CEO Insights: Phillip Cappadora Jr., Astoria Filmmakers Club

7 min readApr 19, 2022

When Phillip Cappadora Jr. reflects on where he thought his career would take him as a fresh high school graduate, he envisioned the hustle and bustle of Manhattan construction sites, not New York film sets or playhouses. But a freak injury during a game of pickup basketball not only grounded his trade aspirations, but put him on an unexpected path of perseverance, self-discovery, and entrepreneurship.

“I had a basketball accident and I injured my right shoulder,” said Cappadora, founder of the Astoria Filmmakers Club (AFC). “I continued working in construction [as an ironworker] after the accident not thinking too much of it. But after a lot of wear and tear working on foundations, high-rises, through the winters and hot summers with steel nonstop, I needed to take a closer look at my shoulder. So, I had successful surgery and my torn labrum was fixed, but I couldn’t work so I had to go to college.”

He enrolled at Middletown’s Orange County Community College (SUNY Orange) to pursue business administration, and figured he’d take a theater elective to help gain more confidence with public speaking. Three months later, he’d completed three musicals. This was quickly followed by his first legitimate acting class the next semester, where he was scouted by the film department to be in his first film, Village Music.

“That film got accepted into the Black Bear Film Festival and the director of the Black Bear Film Festival, Bill Schill, came right up to me and told me go study in New York City,” he said.

So, he took his advice. Just two years after he left Manhattan, Cappadora once again found himself back in the beating heart of New York, but rather than learning the ropes at construction sites, he was learning lines at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. After a year, he finished his acting education at the professional conservatory Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

But his whirlwind academic success collided with reality upon graduation, where an immensely competitive and cutthroat industry mixed with a sense of loss, aimlessness, and bitterness over the simpler career path he was cheated out of.

“I was couch surfing for almost a full two years, and when I say couch surfing for a full two years, I’m not kidding,” he said, adding he bounced between seven couches in 20 months. “I had no mailbox, I was unemployed for the majority of the time, I made money as a background actor, a little bit of plumbing here and there, side jobs. Just literally going on film set just so I could have lunch and bring food home.”

He eventually landed in Astoria, Queens, where he reconnected with college friends. In 2016, he booked a background role as a police officer in a project simply titled “a social worker movie.” When he arrived on the Brooklyn set — one of more than 80 he’s worked on over the years — he bumped into Robert Pattinson and discovered the movie was the Safdie brothers’ cult hit, Good Time. Six months later, the film’s production team called him for a reshoot.

“The guy who actually made the arrest of Robert Pattinson [in the movie], he was unavailable that day,” recalled Cappadora. “So, the director, Benny Safdie, he just turns and says, ‘What about Phil?’ And I’m like, ‘What about me?’”

Cappadora with Robert Pattinson in the Safdie brothers’ cult hit, “Good Time.”

In 2019, Cappadora established AFC, an online community of filmmakers, actors, and industry contacts, something he desperately needed when he left school. AFC currently has about 470 members on their private Facebook group, where people can host events, fundraise, and share links to keep the community engaged.

“There’s a saying about success in the industry that it’s not about what you know but it is about who you know,” he said. “There are tens of thousands of filmmakers in the city of New York, but there’s no centralized networking location on how we could all meet up. So, one day in the summer of 2019, I sent a shoutout on a filmmaker’s group in New York City to see if anybody would be interested in the idea and it got a lot of responses of interest, so I started doing weekly meet ups every Wednesday night.”

Currently, Cappadora is building a more robust AFC web presence, a digital phone book like an IMDb pro or a chamber of commerce. Here, members will access shared community spaces, private collaboration groups, extensive networking/contact information, details on public and private events/workshops, and even a weekly movie review. He also envisions an eventual app — think AFC+ — a repository where all members can showcase their work. Based off interest and ratings from viewers and the most popular films, AFC will greenlight projects for original AFC content to showcase on the platform.

“I want to create a tool that I needed over 10 years ago after finishing college to start a career,” he explained, adding he’s already created a pilot titled FIRELAND, a story about the New York City Fire Department prior to 9/11 based on the book Coming Through the Flames by Chris Edwards. “I would love to have a primary space in the AFC online network absolutely free for knowing about the events, maybe able to find a job or hook up with an agent.”

In addition to a networking and collaboration space, Cappadora said a dream through AFC is to eventually host a film festival, much like the Black Bear Film Festival that first ignited his passion for acting.

“I know the value that festivals have, inspiring somebody to continue their pursuit in a career in this business,” he said. “So, my next objective after the launch is to create a braggers rights film festival amongst the five boroughs exclusively for us.“

To help take his vision from script to screen, Cappadora needed a supporting cast. While perusing TikTok, he stumbled across a quirky Hirect video. The filmmaker in him, always a sucker for good content, was enticed to explore the app further. Next thing you know, he had signed up.

“Honestly, Hirect is the second platform I’ve ever used in hiring somebody,” he said. “I tried Fiverr once before, but it was for coming up with a business idea for an online education hub. That’s a really interesting tool and I enjoy it, but the one thing I love about Hirect particularly is the authentication process and the legitimacy of the business is looking to hire. I think that level of assurance is key for legitimizing clientele in the workspace.“

Cappdora posted and filled multiple roles through Hirect, including a web designer, who has taken the helm on AFC’s digital layout, and a web developer who has created an app framework, which has inspired the functionality and services AFC could potentially provide.

“It’s been interesting being on the interviewing side for a change,” he said. “I’ve had a multitude of submissions of website developers looking to work together and somehow I was able to narrow it down to a handful of men and women in the community and based on how we were vibing and if they preferred awesome movies or pets, I was able to just start from the ground up and give them a shot at making my vision a reality.”

Cappadora, a lifelong animal lover, rescuer, and advocate, also revealed Hirect helped him find a separate web developer for a simultaneous passion project, called Happy Corner. Still very much in its infancy, the initiative will soon have a digital presence and will focus on responsible pet rescue and adoption throughout New York City.

“The most complicated thing I’ve noticed in the early stages of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) rescue work, everybody’s desperate for money, food, finding a good vet, containing the cat colonies, it’s a mess,” he said. “So, one major function that Happy Corner will have online is a private network exclusively for the TNR community or rescue sanctuary community to coordinate rescue, as well as TNR campaigns.”

Happy Corner, a no-kill, no-questions, animal sanctuary, will not only spay and neuter stray animals free of charge, but provide a safe space for abandoned animals and a much-needed resource for underprivileged animal owners.

“One girl [hired through Hirect] for Happy Corner has gone above and beyond in developing this website,” he continued. “I’ve been blown away with her imagination and admiration for pets. I’m very excited to launch that site, she put a lot of heart into it.”

To learn more about how you can get involved in AFC, email, follow on Facebook and Instagram, or listen to the AFC podcast and related content on YouTube. To find your first pivotal hires, or the talent to make your vision a reality, download Hirect on the App Store or on Google Play.




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