Inspiring People

Marc Simon, Sundance Film Festival Award winning movie producer

Marc Simon
Marc H. Simon is an attorney and filmmaker, and has experience working in front of the camera as an actor and on-air correspondent. Simon is a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and is an alumnus of its Innocence Project, an experience which inspired the making of After Innocence. He is also an associate at the law firm of Dreier LLP in New York City. In addition he currently works as a legal correspondent and producer for Fox Television's A Current Affair. Marc has worked in film development and film production, and as an actor he appeared in the Spike Lee directed feature 25th Hour. He is currently developing a reality-based television series and two non-fiction films.

Marc Simon and I met seemingly by coincidence, but I am convinced that our meeting was destined to be.

In December of 1991, my brother-in-law, my sister's husband, was wrongly convicted of rape and robbery. He was subsequently sentenced to 19 years in prison. He was released in 5 years because that is how long that it took to prove that he did not commit this crime. Marc's work with the Innocence Project, Life After Exoneration Project (LAEP), and his work in making the film After Innocence is work that I take very personally because this is an issue that has profoundly impacted my family. I applaud Marc Simon and his efforts to bring the stories of the wrongly convicted, and the issues that plague them as a result, to national attention. Thank you Marc

DR: Tell me what you would like me know about your life.

MS: Sure. Well in terms of the film, I had always, for some reason been drawn to documentaries. Even as a child, I don't know why, but when most kids were watching, I don't know, Pee Wee Herman, I, for some reason found the compelling stories of real life and documentaries captivating. But I never really had any belief that I was going to have a career in it. Film on the other hand, just generally speaking, I was very aware of, and I did think that I could get into the film business.

I was on track to become a lawyer, just because that is what one does, coming from my community -- In the suburbs you become a lawyer or a doctor. I didn't even know what an investment banker was growing up -- I was also always drawn to subjects of the underdog. I truly grew up as a child of Rocky Balboa. I found his story very inspiring. Anyone that could persevere through life, those were the type of figures that I was drawn to. And, when I entered the Innocence Project in law school I had worked in film, both in production and as an actor, to an extent and was drawn to the compelling stories of the exonorees. And certainly their ability to overcome and to persevere against the worst odds, was something that I had great admiration for and as a result of that, and I guess a deep seeded understanding of documentaries kind of rose up and I had the idea to make After Innocence as the best way to bring attention to this issue of wrongful conviction, and most specifically to the issues that exonerees {the exonerated} face after their release.

DR: And what was it about that particular condition that really inspired you to do something like make this film?

MS: It was a few things...I should also…this is part of the answer to the first question:

Sometimes things are just meant to be in a sense.

Everything about my experience in the Innocence Project was cinematic. On my first day of class, Barry Scheck walked in on his cell phone, you know, talking emphatically to someone because someone had just been exonerated in New York and was on their way to our class after being in prison for 20 years for something that he didn't do. To start a class year on that kind of note, is very compelling. It's very dramatic. And then the whole experience sort of always had things of that nature. That was always story telling and dramatic to me. And then specifically to answer your question:

"What drew me to the subject of life after exoneration?" --

It was the fact that I was in the Innocence Project when individuals like Herman Atkins, who was in the movie and was exonerated when I was a student in the Innocence Project, was exonerated and treated, for 24 hours, like a celebrity. And they celebrated celebrity, in that these exonerations were considered success stories. Wrongs that had been righted and then justice had finally been corrected and rectified - mistakes had been rectified rather, and that justice had been served. But I was meeting these guys. I was meeting people like Herman and I realized that they got of prison after decades in cells for things they didn't do,

and they had nothing.

They weren't given any social services, they weren't given a counselor, they weren't given any money, they weren't given things that those who are actually guilty are given to help them transition back into society. And that ultimate irony is what drew me to the subject matter.

DR: Talk to me about the success that you have been having with After Innocence.

MS: It's been quite a ride.

You know you spend years and hours and put your whole soul and heart into a project with the ultimate goal that it is going to resonate with the public. And, if it doesn't, you know, all that hard work in a sense, won't accomplish the purpose for which you set out on the goal.

The first opportunity I had to see how the public would respond to the material, was at The Sundance Film Festival in January 2005. It was the first public screening of the film. And I was sitting in the back of the theatre and as soon as the film ended and the credits came up, the entire theatre rose to their feet in applause and people were crying. At that point I knew that "O.K., people got. People are going to get it." And that was an enormous sense of relief and hope. Hope that, you know, this issue will be addressed.

Since then we've gone on to receive numerous film festival awards and as you know, we just started our theatrical run here in New York City with 40 theaters slated across the country -- but hopefully hundreds. It really all comes down to the New York…the success and the opening weeks in New York. And it's tough because we are a small independent film with limited publicity, with limited marketing and in large extent, we are relying on word of mouth to spread word about the film and to get people in the seats. I guess the best indicator that we are starting on the right foot is that - of all films in the country, this past weekend, we were the sixth highest grossing film per engagement. In other words when you divide a film's total gross by the number of theaters they're at, in which our case was one theater, we were the sixth grossing film and that was only below major studio projects. We were the highest grossing independent film. I think that's correct -- the highest independent. There might have been one other independent above us.

DR: That is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

MS: It's a good accomplishment and it is the right foot to start on but there is really still a long road to hoe. Here we are at week number two and very often small films, you know, the grosses decline and hopefully…

our goal and our objective is that we can still stay up there and competitive so that exhibitors across the country still take notice because we want this issue exposed.

And really the truth is, all the audience members who came out and spoke to me about it -

This is a good film!

In addition to the issues it raises, this is a very compelling and dramatic story. I think that's why it resonates with the public and I just hope that it continues to succeed.

DR: One of the things that strikes me as we are talking, is that, in order to bring something like this into existence, well, I am clear that it wasn't an easy process. Talk to me about challenges; how you deal with challenges.

MS: Sure. It was a very long process. Some people take decades to work on a documentary film so I don't mean long in terms of that.

For me I had the idea to make this film in 2000 and I started writing the proposal in 2001, and here we are in 2005, so it really was a four year process at least. To make a film, an independent film, you are going to come up against a lot of obstacles. Economics - we had to raise money through grant writing in the beginning, through going to friends and family to having a fund raiser in 2002 - whatever it took to start the production and that's a grind. You know, you're writing grant proposals and doing everything that you can to get your project off the ground, and of course I was doing that at the same time that I am an attorney. It was a lot of late nights and a lot of weekends. And then we were fortunate enough to have gotten the finishing funds from Showtime Networks and at that point it was full steam ahead. And then it's just the normal film making obstacles.

This is a national issue so we were all over the country. We had to find the right people for the film. We were fortunate in so many respects that the people who represent this issue are just tremendous individuals. And now we are at the next obstacle which is -

Our film is out there and it is now our job with limited resources to get people to know about this film.

And that is another grind and it's a lot of hard work and it's talking and doing interviews like this. Hopefully in the end people take notice and this film and this issue, get more exposure.

AFTER INNOCENCE tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated - innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father sent to prison and even death row for decades for crimes they did not commit.

The men are thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars. While the public views exonerations as success stories - wrongs that have been righted - AFTER INNOCENCE shows that the human toll of wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served.

The film raises basic questions about human rights and society's moral obligation to the innocent and places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. The film features exonerees Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL.; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA.

It also features Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, founders of the Innocent Project which has helped to exonerate the more than l50 people freed through the use of DNA testing in the last decade; and highlights the work of human rights activist Dr. Lola Vollen, co-founder of the Life After Exoneration Program.

AFTER INNOCENCE is directed by Jessica Sanders, an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker (“Sing!”), and is produced and written by Jessica Sanders and Marc Simon in association with The American Film Foundation, an Academy® and Emmy®-award winning production company. Simon attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and was a student at the Innocence Project, an experience that inspired the idea for this film.

AFTER INNOCENCE is a Showtime Independent Films Presentation in association with American Film Foundation.

DR: Clearly the fact that you are so focused and passionate about this project and about your work …I am sure that has contributed largely to the success that you have had to this point.

MS: I certainly hope that's the case. I think that's the case. I don't think any project like this can ever be completed successfully without passion. It's like when actors are interviewed and they say "Why are you an actor?" and very often the answer is that they had no choice. They had to be. And that was always my answer to this film. I really had no doubt that this was going to get done. There was no other option. It was that important to me. When you take that attitude, I think ultimately you can achieve things. In this case we have achieved something of importance…

I'm still not satisfied!

Because for me, I want this to really have a big effect on a national scale. So, just the fact that I am in a movie theater and just the fact that it is going to Showtime, for me that is not the satisfaction.

I want change!

I want people to take notice and I want the laws changed. We still have a long road to go.

DR: Marc, tell me what the quality is that you value most in yourself.

MS: Everything is a double edged sword. Certainly my perseverance is what I can just objectively say is the quality that I admire most in myself, and …I think people do identify with. I have always had that "never quit" attitude. In fact, I think I thrive on objectives that others say I can't do. I was a goal keeper in college, in soccer and I was very small to be a goal keeper. I am under six foot and I played in the Ivy Leagues but to take it back to this -

I have certainly been told, and this is the double edged sword part - that I can be quite persuasive. That I keep going until I get the answer that I want…I can wear people down.

DR: Not a bad quality…

MS: Right. I think ultimately, it is who I am. And while it might grate some people I think I do it in a nice way. I have a hard problem with "no", especially when I don't agree with it. I don't push for things that I don't think have a reasonable basis or have a rational basis. When I am getting a "no" to something that I believe in, that's when I push - and push hard.

DR: Talk to me about a quality that you value most in other people.

MS: There're a few qualities, certainly loyalty. Efficiency! And this really is something I'm taking note a lot of now….I have this platform which is this film and I am relying on other people to do things which I can't do. Essentially I am delegating. And those individuals that you can just trust; that you just give them something and you know and trust that they're going to run with it and get it done and get it done well -- Wow! That's an invaluable quality. Because there's others that you know that there's a problem. You know that you can't fully trust them. You know that there's gonna be excuses. So it's that quality of trust and loyalty and knowing that they can get something done efficiently, {those} are things that I greatly value.

DR: What do you want to have gotten done five years from now, and what are you doing about that now?

MS: Well that's funny that you ask that question because I just said to someone that I can't answer the question of where I am going to be in five years. Only because right now, it's so in the moment, in terms of this project, and the fact that I am working as an attorney. I really don't know what the future holds. I mean in the last year I have done a variety of things. I have finished the film. I am working as an attorney. I've worked as an on-air correspondent for the show A Current Affair. There's aspects of all of these that I really like. I know that a year from now I want there to have been real change on this issue. I know that I want the exoneree issue to be a national issue that people know and understand far more than they did before the film came out. I want compensation laws to be passed and I want the Life After Exoneration Program (LAEP) to be a working organization that can help the exonerees. That is sort of what my focus is now. I have started work on another film but you know, the truth is I just…I can't predict where I am going to be five years from now. I just hope it's a position where I am happy and doing what I enjoy and that it certainly will involve film or television.

DR: You'll be persevering, no doubt.

MS: (Laughs). Yeah.

DR: When people look at you Marc, what do you want them to see?

MS: Wow. I want them to see somebody who is genuine. Who takes on causes and issues and does the things that he believes in and does them in full; you know it's not half hearted…is someone that pushes for what he believes in and strives to accomplish what he sets out to do. And I guess also someone who is embracing. I want to be a good friend. I want to be a good person in a family. That has been the toughest thing - you know right now - relationships (laughs). Because when you are so focused on objectives, which I have been, to some extent you have to do it with blinders on and that takes a toll in the relationship realm (laughs). So uh, that's somewhere I can improve.

DR: So tell me, a hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for.

MS: Someone who made a difference. You are given a short time on earth in the great scheme of things and when I depart I want to have left my foot print; have made a difference in the lives of others.

DR: Anything else?

MS: I also want to have led --

a happy life.

Thanks Marc!

After Innocence


Head back to the top.