Tiger of the Week: Writer, Director Sean Hartofilis ’03

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Sean Hartofilis ’03, right, with actor Richard Schiff on the set of Beach Pillows. (Photo: Courtesy Sean Hartofilis)

When Sean Hartofilis ’03 was a student at Princeton, the film and video course offerings were limited. But the assignments for the two classes he did take — taught by Su Friedrich and Keith Sanborn — made a disproportionate impression. “I probably spent more time working on those films than on my other classes combined,” he said.

A decade later, Hartofilis has reached a career milestone with the release of his first feature film, Beach Pillows. He wrote and directed the indie drama, which made its festival debut last summer and will be released to video-on-demand and iTunes by Gravitas Ventures this week.

Beach Pillows is an endearing chronicle of two aimless childhood friends — one an aspiring author, the other a gregarious but troubled ex-con — as they seek fulfilling paths in the grown-up world of their Long Island hometown.

Hartofilis wrote the first draft of Beach Pillows in the summer following his graduation from Princeton. The script was optioned soon after he moved to Los Angeles in the fall, but nothing came of the initial deal. So Hartofilis found work as an assistant in Hollywood, for director Renny Harlin and producer Tom Sternberg ’59, and pursued other projects in his free time. “I made short films, I crashed on couches, … watched movies, and read about the technical aspects of filmmaking,” Hartofilis said. “That was sort of my film school.”

To raise the money needed to make Beach Pillows, Hartofilis knew he would have to find actors willing to take a chance on the small-budget venture. Geoffrey Arend ((500) Days of Summer) and Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) signed on for the lead roles and were the catalysts for the project, Hartofilis said. Family and friends — including fellow Princeton lacrosse alumni — also played a key role in funding the film.

Video-on-demand has become the independent-film equivalent of an off-Broadway play, said Hartofilis, who still could negotiate a theatrical release if there is enough interest. He’s already written five more films and is anxious to bring another to the screen. As a writer, he said, “The screenplay is not the product; the movie is the product. … I feel like I need to tell these stories.”

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