Alumni Spotlight | Joseph Minion (Film '86)

Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?
Yes. Andrew Sarris. He helped me to see films subtextually. In a concrete example he showed a class an Ophuls film -- The Earrings of Madame de... -- and he had the projectionist run a sequence over and over and asked us to notice what was extraneous in just that sequence, what was not absolutely necessary in telling the story. And that part was Ophuls's "style" and one of the little brushstrokes that conveyed a vision, apart from the surface narrative. He always naturally went right to the philosophical underpinnings of any film, without effort, and the knack for doing this rubbed off on me.
How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?

It was all about Andrew Sarris, as I described above. This was a great professor and it was in his classes that I came to really see film's potential for describing the human condition. He was always looking for the highest aspirations from the filmmakers he held in esteem and I came to know why some films had real depth and soul while others-- though perhaps perfectly entertaining and even quite intelligent -- fell short of that. He saw films like we read novels, critiquing them with that kind of literary scrutiny. All of what I've said has deeply and permanently affected what I want and demand of myself as an artist, so I would say that's quite an impact.
If you could revisit any piece you created during your time at the School of the Arts, which would it be? Why?
In my script for After Hours which was later directed by Martin Scorsese, I would have prepared the story more solidly for the ending I wanted when it went into production, that ending being the main character's re-entering into a giant woman's womb and then waking up naked and in the fetal position on lower Sixth Avenue as the sun is coming up. I would have made that the inevitable ending so it could not have been ditched.
What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?
Andrew Sarris's History of Cinema.

About Joseph Minion
Grew up in north New Jersey; moved to New York in 1977 and started making experimental films at the Collective for Living Cinema. Started film school at NYU and finished at Columbia. Thesis script made into film After Hours; next script made was Vampire's Kiss (co-produced by another Columbia alumnus, Barbara Zitwer). Cult films Motorama; Daddy's Boys; On the Run; Trafficking. Many screenplays. Have taught at School of Visual Arts, Long Island University, NYU, USC and the North Carolina Schoolf of Arts. Recently directed feature documentary on the mounting of a play about Vincent van Gogh in NYC.
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.