pocket in mind?

 

NP:

Yeah, it was.  For better or worse, we've kind of always reversed engineered in that way.  I saw a Robert Rodriguez interview where he's like, “I now seek that out because I think it draws more creativity from you.  You know, to have a huge imagination, endless possibilities. And that's the most creative thing you could do.”  It forces you to be more creative.  What do I have?  How could I make it interesting, unique and fit within the story?  We’ve always been like, yeah, reverse engineering.

 

Jason:

With your latest project, is that how you decided, since it's more of a small concept, that you would go with a different lens or that you'd get more into the technical part of it, because that added a special element to it as opposed to huge locations or big budgets?

 

NP:

Yeah.  In the last two years, Kevin moved back home to Northwestern Pennsylvania.  Once he did that, it was immediate. We have to film a movie there because it’s a super small town, not much around there, but beautiful, beautiful landscapes.  The idea is we could go there and have carte blanche in a small community.  His parents grew up there, his wife's parents grew up there. They know people, people are willing to help when you're in a small community that, so once he was there, that was on our radar. That was definitely in our head.

 

John:

I think most actors, when they do make their own work, they're trying to further their acting career. They're trying to showcase their skills as an actor, have reel material, have material to market themselves to casting directors, directors, producers. But it sounds like you have gotten to a different phase where you're not just focused on showcasing yourself as an actor.  

 

NP:

Yeah, some of the acting work that I have gotten has been from stuff I've made myself.  But whenever we had a TV deal with a big studio and we were going to act in it and we created it and all of those meetings, all of those pitches, anybody that we met because of that project, including our agent at a very big agency was because they saw stuff that we made ourselves.  It was nothing else.  It wasn't a guest spot on NBC.  It wasn't a movie with Russell Crowe.  It was all based on stuff we had created ourselves that we then showed and sent to them.  The other thing it does is it gives you a chance to really stretch your muscle because most people, especially in television are gonna probably cast you very close to who you are.  And there could be some great work in that, but you might want to play something totally off type.  Here’s an opportunity to show someone, “Hey, you might not see me this way, but I could do this, you know?”

 

John:

Right.

 

NP:

Also, the waiting for auditions, some people could do it.  There are some people that like it and are great at it, the life of just an actor.  It makes me crazy, so I need to do something to keep myself productive so when that does come up, I'm a little fresher.  I have other stuff going on.  It's not, “Oh my God, my one audition in two months!  “If I don't book this, I'm not eating.” It helps me with that, too.

Nick with Writing Partner Kevin Ignatius

John:

One of the things that we hear a lot is people are afraid to try things.  “I'm an actor, I don't want to write.  I'm an actor, I can't figure out the camera, the lenses, the lighting.”  It sounds like you guys just dove right in did everything and weren't afraid to try and fail?  How did you deal with that fear?

 

NP:

I think that's always going to be there but for me, the fear of not trying was scarier to me than, “Oh, I might not be able to figure it out.”  The guys from “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, they shot their pilot on mini DV tapes in their living room, and they didn't have any lights.  The other reference is “Broad City”.  I think they just filmed with a phone. Decent sound, I think.  That's the thing. So it's like, it's being creative. You're involved in the whole process.  And if you're telling a good story or it's unique or personal, that should be enough to connect with somebody and not get so caught up in the lighting and the technical stuff.

 

John:

Can you talk about how you met new people in terms of your community through making your own work?

 

NP:
Work gets work right?  Most people do a lot of things in this business and very few people really are just actors anymore. You look at credits now, big time actors are producing, they're writing, they're directing.  To answer your question, because of editing, because of making my own stuff, um, Kevin and I kind of partnered with two other producers who had a big-time agent. They were out here, pitching, pitching, pitching and selling, writing.  They basically sold a bunch of stuff, nothing got made.  We made a bunch of stuff, nothing got sold.  We've done multiple projects together, but they came on to produce an independent film called “International Falls” and they brought me on because I knew how to edit, and I could provide some value.  I was associate producer on the film. I was the DIT on set, so I was taking in all the footage. I was getting to know all these people - the crew, the DPS, the director.  Because of that, I was on set for the whole thing.  The film starred Rob Huebel and Rachel Harris.  Kevin Nealon did a day. I got Mindy Sterling to do a day from Austin Powers.  So now all of a sudden, you're in this world and “Oh shit, I need a couple lines. You know, Nick, you're an actor. Go heckle Rob Huebel on stage for a little bit while we do this. You never know like how those things are gonna work out, because now it all becomes a conversation.  “Oh, you're an actor?  When do you act?  Where did you study?  Oh, you studied in New York?  Oh, you studied with Bill?  I know Bill.  Do you know so-and-so? What have you been doing?” “Well, I did an indie movie.”  “Oh, when's this come out?  I want to see it. Where's it going to be?”

 

Jason:

So, you created an opportunity for yourself by the other things you could do?

 

NP:

Yeah and odd because it's in a weird way, it’s more powerful than just being one thing.

 

John:

So, you had already made “My Best Friend's Famous”?

 

NP:

Yeah, it became a nice conversation piece where it was like, “How do I see it? Where is it? Who's in it?  “How did you make it?  You acted in it?  And then that conversation starts happening and percolating and you're on people's radar as doing different things.

 

Jason:

You're not just an actor, you're doing lots of stuff now.

 

NP:

Exactly.  And you know, it could kind of go both ways.  I started on that set as DIT/ editing work and people found out that I was an actor and I got a small role and then I was able to send them my acting work.  It can happen the other way, where if you're on set as an actor and you're talking to somebody and they're like, “I really needed an editor, a good DIT.” And you're like, “Well, I do that, too.”  So, I got a small acting role in that movie. I met a lot of great people. I was able to then develop that, build relationships and say, you know, “Hey, we just did this indie movie. And here's so my acting stuff.”  Just to be able to talk about that intelligently, I think they respect that.

"...all of that stuff came from work we submitted that 100% we made ourselves, went to all those executives, all those studio heads, the agent that started working with us, saw it.  And we all did that ourselves, on our own belief in ourselves."

John:

Wouldn't you say “My Best Friend's Famous “was kind of a next level?

 

NP:

Yeah, for sure.  At that point, we had only made shorts and sketches and music videos.  We (also) did a pilot on spec by ourselves.  We had a bad experience with a major studio where it fell through and it was two and a half years of development. We're like, “we could have made a movie!”  It motivated us to do this shit ourselves, or at least dictate some of our own terms where we're not waiting two and a half years to be given permission to make something.  We said, “Okay, we made these shorts.  I edit them, Kevin scores them.  Can we elongate that and make a feature?”  Because a feature is in a lot of ways, not that it should be all about the money, but at least there's a little bit more of a proven method to maybe really have some kind of longevity or career with it where you could get some kind of return on investment.

John:

Okay. So now you're talking about making money from something that you make.

 

NP:

Yes...

 

John:

So you were an actor, you made your own work and then all of a sudden people are going to start trying to pay you to make work?  How did, how did you get from here to there?

 

NP:

Well, we probably met with a good chunk of people in Hollywood in a six month period, big players. And it really showed me the power of the agents. Not that I like it.  It showed me how all of a sudden you have meetings constantly from a pilot we made on our own that we showed them.

 

John:

And that was “Life Behind Bars”, right?

 

NP:
The name of the show was “Life Behind Bars” and it was about high-end bartenders in New York.  It wasn't linear.  They're in jail, you don't know why, what they did.  They have these confessions that are similar to “The Office”, but it's in the past, informing the narrative.

 

John:

“Usual Suspects” for bartenders.

 

NP:

It’s just so funny how some of these executives are so practical and linear.  I'm like, “Listen, in the past, you're in jail. The story is you're seeing them in the bar.”

 

John:

How they got there...

 

NP:

You're trying to say, how did this happen?  “How I Met Your Mother”, am I ever going to find out how I met your mother? But all of that stuff came from work we submitted that 100% we made ourselves, went to all those executives, all those studio heads, the agent that started working with us, saw it.  And we all did that ourselves, on our own belief in ourselves.

 

John:

So you're making your own work.  Are you then thinking we could be working at a different level?  We could be making work that's not just serving our acting careers, necessarily. And you're pushing it out to people and trying to get it seen?  Is that how that works?

 

NP:

Yeah. You know, I think a lot of the early stuff was kind of okay. It's for us, as an actor to get seen or as a writer to get seen. And the festival circuit.  There's a natural growth to want to do it at the next level and keep going forward.  In that particular case, a good friend of ours who happens to be a very big agent, saw it and said, “What are you guys doing with this?” And again, it's kind of the weird, shady Hollywood thing, but it does happen. And we said we're gonna try to pitch it. We're going to take it to, festivals. And, and he's like, “Well, do you want me to rep you on this?” And that's how it started. But you know, leading up to that was kind of building trust in those people and keeping them abreast of what's going on.  So when you have that screening that they might connect to (and you don't know what these people are going to connect to), they could connect to something different.  Or (for) whatever reason, they could've just had a weird day.  Which then went to “what else do you have?  What's in your arsenal?  What could I send the studio of your work?  What could I send the production company?” Sure. And then it goes back to, “Oh, we did three sketches for Funny or Die”.

 

Jason:

And actually had stuff you could send.

 

NP:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

John:
The key is making your own work.

 

NP:

I really can't preach it enough.  This is what I equate it to: if you're a musician or an artist (and I understand making movies and making theater is a collaborative thing) you're not going to wait to paint a picture for somebody to say, “Okay, now you're allowed to paint.  We think you're ready.  I'm going to pay you.” You’re going to paint.  You're going to make music in your house. You're going to create to do it.