Nancy Savoca

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Nancy Savoca
Born Nancy Laura Savoca
(1959-07-23) July 23, 1959 (age 56)
Bronx, New York
Occupation director, writer, producer
Years active 1982 to present
Spouse(s) Richard Guay (m. 1980 to present)
Children Bobby Guay (b. 1986), Kenny Guay (b. 1989), Martina Guay (b. 1992)
Awards Won: Haig P. Manoogian Award, New York University (1982)
Won: Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival (1989) for True Love
Won: San Sebastián International Film Festival for True Love (1989)
Nominated: Independent Spirit Award, Best Director for True Love (1990)
Nominated: Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay: Household Saints (1994)
Won: Lucy Award for If These Walls Could Talk (1996)
Nominated: ALMA award for Outstanding Director of a feature film for The 24-Hour Woman (2000)
Won: Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, Best Director for Dirt (2004)

Nancy Laura Savoca (born July 23, 1959) is an American film screenwriter, director, and producer. She won the Grand Jury Prize in 1989 at the Sundance Film Festival for True Love (1989) and Best Director for Dirt (2004) at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she is the daughter of Argentine and Sicilian immigrants Maria Elvira and Calogero Savoca, respectively. She is married to Richard Guay (pronounced as "gay"), who is also a writer and producer, and together they have three children.

Life and work[edit]

Nancy Laura Savoca was born in 1959 in the Bronx, New York, to Argentine and Sicilian immigrants Maria Elvira and Calogero Savoca, respectively. She attended local schools. After completing her courses at Queens College, Flushing, New York, Savoca went on to graduate in 1982 from New York University's film school, the Tisch School of the Arts. While there she received the Haig P. Manoogian Award for overall excellence for her short films Renata and Bad Timing.

Around this time, she met Rich Guay (pronounced 'gay'), then an accounting student working at an Italian deli near her home. They were married in 1980. They have three children together, two sons and a daughter.

After film school, Savoca worked as a storyboard artist and assistant editor on an independent film. Her first professional experience was as a production assistant to John Sayles on his film The Brother From Another Planet, and as an assistant auditor for Jonathan Demme on two of his films: Something Wild (1986), and Married to the Mob (1988).

In 1989, she directed her first full-length movie, the privately funded True Love, about Italian-American marriage rituals in the Bronx. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie, starring Annabella Sciorra and Ron Eldard, both making their film debuts (and co-starring a number of now-familiar faces from The Sopranos including Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore), was hailed as one of the best films of the year by both Janet Maslin and Vincent Canby of the New York Times.[citation needed] Savoca was nominated for a Spirit Award as Best Director. MGM/UA picked up the distribution rights and RCA released the soundtrack, with two songs reaching the Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts.

Since then she has written, directed and produced movies for the big screen and television, written or polished scripts for other directors, and directed a number of episodes in ongoing television series.

She was among five writers and co-wrote all three segments of the Demi Moore produced If These Walls Could Talk, a mini-series about abortion rights, and directing the first two segments. The second segment starred Sissy Spacek, a married woman who does not think she can afford another child. Cher starred in and directed the third segment, in which she played a doctor targeted by anti-abortion activists. It was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Miniseries or Television Film.

In 1998, Savoca was feted as a "New York trailblazer" at the New York Women's Film Festival. Savoca was also honored by the Los Angeles chapter of the advocacy organization, Women in Film and Television (WIFT).[citation needed]

Two of Savoca's films, Household Saints and True Love, are listed in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made St. Martin's Griffin.[1] Her film True Love was called one of the "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time" by Entertainment Weekly.

Nancy Savoca's work has also been the subject of a retrospective by the American Museum of the Moving Image.[2]

An artist's vision[edit]

Savoca works most often as an independent filmmaker although she is no stranger to Hollywood. Like the innovative John Cassavetes, she allows her actors to find their own way through to a character. Also like Cassavetes, although her films are entirely scripted (often in partnership with her husband, Rich Guay), Savoca is willing to change a line or a scene at a moment's notice if it feels right. And unlike most directors, she will use people in her films that have either only acted on stage, or never acted at all. Making a movie is personal. As well as devoting perhaps years to one project, it can be emotionally draining. Asked to direct Emma Thompson in Wit, Savoca declined since the plot of a woman dying from cancer was too close to events in her own life.[3]

Savoca's films reflect an ongoing concern with the feminine, albeit the quirky feminine. With a sense of nothing being "directed" or manipulated, she evokes so-called "ordinary" life on its deepest emotional level, yet with perfect artistic control. In 1991's Dogfight, starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, she gives us a touching portrait of feminine courage and masculine absolution. This film—about a Marine on the eve of leaving for the new war in Vietnam finding and bringing the ugliest girl he can scrape up to a dreadful contest called a "dogfight"—was not well attended, but was critically acclaimed. The New York Times again praised Savoca's work. As an interesting aside, Brendan Fraser made his first appearance in "the movies" as a cameo in Savoca's Dogfight.

In 1993's Household Saints, again teaming up with Lili Taylor, Savoca moved beyond her interest in "ordinary people" to one extraordinary person who steps over the boundaries of routine religion into the realm of the luminously spiritual. Tracey Ullman and Vincent D'Onofrio play the parents of Lili Taylor. Being Italian, they are also Roman Catholic. Professing Catholicism means certain things, but it seldom means housing a saint. Savoca's script was lovingly crafted from the book by Francine Prose. With Jonathan Demme as the executive producer and released by Fine Line, the film was on the "Best Films" list of over twenty national critics and was nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Screenplay by Savoca and Guay. Lili Taylor won a Spirit for Best Female Performance.

Working with Oscar nominees Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Tony Award winner, Patti Lupone, Savoca wrote and directed The 24 Hour Woman about the myth of the "superwoman,” able to juggle a marriage, pregnancy, and a high profile job. Perez plays the producer of a local TV show for women in New York City who lives her pregnancy, child-birth, and new baby very publicly "over the air." Also appearing was the up-and-coming Diego Serrano as "Eddie Diaz." This movie was premiered at Sundance in 1999 and Savoca was nominated for an ALMA (American Latin Media Arts) award for Outstanding Director.

Moving into television, Savoca directed, as mentioned, the first two segments of If These Walls Could Talk. The first segment, a single woman seeking a backstreet abortion in the 1950s played by Demi Moore, caught Moore at perhaps her finest moment as an actress. In this section, Savoca also worked with the highly respected actresses Shirley Knight and CCH Pounder. It was then the highest rated original movie in HBO history. It played at several international film festivals and received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best television drama and for Ms. Moore's performance. Because of "Walls,” Savoca shared a Lucy Award from Women in Film with the other creators.[4] Released in 2003, she directed Reno: Rebel Without a Pause: Unrestrained Reflections on September 11, the performance artist Reno's raw, cynical and furiously funny rant about the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. This film opened at the Toronto Film Festival on September 11, 2002. The city of Florence, Italy awarded this film the Prize for Peace and Liberty.

2005 saw the release of Dirt starring Julieta Ortiz, a stage actress making her first appearance in a motion picture. Dirt, which premiered on Showtime, explores the life of Dolores, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who can only find work "under the table." Constantly terrified she will be deported as she cleans American houses, she dreams of the day she can go back to a home of her own. For this film, the Writers Guild of America nominated Savoca and Guay for a WGA for Best Longform Teleplay in 2006. Ortiz won Best Actress in New York's Le Cinema Fe and Savoca won Best Director at Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

Latest work[edit]

Savoca and Guay are shooting a documentary on Gato Barbieri, an Argentinian jazz saxophonist. They are also currently working towards the filming of Ki Longfellow's novel The Secret Magdalene (Eio Books, 2005; Random House, 2007) in which Savoca is again the screenwriter and director, while Guay is producing.[5][6]

Revolution Books screened "Dirt" on August 11, 2010. Savoca appeared for a Q&A. DIRT is an award-winning tragic-comedy about an undocumented cleaning woman. Shot in NYC and El Salvador.[7]

In February 2011, Colombia held a retrospective of Savoca's work which she attended.

Savoca has completed her independent feature Union Square starring Mira Sorvino, Tammy Blanchard, Patti LuPone, Mike Doyle, Michael Rispoli and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Madeleine Peyroux recorded an end song for the film which was invited to open in 2011's Toronto International Film Festival.[8] It is now being released in selected theaters throughout the United States.[9]

On June 4, 2012, Nancy Savoca received a Best in the Biz tribute in Canada's 10th Anniversary Female Eye Film Festival.[10]

On July 13, 2012 (a Friday), Union Square opened to packed houses in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto. An indie shot in 12 days for less than $100,000, it has received widespread notice from major print sources such as the New York Times[11] and the Los Angeles Times,[12] to online sources like Newsday,[13] Yahoo Voices[14] and the Pasadena Sun.[15]

In the fall of 2012, Nancy directed a short film for Scenarios USA. This is an organization that uses the stories of high school students, transforming them into professionally made short films. Nancy worked with student screenwriters to help develop their original ideas into films that air on Showtime and become part of an innovative teaching curriculum used in high schools around the country.[16]


Television Director[edit]


  • 1995 – Dark Eyes (pilot), ABC
  • 1996 – 1952 and 1974, If These Walls Could Talk, (miniseries), HBO
  • 2005 – Dirt, Showtime

As a Writer[edit]


  • Women Filmmakers and Their Films, St. James Press, 1998

External links[edit]