Scott Schiaffo [Interview]
July 10, 2013 1 Comment
Every once in a great moon, a film comes out that is absolutely perfect in so many ways. And one of the things that makes said film so wonderful is usually (don’t quote me) is a wonderfully assembled cast. Granted there are great films out there that only require on terrific lead character to make the whole thing work, but who can resist a group of great actors all gather as one?
And in 1994, a little gem of an independent film came out known as Clerks. This is a film that shocked the world with its vulgarity, roughness, and brilliance. It is also a film with an amazingly real and wonderfully spoken cast who ironically enough, had never been heard of before appearing in this now cult classic memoir of the everyman. And one of those characters was portrayed by the amazingly talented actor/musician Scott Schiaffo who starred as one of the most heinous characters of all time (think the indie film’s version of Nurse Ratchet). It was Scott’s interaction with Dante (portrayed by Brian O’Halloran), Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), and an angry mob that really kicked things into gear for Clerks, and has marked itself in history as one of the greatest scenes of commotion and hilarity in independent film history.
I thought it would be cool to see what Scott Schiaffo has been up to these days, and man, the man has had a career that is definitely of note, and has come along way from portraying one of the most infamous pricks of all time. And I can personally vouch that he is one of the nicest, kind, and generous folks you could ever know. Nowhere near is insulting to human life as the gum slanging douchebag we all love to hate. So check out what Scott has been doing, what is in his future, and basically gain a little insight from one of the independent film world’s greatest talents. Enjoy!
How did you score the gig as the ever hated Chewlies Gum representative in Clerks, and how was the experience of shooting with the young Kevin Smith?
It’s funny that you label the Chewlies Gum Guy as “ever hated” because I tend to agree that he’s pretty much an “A-1 LOUDMOUTH A$$HOLE” but fans of the film seem to embrace him in an almost oddly endearing way, which is awesome for me 20 years later, but still it makes me wonder why he’s “liked” because he’s pretty despicable. I say that all the time and the response usually is, “well he’s pretty funny” so I guess that redeems him but he was written to be an A$$HOLE and I played him like one.
I scored the role by auditioning. I didn’t know Kevin or any of the production folks I was coming from about an hour and change away from the auditions. I saw the ad in a New Jersey newspaper classified section. Usually I’d get audition notices in papers like Backstage but this was in with the classifieds of a north jersey newspaper, the Star Ledger I believe, and it struck me as interesting. The wording was something like, “Indie film maker explores the day in the life of a convenience store clerk.” I am paraphrasing, of course, but it was a very interesting little ad.
It was additionally attractive because it was going to be filming in New Jersey and back then there weren’t that many indie films being shot in NJ, at least not any that were listing auditions in the trades I was following at the time. We’re talking no internet or cell phones at this time, the stone ages!
As for shooting with the young Mr. Smith, I personally was very quickly impressed by Kevin. I was older than most of my fellow cast mates on this film. I went in feeling like an older statesman. Kevin’s command of the English language was very apparent from jump. He has a great vocabulary. The banter between Dante & Randall is priceless as is the interplay between Brodie & T.S. and so on and so on.
I felt quite confident that he’d whip us all into shape and make a cool little film. Of course none of us had any idea this cool little filthy B & W film would outperform our wildest expectations. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it was a dream come true for pretty much all of us on that film and balls man, how often do you get to be a part of something like that?
Did you ever foresee Clerks becoming the legend that it has become?
Absolutely not. If I could foresee that type of thing I’d produce films and make tons of dough! No man that was kismet, serendipity or just plain old dumb luck. Honestly, I didn’t think we had a chance at cross over or mainstream success because of how crude the dialogue was at the time.
I thought the film was hilarious and quite unique but I thought we’d get a small run and become a cult thing in the college and indie world. I mean come on; if you remember they wanted to slap an NC 17 on it because the language was so brutal so usually that meant a smaller audience which would have been fine by me too. When it was accepted to Sundance I was floored and when it won at Sundance I was speechless. What a wild ride that first year was for all of us involved in the film!
You are a renowned Jersey boy, and have been featured in several films shot and based there. What do you feel is New Jersey’s status in the film industry?
You can’t have an intelligent conversation about the film industry and not give New Jersey the recognition it deserves. Well known New Jersey native, Thomas Edison, not only invented and built the apparatus for filming and projecting motion pictures, he also produced films for public viewing.
As far as New Jersey’s current status in the industry, it’s common knowledge we’re a force to be reckoned with. I’ll give you a conservative guesstimation and say half of the actors, directors, writers and producers working in Hollywood today came from the Garden State or the East Coast.
Can you tell us a bit about the 2006 film, Idiots Are Us, in which you starred, co-produced, and wrote? How did the idea for this film come about?
The main character of Mo came from a short film I did many years ago called I Got Stuff. Writer/director Michael P. Russin saw this short and enjoyed the hapless nature of the character and he and I being frequent collaborators decided to build a comedic duo off of the back of this character and do a feature length treatment. Michael’s instincts served us well as Idiots Are Us won Best Comedic Feature in the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2006.
I understand you are a musician as well as a man of the screen. What do you play? Do you still perform?
I’ve been playing guitar since age 13 and it’s my main instrument and the one I embrace above all of the others. But in no particular order I also play piano/keyboards, bass, harmonica and the drums.
I have a project studio where I record, mix and master professional recordings for musicians and songwriters, but I mostly create music for film and video in my studio. I do digital video post and media design too. It’s on a per project basis and level but it’s really been a lifelong passion and dream to have a project studio set up where I can do everything from MIDI keys/strings to live drums and loud guitars!
I am releasing a CD later this year. It will be a collection of film music I’ve scored and produced for indie films over the past 15 years. The proceeds will go to the abused and homeless animal charity I’ve been working with called the Angels of Animals. They are based in northern New Jersey where I live.
Is there a role or type of character that you feel as though you were just meant to play?
If you asked me that question many years ago I would have waxed on tirelessly! Today I am thankful to continue to be cast in a myriad of interesting roles and projects. Certainly my turn as the Chewlies Gum Guy in Kevin Smith’s audacious debut film Clerks assured me the opportunity to be seen as a versatile and spirited actor.
What have you got going on these days and what can we find you doing in the near future?
I appeared in two films which were shot over the last 18 months that I am looking forward to seeing released in the not too distant future. The Puppet Apocalypse, the brainchild of Scott Meaney and Christopher Laudando of Constellation Park fame, is an insane comedic half man half puppet madcap romp. I can say no more, but be afraid – be very afraid…
Charlie Esser’s I Know You Want This is a physiological thriller set in a Jersey strip club (my home away from home LOL).
Both of these films are unique and independent in spirit, and run the gamut from drama to comedy and back again. I am very fortunate to have been cast in these projects.
Lastly I’m still promoting my book from 2012, “Vicious Dogs Attack Me in Sleepless Nights of Summer” which is available worldwide on Amazon.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
That is such an awesome question, I am glad you asked! This past weekend I went to the New Jersey State Fair with people I am very blessed to have in my life today. We had a fantastic night of fun, excitement, laughs and memories.
As we walked around the fair grounds and took it all in I became consumed with happiness and gratitude for the life I have today and most importantly for the people who are in it! I mean I could not wipe the grin from my face all night and I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve all night long!
Be sure to head over to Amazon.com to pick up a copy of Scott’s incredible book, Vicious Dogs Attack Me In Sleepless Night Of Summer. You’ll be glad you did!