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Still alive: Local filmmaker and UB alumnus discusses job insecurity and impermanence

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Rick Masi was plagued with thoughts of his own mortality four years after graduating college.

“I’m going to die one day and what do I have to show for it?” he asked himself.

Masi tucked away his love for film and entered the workforce as a sales assistant at a dealership immediately after graduating from UB in 2009 with a communication degree. Film had always been a part of him, so the urge to do something about it stayed there, lying dormant underneath. Masi, like many recent graduates, was unable to break into his field right away.

He inadvertently traded in his sense of purpose for the need to be financially stable.

It was at that that dark time in his life when Masi came across an influential podcast of a Kevin Smith Q&A session.

“I had been in the workforce for a number of years, making terrible money, loathing going to work every day, hating my life situation,” Masi said. “I started to worry about things I hadn’t considered before, like ‘Oh my god, what am I doing with my life?’”

In the podcast, Smith talks about his response to his father’s sudden death. It made him realize how close he was to mortality. The death inspired him to achieve his greatest goals before his time comes.

Masi loved filmmaking and he wanted to be a filmmaker. His focus shifted and he realized he had a second chance. He was still alive and was going to find his purpose in life.

Masi was so moved by the podcast that he developed a new life policy. He became his own yes-man and vowed to never again let himself fall into the shadowy depths of self-doubt.

“Film has always been in my blood. From a very early age I was fascinated with movies,” Masi said. “The passion had always been there into my teens and throughout my early 20s, but I had no idea where to start.”

Despite his uncertainty, Masi adopted an optimistic vision for his future and incorporated this newfound perspective into his work.

“Live a why-not life,” he said. “Go out and find people who encourage you and help you succeed, people who support you by saying ‘Why not?’ instead of ‘Why?’ There’s tons of negativity in the world. Go out and find the opposite of that.”

And Masi did just that. He started calling himself a filmmaker. He spent 18 months independently studying everything there was to know about filmmaking.

“I put myself out there on social media and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this,’ mostly because I needed to hold myself accountable. But the biggest benefit I got from that was the support I got from family and friends,” Masi said.

He uses his films as a platform to showcase the talents of the people from Buffalo. On his journey, Masi has met many artists who have helped him realize his goal.

Last year, Masi premiered his very first film, “On the Level,” which is about a teenager who goes on the run in search of his brother’s killer and along the way he realizes that being apathetic is the only way to survive. The cinematic debut was held at the Amherst Theater, directly across from UB’s South Campus.

“It was met with many positive responses considering the quality for an almost no-budget film. Since then, I have not stopped producing,” Masi said.

His new project “Free Fallers” is a film about making a film. It premieres next spring and the subject is drastically different from the crime drama of his first film.

“It largely wrote itself due to all the whacky experiences we had behind the scenes making ‘On The Level,’” Masi said. “It’s about all the shenanigans that go into making a film.”

All of his films feature local actors, many of whom he met while attending UB. Each film is shot on location in Buffalo, since he believes in supporting and showcasing the area as much as he can.

Some of the actors that work with Masi have asked to come back to help on more of his films.

Michael Nanula, a Buffalo resident and a friend of Masi’s, performed in “Free Fallers” and has similar feelings regarding the artistic achievement in Western New York.

“We’re fortunate that we have Rick doing his type of work here in Buffalo,” Nanula said. “Rick is a huge local talent with an exciting career ahead of him.”

While Masi decided on his own to become a filmmaker and study independently, he has had plenty of help on his journey.

Jim Safy, a Buffalo native and Masi’s longtime friend, has worked with him every step of the way and produced each film he has released so far.

“His drive and attention to detail are second to none. He’s had an instrumental role in my own personal music and film taste and knowledge,” Safy said.

Assembling a supporting group and a cast to make one’s vision come to form is often difficult in any industry. But Safy says Masi has always had a knack for recognizing talent when he sees it.

“When Rick started this project, his focus was to bring people together and showcase their talents and he’s done that,” Safy said. “People are excited to see something being created locally and want to be a part of that journey.”

Safy not only praised Masi’s inspirational artistic finesse, but also commended his ability to teach and bring out the best in those he works with.

“My goals were to learn from Rick and help in any way possible. It’s something I never thought of doing,” Safy said. “But as he has always done, he finds ways to bring things out of people they might not have known they had.”

As Rick Masi sees his visions finally starting to come to life, he wants others to be inspired by the passion within themselves.

“The goal is to reach the end of your life feeling fulfilled,” Masi said. “Take the shots; the shots are always worth taking, even if you think it’s a goofy idea. If it’s your passion, follow it.”

Andrew Safe is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com


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