Featured PA Filmmaker - Leon Sanginiti, Jr.

Friday, September 20, 2019 10:59 AM | Jaymie Macek (Administrator)

  By: Maria Shamkalian
PAFIA Vice-Chair

Please meet Leon Sanginiti, Jr. who is a full-time Pennsylvania filmmaker and a member of International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600). He worked on most of M. Night Shyamalan's films starting with “Wide Awake” that starred Rosie O’Donnel, Dennis Leary and Robert Loggia.

Leon is currently working on a TV series for AMC called “Dispatches From Elsewhere” which stars Jason Segel of “How I met Your Mother”, Sally Field, and Andre 3000.

1)   What are your biggest achievements in the film industry.
As a crew member, especially in the camera department, I think the completion of any job you were fortunate enough to be hired on is a great achievement. This industry isn’t a very easy nut to crack for many. It’s challenging and, many times, very closed off to people trying to “make it”. A job well done, and the ability to be re-hired, is a great achievement. I work as a camera assistant, it’s a taxing position, but also can be very rewarding.

2)   What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
Well, as I mentioned, being fortunate enough to get hired on a major Hollywood production is half the battle of surviving in this industry. The other half is using your skills to do a job well, and to know you helped in some small way, make that production a success. I recently wrapped “21 Bridges” for STX Films, and “Servant” for Apple. Both of which I had worked with the cinematographers on previous shows, and they were comfortable enough to re-hire me, knowing I can do a good job. My relationship with local director M Night Shyamalan is also something I am very happy with. I’ve known Night for over 20 years and have worked on almost all of his locally shot features here in Philly.

3)   How did you get started in the film industry?
When I was around 9 years old I was fascinated with sci-fi and fantasy movies. I wanted badly to be a stop motion animator through my childhood. I used to make small jointed models of dinosaurs and creatures in my parent’s basement and shoot short animated films with my friends. When I got into college, Temple University in Philadelphia, I majored in Film Production and started to work more with camera and lighting. This led to me shooting several student films, and really learning to love the idea of how the camera works within a film. After I graduated I started to work as a camera PA on commercials, and finally got to work as a camera assistant on independent features. Eventually this led to me breaking into the market of major feature films.

4)   Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
I was born in Philadelphia and I’m proud of my city. The history, culture, people, everything. I’m happy to call it home, and I really don’t wish to work anywhere else. I’ve traveled all over for work, but I am happiest here. My family, friends, and my roots are here.

5)   What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
My favorite places to shoot in PA are in Philly, especially South Philly, that’s where I was born and raised. Sometimes I get to shoot in locations that I used to shoot when I was a kid making my own short films, and that’s always a treat.

6)   What do you love the most about your job?
I love being able to solve problems, especially when you collaborate with talented people. I love the ability to see how things work out and finally being able to see the end result on the big screen with lots of people in a theater. I love seeing the reaction of others when they get to experience a film I worked on for the first time. Hearing the audience laugh or scream means a lot, like I had a small roll in their enjoyment.

7)   What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
Working on “The Sixth Sense” with Night Shyamalan is very memorable, even though we shot it more than 20 years ago, it still feels like yesterday. After reading the script all I could do was think how incredible this film was going to be as long as Night stayed true to his vision, which of course, he did. Bruce Willis was fantastic to work with, and Haley Joel Osment was an\ amazingly talented child actor. It was an wonderful experience, and the success of that film is something I am extremely happy for Night, the local crew,  and Philadelphia itself.

8)   Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
I currently am working on a TV series for AMC called “Dispatches From Elsewhere” which stars Jason Segel of “How I met Your Mother”, Sally Field, and Andre 3000. I am the B Camera 1st AC. I also have two other shows coming out later this year, “21 Bridges” which stars Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” and Sienna Miller, and “Servant” which will be Night Shyamalan’s new episodic series for Apple’s new streaming service.

9)  PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
Without the Film Tax Credit, there is no doubt that the film industry in PA will be almost non-existent. Our industry relies on the credit to survive, because without it, producers will undoubtedly go somewhere else to film. It’s that simple. We have seen productions that were set up and ready to go, production offices open, locations being scouted, etc, and then suddenly we get notified that the show is packing up and going somewhere else because the Tax Credit was depleted. This is devastating to us. We need to work to survive, obviously, and when shows suddenly move away because there is no incentive to shoot here it hurts everyone within the industry, and even those who are not directly involved, like local vendors, hotels, restaurants, and so on. It’s the worst case of trickle down effect.

10)  What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
My best advice is to network. Connect with anyone that you believe can help you in any way, no matter how small. It really is all about who you know in this business. Hone your skills, expand your abilities and talents, but in the end, if someone is there to help you in some way, it can make the difference between success and mediocrity. Regarding the mistakes to avoid, I have to say it’s important to take your time when you start out. I’ve seen a lot of people try to rush their way through the beginning of their career, trying too hard to make something of themselves without taking the appropriate steps to make it by learning the ropes first.

11) What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
Well, first networking is the most important way to connect to others in the industry. Staying in touch with co-workers and staying on top of what rumors are swirling about. Philadelphia has a wonderful Film Office, and their website is helpful with news and contact info regarding jobs that are happening. And finally, after a while, you may find yourself fortunate enough to get called for work simply from recommendations of others you have worked with before. That is when you know that you are doing something right.

12) What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
Be patient. Pay attention. Be kind and helpful. As a crew member those things are most important. It can help you get more work, and more importantly, helps you make friends.

13) What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
The original “Rocky” is my favorite film shot in Philly. It was the first time I actually saw my city in the movies as an additional character in the movie itself. I’ll never forget seeing that in the theater.

14) What is your favorite project that you worked on?
“The Sixth Sense” is my favorite film because it is so well done. It was fun and exciting, and it made me feel like I worked on something very special. Actually, any of the 11 films I have worked with Night Shyamalan on are pretty special.

15) What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
I aspire to continue doing what I’m doing for as long as I can. Working as a camera assistant is unique because I get to be right in the center of the film making process with very talented people. I get to learn new technology all the time, and I get to do something that I have loved ever since I was a child.

16) What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Well, I don’t have any projects per say that I am working on independently, but I am always eager to help in any way those who aspire to work in the camera department as an AC. You can visit my website at www.phillyac.com and drop me an email!


Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)
461 Cochran Road, Box 246
Pittsburgh, PA 15228
(717) 833-4561  info@pafia.org

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