Twice monthly I run a “Feature Friday” interview with individuals who embody characteristics of The Liberation Artist. This week I am pleased to feature my long-time friend, the extraordinarily talented Sandy Collora.
I have known Sandy since my youth, when he rocked board shorts, rode a skateboard, surfed, drew, sculpted, and designed, at an age, in a time and place where those things were ‘uncool’ – which made Sandy awesome in my eyes. That, coupled with his passion for comics, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, made it natural that we would connect. Lucky for me, as Sandy has proven to be a life-long inspiration and genuine friend of tremendous integrity. Below you will find his hard-hitting, straight from the hip interview, where you will get a taste of the mindset that has created not only success, but also joy and satisfaction in a life that’s clearly the epitome of a Liberation Artist. Enjoy!
Bio – Sandy Collora:
Sandy designs and sculpts creatures for films as well as action figures and collectible figurines. He has written and directed “Batman Dead End,” “Solomon Bernstein’s Bathroom,” “Hunter Prey,” “World’s Finest,” and “Archangel,” in addition to creating special effects on a number of films including: “The Abyss,” “The Crow,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Dogma,” “Men in Black.” In his free time Sandy enjoys skateboarding, surfing, spear-fishing, and hunting.
“You’ve gotta be totally committed to what you’re doing. You have to be so passionate about it, and love it so much, that it becomes a part of you, just like your hands or your feet. You have to be willing to sacrifice anything for it; that’s what I think separates the truly brilliant people in this industry from the hacks.”
In your youth you were a budding artist who rocked board shorts, surfed, and completely owned a skateboard – while living on the East Coast in a town where at that time you could be ostracized for such things. Today you’ve found success in the film industry and clearly find joy in pursuits such as spear fishing. You obviously live outside the status quo. There had to be a moment where you realized, “Hey, I’m different.’’ If so, how did you manage to escape the pressure to conform, and where did you find support in doing so?
It was never about “Hey, I’m different.” It was more like “Hey, I’m ME.” Whether people liked me or not, was completely inconsequential to me. There was never any pressure to conform, because I simply never gave a shit what other kids thought or about what they were doing. I saw my path very early on in life, followed it, always walked it alone, and never strayed from that path. Yeah, people looked at me funny because I wore different clothes, rode a skateboard and listened to different music, but I never cared about that. I did what I liked to do and whether other kids did those things or even liked them, didn’t matter to me. If someone tried to get in my face about it, they got punched in the head. No one was going to bully me or give me shit about being different. It was unfortunate that I was stuck in a NY suburb, when I truly wanted to be on the beach in California, but I always knew once I graduated from HS, that I would be here. I hated Staten Island, and simply wouldn’t have it any other way…
You left school to pursue your career. Were you at any point concerned that a lack of a degree could impact your success?
Not at all. For creative people, the whole college thing is kind of a joke… I’ve been in this industry now for 25 years and I’ve never seen the lack of a degree hold anyone back, or prevent them from getting a job. Why should it? It’s a silly piece of paper from some overpriced university that basically says you sat in a classroom and listened to teachers, who often teach because they’re not good enough to do what they do in the real world, and took stupid, mundane, tests or whatever… I dunno, if you want to work at bank or accounting firm for the rest of your life or whatever, I guess it’s important, but for an artists, that degree is absolutely worthless. College is a very sore subject for me. I was forced to go by my parents and hated every minute of it. I wasted 2 and a half years of my life there, and will never get those years back.
Clearly you have not been held back by fear. What role do you feel a willingness to embrace risk played in your personal success, and how did you find the confidence necessary to take such risks?
I think failure is a part of any truly successful person’s life. I’ve failed many, many times at many different endeavors. I have never, ever been afraid to fail. Fear is a choice. I simply choose not to fear certain things. Failure is such a wonderful learning experience and I’ve never looked at it as a negative thing… Sure, right then and there, in the moment, it can be tragic, but after proper reflection and insight, I think if most people were to give it that introspective look, they would find more of the tools needed to succeed, in failure, if they know what to look for and they look hard enough. You have to embrace failure and use it as fuel to succeed. This goes back to when I was kid; In little league or any form of competition. Of course I’m fiercely competitive and always wanted to win, but parents and coaches would point out the importance of congratulating the players on the other team and accepting loss like a gentleman, and true sportsman. Nothing has changed to this day. Risk and taking chances is how one becomes successful at the highest level of any endeavor. When you take as many risks as I do, you fail. You lose. But when you eventually do succeed, it’s all that much more sweet…
You have often spoken of the importance of focus and passion. You, among other things, sculpt, direct, spear-fish, hunt, skate, and surf. How do you allocate time among passions to avoid diluting the focus? Is there an organizing principle behind it all?
I’d like to be able to tell you that there is, but there isn’t… I do what strikes me in the moment, and have never really been much of a planner. If the waves are good, I’ll go surfing. If there’s no waves and the water is clear, I’ll dive. I work when I want to work, and play when I want to play, but when I have to shoot a movie or do a big art project, it’s game time and focus is a must. I’ve always been fortunate in that fact that I’m truly passionate about many things. You can break it down to two, really; Art and the ocean, but both of those things encompass so many other things. I love them all and am truly passionate about drawing, sculpture, filmmaking AND fishing, diving, surfing, etc… Yeah, it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s all related kinda. If I can do something physical and something creative every day, that’s the goal. The studio is one block from the beach, so that helps…
Obviously the mythos of comics, and films such as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” informed your work. Knowing you, I can say they seem to have informed your character as well, as demonstrated by your commitment to integrity, truth, and self-actualization. It is almost as if you took hold of the mythos you grew up with, and sought to make it manifest in your own world. Is it accurate that such mythos contributed significantly to generating the impetus for mastery over the physical world, be it shaping an object out of clay or going head to head against a magnificent creature such as when spear-fishing?
Sure. When you’re very young, you need role models. I was fortunate and had many, starting with my father, uncle and grandfather. They taught me how to fish, hunt, play sports, tie knots, use a knife, a bow and arrow, etc… These are the basic tools a young man needs to master, that are the building blocks for how he’ll live the rest of his life. As I got older and the characters in comic books and movies became heroes, I tried to pull realistic attributes that I thought were noble, from them. Courage, strength, integrity, etc…I wanted muscles like Batman and Superman, so I started lifting weights. My dad made sure I grew up on a healthy dose of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, but Indiana Jones was my favorite hero of fiction, because he traveled the world, seeking adventure and that was cool to me. I have adopted that way of life and being able to travel to remote locations in the far corners of the world, to fish, dive and surf, has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.
It seems you have at times rejected commercial success to protect the artistic integrity of your work – is this correct, why does artistic integrity matter, in your opinion?
Correct indeed. Commercial success and art don’t cross paths very often. When they do, it’s wonderful and I truly enjoy it, but I never expect it. My artistic integrity has always been paramount to me. If I’m doing something, and my name is going on it, I want it to be the absolute best representation of what I’m capable of creatively at that particular point in my journey as an artist. All good artists develop and grow over time. They look back at their previous work and see the growth, it’s very rewarding. I see flaws or weaknesses in past works I’ve done, but it makes me smile because now, I’d approach it differently and not make those mistakes… I’ll make different ones, but eventually as the journey continues, you correct those as well. As long as every piece of art or film that I make is the absolute best that I’m capable of producing at that particular time, I’m happy with it, and consider it a successful endeavor. It’s all a process that to me personally, has nothing to do with commercial success.
Sandy, by what bar do you measure success? Not just in work, but for life in general.
Success can be measured in different ways. One can look at the financial fruits of their labor, and judge success that way… I have never done that. The most important bar that I measure success with, is my own. I have a high standard and know what I’m capable of artistically, cinematically, physically, etc… But that changes with age and maturity. Back in the day, if I was skating and blasted a huge air, but didn’t land it, I’d get mad and throw my board and say to myself; “Damn it, I should have stuck that…” Where as now, at 45, if I blast that same air and bail, I’ll laugh and say to myself; “Hey, I’m 45 years old and just got 6 feet of air out of a ramp, and that’s rad!” It’s all in the doing of it. If I’m skating or surfing, diving, fishing, what have you, I’m doing it and enjoying it. I mean truly enjoying it and all the wonderful things those sports have to offer. The same with my art and my films. I’m doing it. It feels good. I enjoy it immensely and I think I produce good work. Money comes and goes. It always will, but I enjoy my life. I do pretty much what I want to do, when I want to do it. I am loved and respected by my family, friends and by my peers. That’s what’s important. That’s success to me…
You can discover more about Sandy at his website where you can view some of his work, including “Batman Dead End,” as well as at IMDB. Watch for the forthcoming “Batman Dead End: A Ten Year Retrospective.”