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Michael Spiller ’84

In November 2019, Michael Spiller ’84 came to Purchase offering master classes, as well as one-on-one feedback on students’ projects. Spiller says: “I was very happy to get the opportunity to sit in on some classes and get to know the current crop of students. Feels like I was in their shoes yesterday!”

Michael Spiller '84 with current film students

He responded to some questions, below.

Filmmaking After Purchase

“Right after I graduated, I began working professionally in New York City on anything I could. I worked most technical positions on set, but aspired to be a cinematographer, and shot every project that came my way, whether it paid or. Eventually I began to get bigger projects, and I bought a 16mm camera package, which really helped me sell myself a cameraman. 

“One of my big breaks was shooting The Unbelievable Truth for my friend and classmate Hal Hartley ’84. The success of that film launched both of our careers. I continued to shoot Indy movies, music videos, documentaries and commercials around the world, and got my first real directing opportunity on Sex and the City in that show’s second season, after having served as one of the DP’s in the first season. I moved to Los Angeles after the fourth season with seven episodes as director under my belt, and a new agent repping me as a director. 

“I wound up directing over 150 episodes of TV, including over 20 episodes of Scrubs, Modern Family and The Mindy Project where I also served as an EP producing director for six seasons. Additionally, I directed multiple episodes of Superstore, Black-ish, The New Girl, The Middle, Cougar Town, Bernie Mac, Big Love, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23, Better Off Ted, and Ugly Betty, and was pilot and series main director for Jake in Progress and Big Day. I won an Emmy and a DGA award for the Halloween episode of Modern Family in that show’s second season.”

Other Projects 

“Right now, I am bouncing around from show to show, I just finished Perfect Harmony, my fifth episode of Black-ish, and I am starting my second of three episodes of Mixed-ish for that show’s first season. I am hoping to get another show where I can serve as a producing director, as I really enjoy that position where I am involved in every aspect of the show and get to collaborate with other directors.”

Advice to Students

“Don’t worry about “work after school” yet. Concentrate on finding your own voice and getting to do your own thing while you can! When you do graduate, remember to be nice to everyone you work with, because today’s production assistant could be producing the movie you work on next year. It is very rare that you will immediately get a chance to direct once you graduate, and you may need to do other film-related work to support yourself.

“Don’t give up! But do make sure that you love this work because you have to love it to survive the long hours, competition, periods of financial insecurity and long stretches of time away from home or last minute travel that can disrupt your life and challenge your relationships. I can’t imagine doing anything else, but I know this life is not for everyone.

“I feel very lucky to get to do a job that I love so much. I owe a debt of gratitude to my professors and classmates at SUNY Purchase.”