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What does a respected Hollywood writer/director/producer from Rhode Island do when a nation goes into lockdown? He hunkers down in his home state, like everyone else, of course.
Like many, Providence native Chris Sparling has spent the past several months working from home on films in various stages of production, while awaiting the release of Greenland, the new disaster film he wrote.
I spoke to Sparling recently from his home in Rhode Island, where he continues to work on film projects long distance via zoom and other tools many of us are using these days.
Sparling’s first film was Buried, an eerie masterpiece made on a shoe-string budget in 2010. He’s now a widely praised Hollywood veteran, and screen writer for the new blockbuster disaster film, Greenland. The film, starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin, was just released “on demand,” following a European theatrical release last Fall.
No doubt, the bright lights of Hollywood are a long way from his childhood in Providence, although Sparling always hoped for a career in film.
“I always knew I wanted to work in this field in some capacity, he explained in our interview. “At first it was to be an actor. So that’s what I pursued and what brought me out to Los Angeles over 20 years ago.
“In the course of doing that, I started to create material for myself and I began dabbling in screen writing. It wasn’t really until I moved back East that I kind of shifted more toward that, and over time, really allowed the acting thing to fade away. It was a ten year journey to get to my proverbial “break.” It was just a lot of trial and error, a lot of banging my head against the wall, and hoping for the best.
Growing up in Rhode Island certainly gave him the foundation to succeed in Hollywood. He attributes that to much of his success.
“More than anything, I think Rhode Island is a very creative place. There’s certainly that element to living in the state, but I would say more than that,” remarked Sparling.
“It was being close to family and friends and being so grounded by that. You know, the industry I work in is one where people are stereotypically kind of aloof, somewhat flaky – there’s some truth to that. By being from here and continuing to live here, quite honestly, it always just kind of keeps me centered. I have the same friends that I had as a kid, and obviously my family here. It just doesn’t allow me to become encapsulated by that ridiculous Hollywood bubble, because I kind of just enter in and out of it as I need to.
He continued, “And the work ethic too, growing up in a place like North Providence and Providence you learn how to work for living. I have applied that same work ethic to what I do now, I mean, prior to getting my big break, you know, I worked my fair share of crappy jobs.”
Of course, last Spring’s lockdown slowed production in the entertainment industry. Like many, Sparling began working from home.
“It was basically shut down,” he noted. “It took a good long while, maybe three months until things kind of started back up again, and I was able to get creative again. Thankfully, projects that were on the verge of occurring prior to the shutdown were able to get back on track. Now, I’m doing those projects from my home office, watching live feeds on my computer and watching dailies, it’s an interesting thing to be removed and remote.”
As mentioned, Sparling’s first big break was the Buried (2010) a mystery/thriller he wrote that starred Ryan Reynolds. Sparling put the film together on a minimal budget. “That was kind of my foray into directing, I didn’t go to film school, so it was kind of at the trial by fire to teach myself how to be a director,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, his latest film, Greenland, is a major success according to critics and the (online) box office.The film is one of his biggest projects to date. Sparling is credited as screenwriter and had a major role in developing the film.
“We watched the release date for Greenland get pushed like two, three times. It was originally supposed to come out back in June, and then it was September. And then the studio made the decision to just bypass theaters all together. It’s released on premium VOD so basically, ITunes, Amazon Prime, that sort of stuff for purchase. And then it’s going to go exclusively to HBO MAX.”
Sparling shared a couple of additional projects on the horizon, “Lakewood just wrapped up in Canada, it stars Naomi Watts, that’s one I wrote and produced. We are also shooting the movie Intrusion out in New Mexico – it’s a Netflix original.”
He also offered some advice to aspiring writers. “Read screenplays, you can get access to screenplays online in a second, find movies you know and movies you don’t know. I guarantee, if you read one a week, you‘ll be a thousand times better.”
To watch Greenland, use your preferred “on demand” provider. It’s a great ride – highly recommended.