Interview with actor/producer Robert LeeshockNovember 29, 2015
While most might remember him from the 90’s sci fi television series Earth: Final Conflict, Robert Leeshock has now added producer to his list of credits and as a producer, has a new project out now called Star Leaf. Recently we had a chance to talk to Robert about not only Star Leaf but his life in the movie business and what it’s been like working in front of and behind the camera.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or was it something you discovered as you get older?
It was definitely a latter day epiphany. I was at Cornell University and probably would have been quite pleased with a liberal arts degree but then the practical side of me hit and I tried to transfer into the engineering school. I wasn’t very well gifted at it, trying and failing, and ultimately the minute I got in I was like, what the hell am I doing here? But then I had all these math and science courses and at that point I said ok, let’s just finish this. Everything changed when I was getting ready to go on a trip to Texas Instruments on a Monday morning in Midland Odessa, Texas and I had this sort of melt down and I said, I can’t get on that flight. I realized at that moment that my life was going to take this crazy turn, I didn’t know where it was going to lead but I had to make a career choice that was much more exciting than Texas Instruments and computer chip technology. So I went to New York, got a job at a restaurant and took that first leap and got into a class and I guess from there, I was twenty four so I guess that’s a late start, and I guess that’s where the journey began.
Now you’ve done work in theater, TV and movies. Do you have a favorite medium to work in?
Well, if I want to scare myself beyond measure then you write your own material and you perform it in a stand up venue. It’s the most exhilarating form of expression because it’s your writing and your performance. They call that the juice, so if I want to get the juice I’ll do something scary like that, but I think I really found something with this independent film. I would love to continue to produce, indie style, and then to act in various indie roles. I kind of like the combination, as a produce I look at actors in a certain way and I want them to hit the mark and bark and then as I transition into the actor role I just feel like the mystique is taken away and there is a job to be done. So right now I think I’ve found a nice marriage between the indie producing and the indie sort of style acting, where I can take some roles that are more geared towards my sensibilities.
After you decided on acting as a career path, how difficult was it in those first few years to make a name for yourself?
Well, it was incredibly difficult. I think I worked in a restaurant for ten to twelve years and I worked pretty consistently, about five nights a week. So I guess right up to the age of thirty seven I realize that I had logged a lot of hours with an apron on. It was pretty humbling, I was surprised that it took that long, I ate a lot of humble pie, I really did and it’s ironic because even getting a good gig like I did on the Roddenberry series, you think it’s going to launch you to the next level and it didn’t really work out that way. I keep analyzing if I sabotaged the trajectory or I put it on hold because, I’m almost like a kid, I don’t pursue if I don’t find it interesting. So if I’m bored and disinterested in just another TV job then I find myself inhibiting myself from getting that next job. I either back myself into a corner and say oh man, I really need to work and that motivates me or I find something really weird and interesting, like weed and aliens then it’s like oh yeah, I’m in the right zone.
You made reference to Earth: Final Conflict. That seemed to be an interesting mix of regular work and a loyal sci-fi fan base as well. What was that experience like for you?
It was incredibly strange because of course, you step into the Roddenberry realm and I didn’t realize the expansiveness till you show up on set and there’s Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene, and he’s there on set and this feels like a lot of pressure. How do you live up to this iconic, Kirk portrayal of a leading man? Then of course Majel shows up, and she was a sweet as sweet could be, but you’re trying to figure out how you fit into this iconic tapestry. It was difficult, you always want to bring a sense of realness but I always felt what made me unique, my humble New Jersey upbringing that I had, you want to bring something real to it, but you also have to have that sort of leading man identity, to guide the ship so to speak or in this case mother ship. But it was hard, there were a lot of battles creatively, they ended up killing the lead, Keven Kilner, and then they started to mess a little bit with the mythology of the show, that’s what bothered Rod and the creators, the fact that they brought on my character and they gave my character certain qualitied, which they then questioned, it was like wow, we should make this guy powerful, so they had these energy beams shooting out of my palms. It was interesting, it was a bold attempt to create this hybrid hero. I thought the third and fourth seasons were pretty interesting, then of course economics came in and on the fifth season of the show they just went in a totally different direction.
How did you end up in the producing aspect of the business? Was that something you pursued or was it more like a happy accident?
I guess, in terms of independent film especially, you just want to take control and take action, It’s kind of a Field of Dreams scenario if you build it they will come. But sometimes they come as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. And then your realize that you get these people to show up who have money, and then you see all these strings attached to the money, then all of a sudden you’re on the set, two days into filming and you realize wow, this is getting precarious so you think I might have to go this alone. So I ended up funding the film Star Leaf myself which is a real risk but with that risk is the possibility of striking it rich as well. I didn’t intend to go it alone but the circumstances that were dictated to me did not feel right, you know partnering up with certain entities. So along with producing I ended up kind of overseeing the actors, I’m a good actor’s director so this felt like a good idea, and you end up getting creative in ways you never imagined. I half joked with my business partner Richard Cranor that we played the project and then the project played us. We knew we had something good and something different here so put a lot of the faith in the project and decided to trust our instincts and see where it leads us, and that become the exciting and dynamic part of the process.
When you did become a producer, were you at all surprised at how hard it really was to get a movie made?
Yeah. I think the only saving grace was that we did it non-union because when you do it non-union you don’t have to follow the stupid rules. However, what you do need are bodies so what happens is the bodies you get are not experts. For instance, we had a first AD, the assistant director, who was just a friend of the writer. It’s like, you’re a great guy and everything but where’s the prop gun? So the actors were lugging equipment, my girlfriend was the boom operator, she helped with catering so it’s really like a travelling circus for about two and a half weeks. You just hope and pray that you shoot enough footage that you don’t end up saying goodbye to all of these people and you wind up with this gaping hole in the film of something you didn’t get so it’s really trying to hold together the chaos that could fall apart at any time. When you finally finish the film and watch it, you always go you know, we could have used more in the third act or maybe the special effects could have been better here but in the end, it’s got a lot of heart and soul in it and the rawness of that, I don’t think can be manufactured.
So how did you originally get involved with the Star Leaf project?
Well my business partner Richard Cranor and I were working on another project called God Machine, another sort of sci-fi endeavor. That was a big project that taught us some hard lessons because we were so naïve and we realized that if you were going to shoot a short film you might as well shoot a feature. Then we met a distributor/creative guy at AFM a couple of years ago and he saw the alien with the pot leaf on his forehead and said hey, I can sell that. Now he said he could sell it but AFM passed on it this year so where are the sales on that? The good news is this year we sold this to Australia, there’s a supposed deal in the works for Turkey, another deal in the works for UK Television so it’s happening but it never happens as quick as you would hope.
You’ve been in the entertainment business for a while now. How have things changed since you first started out?
I guess I’m wiser but I think I’m just a slow learner. I guess the most interesting thing is Hollywood is big money, big movies, sequels, comic book movies and I don’t think that there’s a middle ground anymore. The digital age has also brought with it a lot of pirating, downloading and ripping as they like to call it. Our film has been ripped over two hundred thousand times, so I don’t know if that’s good free advertising or just people who in this new digital age expect everything for free. I think that’s the most fascinating part of it, how does this digital medium deal with these terms and we seem to be on the cusp of that. There’s definitely technology that we’re hoping to employ, maybe leverage to be at the forefront of media transmission and then having a niche enough content to find a core audience.
Can you tell me a bit about some other projects you have coming up?
Sure. The indie film I just did is called The Weight, it’s a noir crime drama and I play a small town sheriff. It’s about two women who run a weight loss clinic and start dealing drugs on the side, and that really messes up the dynamic of the small town. It should be out around the spring or summer of 2016. On the producing side, we’re thinking about turning Star Leaf into a television series, so the movie as it stands right now would kind of be the pilot. So we’re in talks with a company that sort of sees the appeal of developing your own content and that seems to be the new model, where every distribution outlet wants to own its own content. We know that Star Leaf, with the emerging political landscape concerning medical marijuana, will have a market out there so we’re really trying to challenge ideas and paradigms, maybe start a conversation about medical marijuana and veterans and that sort of issue. Basically we get serious and get weird all at the same time. We also have a couple of other things we’re thing about, one is we are thinking about either re-visiting God Machine, or we have this other script, which could be described as a teen comedy which would see teens from the suburbs teaming up with teens from the hood to battle characters that come to life from a video game, and that’s called The Chronicles of Compton. Yeah, we have some outlandish ideas but that’s what keeps it interesting. I also teamed up with a college buddy of mine and he’s going to handle the merchandising end for the movie Star Leaf.
I want to thank Robert for taking the time to talk to us
Star Leaf is now available on these platforms:
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1lFS3zc