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Inside the Mind of Mike Scarnati

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

By Jennifer Ward


Purchase College alum and current BFA film store manager Mike Scarnati. (Photo by: Jon Sicherman)


From making homemade films with his brother to a BFA in film, Mike Scarnati has experienced many ups and downs not only within the conservatory but in his personal life. As the BFA film store manager, Scarnati never saw himself with a future as a staff member at Purchase College. After struggling with post-graduation depression, Scarnati was given the opportunity to do what he loves, as well as help current Film Conservatory students as they navigate the program and increase their craft.


A graduate of Purchase College Class of 2018, Scartani was inspired by YouTube film breakdown videos to go into filmmaking. He then applied, was waitlisted, and got into the Purchase College Film Conservatory. Currently, Scarnati not only runs the film store but also is the building manager for the Center for Media, Film, and Theater. With a feature film script in his back pocket, Scarnati hopes to break into the film industry. For now, Scarnati’s history all begins in a bit of an unconventional place, above a funeral home.


This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Q: So where are you from originally?

A: I’m from Yonkers, New York, born and raised. It’s actually funny, I tell some people this, and I always get an interesting reaction. My entire life growing up, I lived above a funeral home.


Q: I’m sorry, you what?

A: I sometimes get that reaction. I get like an ‘Oh cool!’ or sometimes just a completely unfazed, ‘Oh, interesting.’ It’s a mix of the three different reactions when I tell people that. My dad’s a funeral director, and we live above where he works. I think it skeeved people out? I don’t know.


Q: That is crazy to me. I’ve truly never heard that one, I can safely say. Did living there have any influence on you as a filmmaker?

A: Actually, yes. My first year in the film program at Purchase, we all had to take a writing class. My final script for that first semester in the program was about a funeral director who gets so mad at his boss that he murders him in a preparatory room, and tries to cover up the murders. They always say to write what you know.


Scarnati on a film set. (Photo by: Brandon Arroyo)


Q: When did you start film?

A: Oh, we’re going to go way back. I would say, about 12 years ago. I’ve always loved writing, and I feel like from a young age I wanted to be a writer growing up, and specifically that flourished into filmmaking by the time I was in high school. A lot of colleges were asking for portfolio pieces, I had never really directed anything or made any type of film, but I said, ‘Well I gotta do something.’


Q: Are you able to look back at those films as a fun little memory with your friends your first time ever making something?

A: I do. I look back at those films and I wince and go ‘Oh why did I do that?’


Q: Those are some of my favorites to look back on, you know? The first thing you ever wrote, your first film and you’re like ‘Wow.” It’s fun to look back and see how far you got.

A: Everybody goes through the same thing where you make choices that you would have done completely differently than now. Especially after having been through several years in a program.


Q: What was the first film you ever made?

A: Oh, man. One of the films I made with my zero budget that I had and my zero resources that I had, but there was one story that was interesting to me at the time. I wanted to make a weird biopic of the Boston Marathon Bombing. I used that as one of my portfolio films. Like I said, they were rough. It was very apparent that they were lacking a lot, and that was because I didn’t know much about film. I was waitlisted going into the program.


Q: What did it feel like getting that email? Finding out that you got accepted?

A: I was literally in the middle of class in high school when I pulled out my phone in the middle of the day and saw the letter. I freaked out in class I just couldn’t believe it. I did not think that was going to happen.


Q: I know it’s a known thing that the thesis projects and senior projects can be overwhelming and a lot of work. How did you manage that?

A: I was going through a patch my senior year where I was just really depressed. I felt partially miserable about a few things going on in my relationship that I’m still in now. That really inspired me to write a film about a couple in a long-distance relationship. The main character makes a connection with an elderly man, a widower, who had lost his wife. The whole film is set, well, it’s set in a graveyard actually! Kind of that background of my dad’s work in the funeral industry kind of came in a little bit. It was by far the most personal thing I’ve ever made in my whole time in the program. I really wanted to connect with a lot of people who were going through similar things as well.


A still from Scarnati's senior thesis featuring David Joseph Volino (left) and Jerry Matz (right). (Photo via: Mike Scarnati)


Q: Those are my favorite films to watch, the ones you can tell the director had a personal experience with.

A: So many students in this program now do that, and you feel it as you watch it exactly as you said. That’s just one of the beauties of filmmaking really


Q: So what was the post-graduation goal when you hit senior year? Was it to hopefully go into education or was it for the film industry?

A: It was definitely more toward the film industry at the time. I didn’t think I would be coming back to Purchase and working for the college, or even the film program specifically. It was really tough to find work when I left. I was applying to so many places. I know I talked about how I made a film about depression while I was still a senior, but that summer graduating was super depressing. In what we all thought was going to be a really fun, ‘We’re finally done with college! We’re going out into the real world!’ was so depressing and soul-sucking. Trying to find a full-time job, making money to support yourself out of college, it’s tough. I wound up working in retail my first year out. It was that next summer [Purchase College] called me and asked me if I wanted to come back to work here as the store manager full-time, and I said yes. I’m glad that I did come back, I use this job to really try and help the students because I always wanted that mentor when I was in the program. I try to form a personal connection with a lot of students now and offer advice having lived through what they’re living through.


Q: What are you up to on your side of film outside of working here?

A: I wrote a feature script about a year ago, and I’m still trying to go back and revise it. I know a lot of people when they graduate film school will try to go the indie film route and direct a few short films. Get noticed, make a feature. I thought about doing that, but after coming out of the film program and constantly writing and directing films and putting all of my attention into that, it did drain me a lot.


The BFA film shop where Scarnati works. (Photo by: Jamie Simiele)


Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?

A: I would say one of the biggest challenges is not having that network anymore of having a group of peers to give you feedback on your work. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort; it’s not a singular effort.


Q: Well to go right off of that, what are some of the biggest rewards you’ve had in your career?

A: The biggest reward as a filmmaker, we spoke about this before. The biggest reward is connecting with an audience and speaking to them on a personal level on what you’ve gone through and have shared in your work. When you can sit down and have a conversation with somebody who feels so close to your work.


Q: This is my favorite question to ask. If you can say anything to your past self, what would it be?

A: Oh, man. My past self? When I think of my past self I think of my high school past self who made all those bad films. I would say I’m glad I made those really shit films because if I didn’t pick up a camera and try to work on a piece, I wouldn’t be affiliated with film at all. I’d probably be doing some job I’m miserable with. For me, I love being surrounded by the arts and that creative side, and that’s why I’m glad I took the path I did.

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