JOHN SAYLES Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: John Thomas Sayles                                                                       
Born: 28 September 1950 Schenectady, New York                                                 
John Thomas Sayles (born September 28, 1950) is an American independent film                 
director and screenwriter who frequently plays small roles in his own and other               
indie films.                                                                                   
Sayles was born in Schenectady, New York, the son of Mary (née Rausch), a                     
teacher, and Donald John Sayles, a school administrator. He was raised                         
Catholic and took to labeling himself "a Catholic atheist". Both of Sayles'                   
parents were of half Irish descent.                                                           
He attended Williams College, where a small incident provided an inkling as to                 
his future career. In 1972, while participating in the school's biannual trivia               
contest, Sayles' team was tied with another after eight hours, forcing the game's             
first sudden death overtime. Sayles was able to cite a particular line of                     
dialogue from the 1960 film The Time Machine, thus clinching that semester's                   
Like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron, among others, Sayles got his start in                 
film working with Roger Corman. Sayles went on to fund his first film, Return of               
the Secaucus 7, with $30,000 he had in the bank from writing scripts for Corman.               
He set the film in a large house so that he did not have to travel to or get                   
permits for different locations, set it over a three-day weekend to limit                     
costume changes, and wrote it about people his age so that he could have his                   
friends act in it.                                                                             
In 1983, after the films Baby It's You (starring Rosanna Arquette) and Lianna (a               
sympathetic story in which a married woman becomes discontented with her                       
marriage and falls in love with another woman), Sayles received a MacArthur                   
Fellowship for $40,000 a year for a five-year term. Sayles used the money to                   
fund The Brother from Another Planet, a film about a black, three-toed slave who               
escapes from another planet and finds himself at home among the people of Harlem               
in New York City, largely because he is incapable of speaking.                                 
In 1989, he created and wrote the pilot episode for the short-lived television                 
show Shannon's Deal about a down-and-out Philadelphia lawyer played by Jamey                   
Sheridan. Sayles received a 1990 Edgar Award for his teleplay for the pilot. The               
show only lasted 13 episodes before being cancelled in 1991. Sayles has funded                 
most of his films by writing genre scripts such as Piranha, Alligator, The                     
Howling and The Challenge. One such script, for an unproduced film called Night               
Skies, inspired the project that would eventually become the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. 
That film's director, Steven Spielberg, later commissioned Sayles to write the                 
script for the forthcoming Jurassic Park IV.                                                   
In deciding whether to take a job, Sayles reports that he concerns himself                     
mostly with whether there is the germ of an idea for a movie that he would want               
to watch. Sayles gets the rest of his funding by working as a script doctor; he               
has done rewrites for Apollo 13, The Fugitive, and Mimic, among others, and                   
finds the job rewarding since he gets to help other writers tell their stories                 
and also meet other directors and watch how they work. Some of his own better-known           
films include Lone Star, Passion Fish, Eight Men Out, The Secret of Roan Inish,               
and Matewan. His films tend to be politically aware; social concerns are a theme               
running through most of his work. He serves on the advisory board for the Austin               
Film Society.                                                                                 
In November 1997, the National Film Preservation Board of the United States                   
announced that Return of the Secaucus 7 would be one of the 25 films selected                 
that year for preservation in the National Film Registry at the Library of                     
Several actors frequently work with Sayles, most notably Chris Cooper, David                   
Strathairn, and Gordon Clapp, each of whom has appeared in at least four Sayles               
Sayles has recently stated that he would stop directing films, as writing                     
literature offers him a bigger range of opportunities.