Stephen C. Sepher is a filmmaker and an actor who is quite accomplished in the entertainment industry. An alumni of the Actors Academy, Stephen is a man with a passion for storytelling, and he wrote, produced, and starred in the “Lionsgate Thriller Heist” which is known in international markets as “Bus 657” which features the famed Robert De Niro. Stephen has also worked with Ray Liotta (of “Goodfellas” fame) on a short film titled “4 Minutes.” He also created “One More Round” which was released via Image Entertainment.

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Stephen has known the joy of seeing his films open in thousands of theaters, and he is currently working on many different creative projects. Despite his hectic schedule, Stephen recently took the time to speak about “Dead On Arrival” and other things via an exclusive interview.

Directing movies and acting

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in Movies and how did that lead to a career as an actor and Director of films?

Stephen C. Sepher (SCS): Growing up I was infatuated with Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, and Dean Martin. Those were the guys I could relate to watching the screen. All I did was watch their films over and over again. They had a big influence on me as an actor and later as a filmmaker. When I started studying acting many years ago, I realized the amount of work it takes to hone the craft. I stuck to it and kept writing screenplays at the same time. The film is very visual to me, from the actors to the set, it’s all part of storytelling.

MM: Did you love of acting or directing come first and how do these two unique skills compliment one another?

SCS: I love the actor.

I think a good actor lets the viewers see into their soul, it is a very rewarding experience and there is nothing like it in the world. The better you get at it, the more free you are with your choices. I started out as an actor and writer. I never stopped writing screenplays over the years. I always thought of Rocky and how that was done. I also realized that it’s a show “business” and the business part is very important. So, I kept working out the aching muscles and the writing muscles. I am a cinematic writer, and that lends itself to visual storytelling. I let the pictures do the talking. If you can show it in a frame, you don’t have to explain it.

Feature Directing came from writing numerous screenplays with hundreds of rewrites. I practiced on short films as a director and people responded. Directing came to me naturally. I really enjoy directing, creating worlds. And these skills totally compliment each other! One depends on the other. If you know both skills, you become what’s known as an “actor’s director.”

MM: How did you get involved with “Dead on Arrival” and what were the challenges of directing it?

SCS: I was in Louisiana with my producing partner Rory Fradella. I was blown away by the natural setting there, and we came up with an idea to tell a story in the cold swamps with twists and turns, thus “Dead On Arrival” was born.

I sat down in less than four weeks and wrote a screenplay. Nazo Bravo, my co-producer was a great sounding board, and we pushed through it. Once the screenplay was done, we set out the make the movie pretty fast.

I was in the trenches directing “Dead On Arrival.” When I had to put my actor hat on to play the role of Vince in the film it was a bit challenging, but I was well prepared on both fronts, and my team was super on the set. You do a scene, you know it felt good. You check the shot if it all checks out you move on. We storyboarded almost the entire film, so I had planned ahead to wear both hats. It’s all about preparation.

Characters, stories, and advice

MM: What was it about this film that most appealed to you?

SCS: The characters. I thought that an array of characters from different walks of life find themselves in the same place at the same time with different agendas. What happens? What can happen? That was intriguing.

MM: You also act in this movie, so who is your character and what was it like to portray them?

SCS: Vince, he is a nut bag in a good way. I mean this guy tries hard to be the nice guy, yet he is just not that good at it as a human being. I went into playing Vince with open arms. I went through the process of preparation for the role. It’s a totally different process to write a character than to play him.

As an actor, you take the first-person approach directly at the heart of the character, and you realize as you are in character that there are certain things this guy would or would not do. At that point, you get out of the way and let the character guide your path. I think Vince had his own ideas as strange as this sounds. I think as bad as he is, he is still a good guy inside if that makes any sense.

MM: Do you have any fun “behind the scenes” type stories?

SCS: Yes, there were a few days where we could not stop laughing. Lillo Brancato is a very, very funny guy. Once he kicks into gear with his one-man act, it’s hard not go along. The actors overall were all good-natured for the most part. We had fun where we could and did the work at the same. The combo of Lillo who plays Zanca and Anthony Sinopoli who plays Conte was just hilarious. I mean these two guys were a blast to watch and act with!

MM: As an actor, what roles do you most enjoy playing, and as a director what genre do you most enjoy filming?

SCS: I think as an actor I enjoy playing roles who have a hard exterior but a heart of gold. Characters that have three dimensions and you never know what they are thinking. Acting is a responsibility to the audience. You are in the story for a reason to make it count.

People are watching you for a reason. I really enjoy roles that move me. Thus I have a chance to move the audience. I love thrillers as a director. I think the pacing and tone of the film are very important. I love watching the old masters at work. Everything happens for a reason, and you are along the ride on the rollercoaster.

MM: What is coming up next for you and can you offer any advice to young aspiring directors?

SCS: My partner Rory and I are working on our next film “The Operator.” It is a war thriller that tugs your heart.

I would say to anyone who wants to make films - just start and don’t give up. Your vision is unique and if you are good eventually a door will open up. It takes hard work and dedication.

Finally, I hope you enjoy “Dead On Arrival.” It’s a tense and fun experience!

“Dead on Arrival” is opening at Cinema Village NYC and Lammle Music Hall in Los Angeles. Both the DVD and VOD of the movie will be released on April 3, 2018.