From Italian B.A. to the big screen

Scott Sackett, UB alum, draws upon lifelong interests while producing films

The Spectrum

What do you do with a B.A. in Italian?

Scott Sackett found his answer in filmmaking.

Although Sackett, a UB alumnus, has made his career in radio and television producing and is currently working on three films, his path in college was neither defined nor typical. Sackett's educational history reads more like the r?(c)sum?(c) of a foreign language teacher than a producer - he earned his B.A. in Italian in 1991 and his Ed.M. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in 1997.

"I entered UB as [an] undergraduate with a vague notion that I wanted to live and travel abroad and write," Sackett said in an email. "After five years, I think the University, my department and my parents wanted me to move on, so I totaled my course credits and figured I had enough for a B.A. in Italian. How's that for planning?"

During college, he joined the on-air staff at WRUB Student Radio, which he says had a significant impact on his career path. Only a few days after graduation, Sackett was hired at WNED-FM, Buffalo, where he worked for 13 years.

"What else could I do with a degree in Italian, knowledge of German and a smattering of other languages and the know-how I gained at WRUB?" Sackett said.

Now, as the executive producer of the feature-length film Sugar Wonder Blues, currently in post-production,Sackett ensures that filming and production goes smoothly while remaining under budget and on schedule.

Sackett is also working on a PBS documentary entitled Lake of Betrayal: The Story of Kinzua Dam, which chronicles the losses Seneca Indians suffered after the dam was constructed in 1965, and a documentary film about singer-songwriter Eric Andersen called The Songpoet.

In college, Sackett's interest in Italian led him to become president of the Italian club and to study abroad at the Sapienza University of Rome.

Years later, Sackett's love and knowledge of languages and his interest in teaching influenced him to work with PBS making film documentaries, including Elbert Hubbard: An American Original and Glorious Battle: The Siege of Fort Erie. Sackett taught at the English Language Institute in Baldy Hall and as an adjunct at Niagara County Community College. He also serves as chair of the Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara Board of Directors.

Today, as Sugar Wonder Blues, which was filmed locally, approaches its release date, Sackett said he feels it is the responsibility of those stable in their careers to "make opportunities for up-and-coming talent."

Megan Erbacher, the film's director, said that for most of the cast, it was their first feature film project, according to film's Kickstarter video.

"Any questions I had involving the process, I went to Scott," said Laura Mikolajczyk, one of the film's leads. "Right from the beginning, we had to talk about what I was and wasn't comfortable with. The open dialogue was nice."

Sugar Wonder Blues was Mikolajczyk's first feature-length film role, but she has appeared in numerous stage productions, including Cinderella at Artpark.

"[Sackett] always knew the perfect time to give feedback and it was encouraging," Mikolajczyk said. "He's also a well-rounded individual. You could talk to him about almost anything."

Sugar Wonder Blues is the story of what happens when "Two brothers fight for control of their recently deceased father's auto repair shop. Relationships break down as secrets are uncovered," according to the film's Facebook page.

The cast wrapped filming on Dec. 16, according to the Kickstarter page, and now that it has been successfully funded through donations, Erbacher hopes to premiere the film in Western New York this summer as well as online.

Sackett advises students interested in the film industry to watch lots of movies and read criticism of film in order to gain a wider breadth of knowledge about the production process. He said it is important to learn how directors work in order to help solve problems on set.

An unconventional education helped Sackett find success in the film industry. He recommends students take language courses during college.

"I think it's a big handicap to complete a college degree without giving serious study to other languages and cultures," Sackett said. "If one wants to be pragmatic about it, just recognize that most college graduates will follow career paths influenced by global economic forces and that a skill set with two or more languages likely will have greater marketability."

Although Sackett enjoys the "magical moments on set" that come with working with the cast and crew, he most enjoys post-production work because "that's where the story comes to life."

He said filming can be challenging because the producer must manage the cast and crew while also creating an atmosphere that allows for and nurtures the spontaneity and experimentation necessary for any creative work.

From coordinating opera nights as the president of the Italian club to informing students over WRUB's airwaves, Sackett accumulated the skills he now draws upon each day on set.