Producing Successful Cinema

When Isen Robbins, son of CSI Engineering and Physics Professor Irv Robbins, left Tottenville High School to come to CSI, he decided to study psychology. That plan soon became sidetracked after he took an elective class in filmmaking.

Robbins recalls, “I’d done a lot of high school plays with my interest in drama, and I love movies. I decided that it would be fun to take an elective class with Buddy Giovinazzo at CSI. Buddy put a camera in my hand, which is the first time that I held a Super 8 camera, and, as I held it in my hand, it felt a lot like a hammer, like a tool…I fell for the power of the camera very quickly at that moment and I think within a week, changed my major to cinema. He introduced me to the indie spirit, which I got at the College of Staten Island, that you can be from anywhere and anybody, you can be an absolute nobody in the film industry, but you have the power in yourself to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish, which is an unfolding lesson that I’m still learning.”

After he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema from CSI, Robbins continued on to pursue a Master’s degree in the subject at the College, but decided, mid-stream, to switch to New York University (NYU). Although he says that NYU was “an interesting experience,” and that he “made a lot of friends there,” he reports that he “decided that this wasn’t what I wanted either. After a little roundabout, I came back to the College of Staten Island with an academic focus and finished a Master’s degree at CSI.” What brought him back? “I had more access to equipment, there were fewer people, and it was more tailored for me, as opposed to stepping into some machine that just cookie-cuttered people out,” he says.

After he produced his first film, The Sticky Fingers of Time, Robbins decided to develop a corporate identity, launching Intrinsic Value Films in 1997 with his colleague Aimee Schoof. The duo set out to produce low-budget, mostly arthouse films and, lately, genre thrillers of high quality and the company’s Website notes that Intrinsic Value “is active in script development and packaging, physical production and post production, domestic and international sales, and finance.” To date, Intrinsic Value has produced over 20 films, including Brother to Brother, The Hebrew Hammer, and XX/XY. Robbins has worked with stars such as Eartha Kitt, Danny Glover, Eliza Dushku, David Strathairn, Marc Rufalo, Andrew McCarthy, Chloë Sevigny, Dominic Monaghan, and Ron (Hellboy) Perlman, to name a few. Intrinsic Value films have also gained a considerable amount of recognition, with premieres at prestigious film festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, and Tribeca. Brother to Brother was also nominated for four Indie Spirit Awards. This year intrinsic has had two films distributed in theaters, in January The Alphabet Killer, by Anchor Bay, and in May The Skeptic, by IFC Films. Both films are currently available on Time Warner on demand.

As Robbins and Schoof continued to make films under the Intrinsic Value brand, they took another step forward in 2008, teaming up with writer/producer Kevin Fox (another Tottenville HS alumnus) to form Red Giant Media. Red Giant’s objective is “to develop and produce original, comic book- and novel-based science fiction properties for studio distribution, including cellular and Webisode digital content.” Robbins says that among the works that Red Giant will bring to film are the Deepak Chopra series The Angel Is Near and The Lords of Light under the title The 36.

Now that he has forged a successful career in cinema, what does Robbins find most rewarding about the path that he has chosen? “There’s a bunch of things that I really like about what I do for a living. One of them is that it’s extremely rare that a day seems familiar to another. Every day is different, a whole new set of challenges and triumphs, and victories, and defeats. There’s a tremendous amount of new experience coming at me, always. I like being independent. If things happen in my world, they happen because of me or one of my partners. I love movies, too, and always have, and feel that the medium we’re working in is one of the most powerful, creative tools on the planet and can be used for a lot of different reasons, both good and bad.”

Turning to the importance of the messages that he and his partners impart, Robbins adds, “We’ve taken on some of the characteristics of the shaman, telling stories that move and change the world a little bit. Entertaining is really important too. I love telling a good yarn just for the sake of it. I like moving people.”

Recalling one instance of moving someone, Robbins says that, after a screening of The Sticky Fingers of Time at Venice, a woman approached him in tears, which he found odd because the film was about time travel. She told him that the movie had such an impact on her that she had intended to commit suicide before she saw the film, but now she had changed her mind because of her viewing experience.

What does the future hold for Robbins? Intrinsic Value and Red Giant Media will continue to produce and distribute, but, Robbins notes, things will be on a wider scale than before, with larger budgets and bigger audiences.

Isen Robbins's experience at the College of Staten Island launched his career as a filmmaker.

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