2 Minutes With ... Sasso, Filmmaker, Photographer & Creative Executive

On escapism through filmmaking and his work with Wu-Tang, Nike and Tyler Perry

Sasso is a filmmaker, photographer and creative executive. His work blends style with substance through vibrant characters, amplified stories and striking visuals.  

Sasso has amassed an expansive portfolio which features clients like Nike, Google, McDonald's, Pepsi and Netflix. From supporting Rockstar Games' record-breaking campaign for Grand Theft Auto V, to writing, directing, producing and editing a music video for Wu-Tang Clan, his projects highlight generational talents across music, sports and entertainment.

We spent two minutes with Sasso to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Sasso, tell us …

Where you grew up and where you live now. 

I was born and raised in New York and still live here.

How you first realized you were creative.

I definitely started taking the idea of "making art/work" seriously in middle school. It was a tumultuous time for me personally, and I took to writing (poetry, lyrics, short stories), building dioramas (for toy soldiers and other figures) and photography. My other "escapes" were movies, music and video games. Then, by my first month of high school, that all combined into an interest in filmmaking. I signed up for Mr. Favilla's creative writing class and formed what is now a 20+ year friendship and creative partnership with Brian Wendelken after he said, "We should write scripts." These days, we direct projects under the alias ILLIST VILLINS. You can find us on Instagram at: @illistvillins.

Your first job in the industry.

I started working on music videos (and other music marketing stuff), but my first industry employer, on a longer-term basis, was Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls. I was moonlighting after classes during college at the time. At the Red Bulls, I began in the arena control room editing and producing content and eventually moved onto shooting and directing. My friend Jeremy Albucher recommended me for the position, so my interview with my soon-to-be boss was pretty easy.

He asked me if it was true that when I was 20 I made a music video for Wu-Tang Clan. I said yes. I was 21 at the time of the interview. He asked if I could start right then and there. I said yes—but could I eat dinner first. The only lie I told was that I knew how to do motion graphics. And that was the entire interview!

A breakthrough moment in your career.

A year before that Red Bulls job, I made a video for Wu-Tang Clan with Brian (Wendelken), who I mentioned earlier (we used to go by "The Chain Gang"). Raekwon gave us a shot, which I'm very grateful for. We had big ideas, and a sometimes twisted sense of humor. Yet, Rae still had us mostly do whatever we wanted … and the video was a success. It generated a lot of our earliest professional accolades, including No.1 on Time magazine's "Best Videos" list that year.

Three movies you couldn't do without.

I've got to do a few more than three but I'll limit myself as best as possible:

The Big Lebowski: Obviously, you're not a golfer.

Buffalo 66: Neurotic masterpiece.

Goodfellas: I watched it over 100 times in the 8th grade alone.

Swingers/Made: Gotta count these together. And I usually watch them back to back. When I was growing up, my older brother Brian used to have this big yellow/orange poster from Swingers on his wall (the classic one with Vince Vaughn holding a martini).

Your favorite fictional character.

It would be a tossup between The Dude and Walter from The Big Lebowski.

Your favorite movie quote.

"You caught me with one foot off the merry-go-round." —Steve Zissou

Your favorite movie trailer or poster.

The trailer for Blue Valentine was brilliant. They combine a vignette from the film—Ryan Gosling playing a ukulele and singing ("You always hurt the one you love…")—with poetic visuals that chronicle the story of the main characters falling in and out of love. I draw on this sort of montage style in my own work when possible.

A project you worked on recently that you're proud of. 

Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story—a documentary for Amazon Studios that begins streaming on Prime Video on Nov. 17. Tyler has an inspiring story, and getting to spend years editing and post-producing the film was a special experience. It took nearly a decade to shoot, in addition to sifting through 30 years of archival footage, and included a lot of sensitive and powerful subject matter. Crafting the story was a reminder of the patience and delicacy required in making a good film, and why it remains such a unique and layered art form. The best part of the project was getting to spend time in the trenches with some insanely talented and hard-working people—the directors (Gelila Bekele & Armani Ortiz) and the producers (Asante & Jasmine White) have become family at this point. I think the movie will really inspire people.

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

Our latest ILLIST VILLINS project, a music video for 22Gz, called "Everything Dead." Our friend Brandon Graves at BetterVibesOnly asked for a treatment and ultimately gave us the green light. The goal was to highlight 22's elevation into the next level of his career and we used the opportunity to make a horror-themed "undead" concept. There are motifs of evolution and rebirth. I think it came out pretty badass, and we loved making it from the treatment/storyboarding stage to the production and edit phases. I'd like to give a special Thank You to the teams behind it, especially to Digital Thunderdome and Moonshine Post-Production in Atlanta for making so many of our ideas come to life.

Someone else's work you admired recently.

I saw a film called Dogleg, by Al Warren, recently. I'd describe it as "meta" and almost sort of "Lynchian." But less dreamy and abstract than a David Lynch movie, and way more funny. It's about a director who loses his partner's dog on the day of an important film shoot. I really loved the tone, right from the opening scene. But as the movie goes on, it becomes sort of self-referential and begins blending what's happening in his personal life with what he's shooting that day. Hard to explain, but I absolutely loved it. Being an independent film through-and-through, the team who made it was there at the screening, so I also got to enjoy a Q&A afterwards.

Your main strength as a creative.

I am obsessive.

Your biggest weakness.

I am obsessive.

What you'd be doing if you weren't a filmmaker/photographer.

16th-century samurai.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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