Marcos Siega, the director and executive producer for Blindspot, sat down with the Queens Tribune to discuss his journey from Queens’s boy to top TV director.
Aside from directing Blindspot, Siega has worked on “Veronica Mars,” “True Blood,” “Dexter,” “the Vampire Diaries,” and the 2011 “Charlie’s Angels.” He’s directed music videos for Blink-182, System of a Down, Weezer and Papa Roach, among many others.
Siega grew up in Jackson Heights, where his father owned a deli and competed for the New York Cosmos. The director went to Holy Cross High School in Bayside, and attended St. John’s University. He now lives in Westchester County.
Q: What was your experience like growing up in Jackson Heights?
A: Oh, it was amazing. I say I grew up in Jackson Heights because that’s where my address was, but it was really Jackson Heights, Woodside, Astoria. I grew up on a BMX bicycle with my brother, so you’d end up at the Astoria pool, or riding your bike through Elmhurst or East Elmhurst, depending on which direction we went in. It felt big at the time, and now when I drive through I’m like ‘God, it’s so small.’ We used to have, all the catholic schools had these fairs, in the parking lots…I romanticize growing up in Queens because it was such a small neighborhood but big neighborhood, and I had friends in all different towns in Queens.
I never lost touch with them. I feel like my childhood friends have been my friends my entire life. My best friend growing up was this Greek kid named Steve Stratagakis. He lived on my street. We were in Jackson Heights but we always ended up in Astoria. His father owned an auto body shop in the Bronx. To this day, we’re still best friends. Just the other day I was scouting for the show in Queens, I was driving around and I called him up I was like ‘I’m on our old street.’ I was like, ‘remember how long we used to think it took to get to Lorraine’s house? It’s like six blocks away.’
Q: What do you look for when you’re scouting a location?
A: It’s story driven, sometimes we get a script and it will just say ‘seedy warehouse.’ That’s sort of open to interpretation. I know what that means, that means we need somewhere dark and creepy. For example there’s an old abandoned movie theater on Woodhaven Boulevard that we were looking for seedy warehouse and we decided to look there.
We were doing a whole sequences that was written as a storefront in SoHo. I couldn’t find anything that worked, so I said ‘what if we re-wrote it for the Queens Museum.’ So we took it to the Queens Museum and re-wrote the scene. The story didn’t change, just, they roll up to the Queens Museum, they run out the back, they ran through the panorama room. I’m always telling my location scout ‘I grew up going to the Queens Museum, no one’s ever been there, no one knows that this whole model of the city exists!’
Q: Let me ask you about your artistic trajectory.
A: I wanted to do this ever since I was a little kid. I went to a lot of movies growing up, Blvd theatre on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights. I fell in love with the idea of movie making. I didn’t go to film school. It just wasn’t what I could afford or what I could do. But it was something that I was always very focused on. Early on, I just kind of taught myself to use a camera. Shot my own little home movies. Started editing my own little movies. And then it’s hustle. I went and [worked as a production assistant].
Where I consider myself lucky is that I did it young. There was never any deviations. I dropped out of St. John’s because I got to a point where I was like, ‘I’m going to go to work.’ I’m going to go PA, I’m going to go shoot something.
Q: What characterizes your style as a director?
Early on I was heavily inspired by [Martin] Scorsese. I think just being a New Yorker, and his movies were so New York. I think that if I had a style, it would be sort of visceral; I like things that feel real and energetic. I have a hard time when I sit with a lot of my peers now who went to film school, they’re sort of brought up on the education of film, which I missed out on, and for me it’s all sort of self-taught, and hands on. So I like what I like. I look at a movie, and I love it, and I may not recognize how that movie is inspired by some classic. No amount of reading and hindsight can fill those voids, but I’ve just gotten to a point where I just love what I do. I feel like I could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the execution of something. If I read a script, I’m very decisive, I know what I want, and I think that’s what makes me a good director. Because I have a strong point of view and I know what I want. The rest of it sort of just becomes noise.
(This interview was edited and condensed.)