Cigar Makers

How a Top Cigar Maker Became a Filmmaker – An Interview with Marvin Samel

Drew Estate Co-Founder Tells How iMordecai Was Born


I’ve known Marvin Samel almost as long as I’ve been in the cigar business, a good 20 years. One of the things Marvin and I loved talking about, besides cigars, was movies. We could probably talk for days about movies we loved, exchanging titles, etc. Come to think of it, talking movies isn’t that much different than talking cigars.

Several years ago, I received an email from Marvin asking if I would read the first draft of a movie script he was writing titled, “Under The Apple Tree.” A script? Sure. I really wasn’t all that surprised since he loved movies that much. Would it be about the cigar industry?

So, I read the script and liked it a lot. It was both funny and poignant, and I thought the lead character of “Mordecai” was perfect for a movie or possibly even a sitcom. However, the script wasn’t a work of fiction. As Marvin reveals in the interview, the completed script of iMordecai was based on real life during a time in Marvin’s life that was particularly stressful. – G.K.

A Quick Synopsis of iMordecai

Simply put, iMordecai is Marvin’s love letter to his family. The film opens with some animated back story about Mordecai’s birth in pre-World War II Poland. Cutting to live action, the story begins with Marvin (Sean Astin) taking his 80-year-old father, Mordecai (Judd Hirsch), a retired plumber and painter from Brooklyn to replace his 90’s-vintage flip phone. Marvin, himself, is under pressure to sell his fictional cigar company. The sale depends on his newest blend, but the cigars need additional time to age—more pressure. Having little time to teach his dad about the phone, Nina (Azia Denae Hale), an attractive young tech from the phone store decides to give Mordecai iPhone lessons. Nina and Mordecai become close friends and later discover that they share a dark secret. In the meantime, Marvin has to deal with unpaid bills, being a new father, and refereeing Mordecai’s eccentricities, all while his mother, Fela (Carol Kane), is beginning to show signs of dementia. Comedy and drama ensue.

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Nina (Azia Denae Hale) and Mordecai (Judd Hirsch) become good friends during iPhone lessons in iMordecai.
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Marvin and Sean getting in some down time away from the set to enjoy cigars with the real life cigar makers who also had a scene in the movie. From left to right: Jeff Borysiewicz (Corona Cigar), Erik Espinosa, Samel & Astin, Ryan Leeds (Empire Social), Abe Dababneh, Christian Eiroa.

About The Real Marvin Samel

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Marvin was raised by his Holocaust survivor parents who came to America from Poland via Israel in search of a better life. He experienced a childhood filled with colorful and often hilarious culture clashes that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Fueled by a passion for cigars, in 1995 Marvin and his then partner, Jonathan Drew, rented a kiosk in the World Trade Center Mall selling Nicaraguan cigars. Years of hard work later, the business, Drew Estate, grew into one of the largest premium cigar companies in the world and remains so today as part of Swisher International.

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iMordecai producer/co-writer/director, Marvin Samel, soaking up some publicity before the New York City screening.

After the sale of the company in 2014, Marvin should have been on top of the world: he had successfully fulfilled a lifetime dream and he became a new father to twin girls. At about the same time, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In order to help himself work through the pain, he began writing down the memories of his family’s past which were ultimately immortalized in iMordecai. Marvin currently resides in Boca Raton, FL. CA