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Lawrence Toppman feature, Charlotte Observer: Loving life behind the lens

Sunday, Aug 12, 2007

Loving life behind the lens

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN

For 30 years — through a teaching career, a marriage, the raising of three children — Sam Post has carried on an affair with the elusive but irresistible Thalia, who never stops flirting but won’t fully commit to a relationship.The Salisbury native has devoted long nights to her. He’s run up a credit card for her. He finds himself at 51 wondering what to do to win her. Yet the Muse of Comedy remains tantalizingly near, at the end of his fingertips.

He has courted her and her immortal sisters through novels, through plays, through screenplays, and finally through a TV series stalled for want of money.

The first episode of “The Coffee News Guy” aired last month on Image TV (Time-Warner cable channel 19) in the Salisbury/Concord area. It’s about Darnell (played by Charlotte actor Hank West), who publishes “Coffee News,” a two-page newspaper full of local tidbits and ads for small businesses in that region.

As Post himself has the local franchise for a two-page paper named “Coffee News,” you could be forgiven for thinking this is autobiographical. You could be forgiven for thinking that about all of his recent work, in fact.

After many quickly made film shorts, he spent five days making a debut feature, “Dodo of the Year,” about a family that awards a stuffed replica of that bird to the member who earns it by ignominious behavior — a Post family tradition on New Year’s Day.

He made the recent feature “Coffee Therapy,” about a guy — also named Darnell, also played by West — who had gone through disastrous rounds of therapy and barely come out whole. Post had 20 years of therapy and found calm via yoga and meditation.

“I suppose I finally matured into an adult about 50,” he says. “I spent a lot of time with my father in his declining years, months, weeks, and days, and I’m sorry he never got to see me as a happy adult. But I was getting there just before he died, and he noticed.”

The late Eddie Post is listed as producer on “Therapy”; he gave Sam $2,000, about a sixth of the budget, just before passing away. The other producers are Sam, wife Alicia and mother Rose (a local celebrity, still writing for The Salisbury Post in her 80s).

They’re an old established family in Salisbury. Rose Zimmerman’s father was a peddler and tailor who settled there during the Depression and opened a clothing store on Main Street.

She married Eddie Post and bore Sam, who graduated from Wake Forest University and came back to Rowan County after a year in Seattle. He recently took early retirement from the public school system, where he’d been a technology facilitator. In fact, it was the system’s decision to give each school a digital camera that made him want to direct.

“They gave us a workshop on iMovie, and I thought, `I could try this.’ You can easily call me a financial idiot, but I can look at it two ways: `This is really fun, I’m doing fun stuff with my wife,’ or `I have three kids and I used my teaching bonus — (which) we’d always used to pay bills — to buy a camera and bought a computer.”

Post shot “Coffee Therapy” over 14 Sundays at Escape the Daily Grind, a java joint that has since closed. (He wrote in a role for Beth Porter, who’d appeared in some of his other work, as the barista who hears Darnell’s tale; she actually worked there and already knew how to make coffee.)

“He’d do quite a few takes if he didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he knew what he was after,” says West, who (like all the actors) took deferred payment in case the film ever made a profit. “He can be obsessive, because he wants everything to be as good as possible, but he was also nice about everything.

“I think he’s serious about wanting to leave an impression as a filmmaker. He’s still learning a lot, but he really has the heart.”

Yet does he have the dough? Post received an arts council grant for $3,000 to make “Therapy,” just as he did when he first wrote it as a play in the mid ’90s. Yet his credit card took a beating.

“I don’t like to ask people for money much,” he says. “I need a business manager who can handle money and approach people. I guess I have to be that person….

” `Coffee Therapy’ was in the Cackalacky Film Festival last October in Charlotte. When I went there, it seemed that every conversation with other filmmakers was about money. I thought the conversations would be about art. I realized money is the name of the game, and most people have a lot more of it than I do.”

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