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Clearwater man goes from a stripper P.I. to directing John Malkovich

His latest feature film is a dark comedy about a corporation that oversees reincarnation.
Clearwater's Adam Sigal directs John Malkovich in 'The Chariot.'
Clearwater's Adam Sigal directs John Malkovich in 'The Chariot.' [ Courtesy of Michael Misetic ]
Published Aug. 2
Updated Aug. 2

CLEARWATER — Adam Sigal was on his way to becoming another victim of the city of broken dreams.

After graduating from Clearwater High School in 2000, Sigal moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a novelist. He instead ended up working as a private investigator pursuing possible workers’ compensation fraud.

Claims he investigated included a stripper falling from a pole and an adult film actor injured on set with a sex toy.

“I was not doing what I wanted to do,” said Sigal, 38, who now splits time between L.A. and Clearwater.

So he decided to give filmmaking a chance.

It turned out that he was good at it.

One success led to the next, and “yadda yadda yadda,” Sigal said, he has made movies starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Outlander’s Sam Heughan, Platoon’s Tom Berenger and In the Line of Fire’s John Malkovich.

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“People respond pretty well to my writing,” said Sigal when asked how he regularly casts A-listers in his independent films.

That self-praise is backed by Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated Malkovich, the star of Sigal’s new movie, The Chariot.

“One of the many great things about working with Adam is that he’s an incredible writer,” Malkovich said via email. “In fact, my character in The Chariot is the first for which I didn’t have to re-write any lines, since I read Being John Malkovich.”

Screenwriter and director Adam Sigal splits time between Clearwater and Los Angeles.
Screenwriter and director Adam Sigal splits time between Clearwater and Los Angeles. [ Courtesy of Michael Misetic ]

The Chariot, which also features Rosa Salazar of Bird Box, Shane West of A Walk to Remember and retired NFL tight end Vernon Davis, is a dark comedy about a corporation that oversees reincarnation.

The film is now in post-production. Sigal hopes it will be released in the fall.

“It’s a sci-fi drama,” he said. “It’s a Terry Gilliam-esque look at the afterlife.” Gilliam, whose directorial credits include 12 Monkeys, was also a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

Sigal’s first two feature films — shot in Los Angeles — were inspired by his past jobs.

When the Starlight Ends, starring Heughan, is about an aspiring novelist struggling to balance work and romance.

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Stakeout, starring Berenger, is about a private investigator who helps a woman commit fraud.

The Chariot, filmed in Arkansas, is inspired by his childhood passions.

“I was into reading Lord of the Rings, Dune, Ender’s Game and all those classic science fiction and fantasy novels,” Sigal said. “I was obsessed. I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy.”

At 18, he self-published his first and only novel. Titled The Painter, it’s summarized in a description on Amazon as the story of a man who “after having suffered a horrible loss ... is left to pick up the pieces of the life he had, and with the help of his vivid imagination.”

Sigal said the story also involves aliens and is a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-like concept.”

The Amazon.com reader reviews are not glowing. They detail spelling and grammar mistakes and describe the plot as boring.

“My writing has improved drastically since then,” Sigal laughed. “I think I have the only copies that still exist. I’d like to keep it that way.”

He took the private investigator job in 2007 for the paycheck, but it ended up providing life experience he needed as a writer.

“I got to see a lot of L.A. that I would never have seen otherwise,” Sigal said. “I didn’t know a ton about life, but I got to see people being awful all the time to each other and doing awful things. It opened my eyes to aspects of life that I didn’t see while growing up in Clearwater — injury fraud, cheating spouses, that type of thing.”

The job also provided flexible hours to pursue his new dream of becoming a screenwriter.

“I had a friend who was an actress,” Sigal said. “I’d read the scripts she had, and they were terrible. I thought I could do better.”

Clearwater's Adam Sigal directing his movie "The Chariot."
Clearwater's Adam Sigal directing his movie "The Chariot." [ Courtesy of Michael Misetic ]

His first script, Daydreamer, was a short film produced during his first year as a private investigator. It is about a man convinced that his love interest is a figment of his imagination. Paul was cast as the lead before hitting it big on Breaking Bad.

“I was really unhappy with how the movie turned out,” said Sigal, who did not direct it. “I just didn’t feel like it was a good adaptation of the script.”

He next wrote A Voice in the Dark, a slice-of-life movie about people in L.A. on the “eve of the end of the world,” according to IMDB.com.

Sigal again did not like how it was directed.

“I loved the script,” he said. But the movie is “completely and utterly unwatchable. It never even got released.”

In 2017, while on the phone with an associate, Sigal opened a new private investigator case file. The associate was the man Sigal was charged with investigating.

“The level of coincidence that required was astronomical,” he said. “I took that as a sign from the universe that it was time to walk away” from that job.

Related: Tampa Bay director’s new movie starring Anthony Mackie made No. 1 on Netflix

Focused solely on his film career, Sigal delved into directing his screenplays.

Without training, Sigal said, he leans on his crew to light and help frame the shots. “But I’m very good at working with actors, which is the most important part of directing. And, because I’ve written the characters, I can answer all the actor’s questions and I know what the performances should be.”

It has worked so far.

He wrote and directed When the Starlight Ends and Stakeout. Both are available on multiple streaming platforms.

As for becoming a novelist, Sigal is not ready to give up on that dream.

“I have been working on and off on a novel for a while,” he said, “but have been incredibly busy with film stuff. So, it hasn’t been very conducive to me sitting down and writing a novel. But I definitely hope to finish it.”