What books would a veteran independent film producer — one who specializes mostly in horrors and thrillers — take to a desert island?
Mark Sayre is almost a Vashon native — he’s been here since third grade — and despite leaving his hometown to make his mark in Los Angeles over nearly the last two decades, he has since returned, conducting much of his work from his family’s home on the west side of the island.
The house was originally bought by his grandfather, and has remained in the family since. It’s a beautiful house that reflects his mother’s collecting habits; so much of its decor, furniture and objets d’art are European in origin that its interior has a distinctly Old World look.
Sayre fell in love with movies from an early age.
“There was a table on the edge of the TV room,” he said, “and I used to crawl underneath it at night and hide there so I could watch whatever films my parents were watching. So from early on, I was exposed to a lot more than kids’ movies.”
His family also went to a lot of drive-ins — an experience for which he has great nostalgia. “We’d go to see a kid’s film followed by something more adult. The kids were supposed to be asleep in the back of the car by the time the second movie rolled around, but I always wanted to stay up and watch it,” he said.
Nonetheless, his journey to a career in film was rather circuitous. As an adolescent, he spent many of his formative years as an aggressive inline skater, and was also accomplished in other sports, notably basketball.
More or less by accident, he was placed in a high school debate class to fill a freshman elective, and found that he was very good at it — so much so that his coach told him he should quit basketball and make debate a priority. He did, and went on to become a Washington state champion, receiving a scholarship at the University of Puget Sound.
However, after discovering a love for the theater (which he would ultimately major in), he left the debate team and went on to study abroad at the University of London. “It was great,” he said. “Most of my classes consisted of watching West End theater productions.”
During his time as an inline skater, he gained considerable experience filming the sport with a VHS (and later, DV) camcorder; as a result, he became a proficient cinematographer and film editor. While in college, he was given an internship in Los Angeles by S. Leigh Savage, the owner of Xenon Pictures (and Oscar-nominated producer/writer of 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton”).
This proved to be his big break: it gave him invaluable experience, as well as contacts in the industry. He impressed his bosses enough to land a full-time job at Xenon after graduation, where he helped run acquisitions and marketing for the company. Subsequently, Sayre formed his own production company with two other Vashon natives working in the film industry, director Anthony O’Brien and fellow producer Isaac Mann.
Today, Sayre owns Lexicon Entertainment with his long-time film-making partner Justin Foia.
“We’re sort of a genre house,” he said. “We mostly make thrillers and horror movies, save for the occasional drama.”
In the last four years alone, Sayre has produced eight feature films. Recent productions include “Point Defiance,” a thriller that was shot at his family’s house on Vashon; “Doe,” another thriller with a sci-fi twist about a man who wakes up with no memory of his past but the ability to speak dozens of languages fluently; and the upcoming “1-800-Hot-Nite,” about a young teenage boy who goes on an urban odyssey with two friends after his parents are arrested.
“In that one,” he noted with a wry smile, “a phone sex operator plays the part of a proverbial fairy godmother.”
Sayre has plans to direct his first movie, potentially filming in Egypt later this year.
So what books would he choose to take to a desert island? Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of his choices involve fantasy and science fiction.
“The first one that comes to mind is the “Hyperion” series, by Dan Simmons,” he said.
Sayre — who admits to having read these books at least 20 times — describes them as collectively presenting “one of the most fascinating concepts of science fiction, covering everything from the evolution of technological singularity to the role of theology in a far-flung future, mixed in with a romance story for the ages.”
He noted that the movie rights to the book were at one point separately held by Martin Scorsese and Bradley Cooper, “but no one has figured out how to make the first book into a film — it really should be done as a series.”
His second choice could be construed as somewhat unusual: the “Dungeons and Dragon’s Player’s Handbook.”
“As we enter adulthood, the concept of play, or actively engaging your imagination, becomes kind of taboo unless it’s used to create a product of some kind – novels, a film, or art,” he said. “D&D subverts this handcuff on one’s creativity, and is a form of adult play that is imaginative, engaging and, in my opinion, something that fosters mental health. I also think there is something very liberating about getting to create and tell a story together, where everyone that participates is an active contributor to the story and the world it resides within. There are no commercial expectations with D&D. The story is written by the collaborators for the collaborators. There’s something for special about that.”
But, as he also noted, that wouldn’t be a very practical choice for someone stranded alone on an island, with no one to play the game with. “Unless I started speaking to volleyballs or coconuts,” he laughed.
Third choice: “The Wheel of Time” series, by Robert Jordan.
Sayre admitted that this fantasy series may have been more accessible when he was a kid than he might find it today, but he credits these books — there are 14, all of them long — with encouraging him to read when he was a kid.
Finally, he would pick “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card, “even though I disagree with the author’s politics.”
This sprawling sci-fi novel, which remarkably has become suggested reading for many military organizations, “was my introduction to the power of a Third Act twist,” Sayre said.
Of course, if you’re soliciting a movie producer for his book choices, you can’t not ask him to list his favorite films too.
Sayre rattles off a long list, but eventually settles on three of his favorites: “Alien,” (the first in the series) as the number one, followed by the Pacino-De Niro crime thriller “Heat,” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.”
Other honorable mentions include “Blade Runner,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Fight Club.”Of the ten films nominated in the Academy Award’s Best Picture category this year — all of which he dutifully watched — his favorite was the Japanese movie, “Drive My Car,” although as a huge fan of science fiction and the book, he also loved “Dune.”
Finally, for fun, I asked him to name the worst A-list movie he’s ever seen, and he didn’t hesitate.
“No contest -” Sayre said with a smile, ‘Battlefield Earth,’ with John Travolta. It’s appalling, hands down the worst movie ever made.”
Which books would you take to a desert island, and why? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of islander Phil Clapham’s ongoing “Desert Island Bookworm” series for The Beachcomber. Clapham is a retired whale biologist and writer who lives on Maury Island. His novel “Jack”, a romantic comedy narrated by a dog who lives with a professional dominatrix, is available on Amazon under his pseudonym, Phillip Boleyn.