Samantha Shada: Filmmaker

Samantha Shada’s short films, Beauty School and Sexless, premiered at the Oscar Qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival. Her music videos and stage productions appeared around Los Angeles as well as in Boston. She is an active member of the Alliance of Women Directors and Women In Media.

What do you love most about Your City?

I love the cultural diversity and hidden spots in LA that the toursits (and the movie studios) never see and don’t know exist.  I love the art deco theatres and the fading history that is a downtown always reinventing itself.

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?

Gosh, when was the last time I really enjoyed a breakfast?  Usually I want to get eggs and bacon from the studio commissary at work but struggle through a healthier choice instead or just eat something I grabbed on my way out the door while commuting.  If I had a favorite though, something fresh with fruit and lots of vegetables would be divine, but I would have to be more organized for that.

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Wishing I could go back to sleep but my boyfriend is already leaving for work and my cats have been throwing a revolt for two hours.  I do my best to sit still for a moment and let whatever surface creatively that I can.  If I can freewrite, great, if I can do yoga, great, but often I just end up doing the dishes. Either way I have to be out the door by 7:45AM or I will be late.  I’m always late.

10:00 AM - Sitting at my desk after a harrowing road trip that took me over an hour to go less than five miles. Public transit to the West side takes longer, but driving mostly agrivates me. I feel my creative energy sapped away by traffic. At least on the buss or the train I can sort of take notes or continue spinning on an idea.  If I rode my bike to work I’m definately awake by now from almost getting killed multiple times (no exaggeration). Often by this hour I’m replying to billing inquiries for my day job while feeling whatever story I was working on slip away from me little by little.

12:00 PM - Favorite Power Lunch spot/meal?

I need to save money so I usually eat what I brought from home, otherwise I would love to go get vegan Indian food or even just take a walk with a friend who is also creative and gets it. Time with other women creatives is invaluable to me.  I learn so much and feel that I am not alone in this whole industry mishegas.  It’s good to get out of the office and clear your head.  I rarely do.

7:00 PM -  I’ve been sitting in traffic for at least 45 minutes already and I’m late, either on my way to Hollywood to present a film by a woman director, to WeHo for a script workshop, or to NoHo for a rehearsal. Rarely, I’m on the train headed home - on those days when I can get by without driving.  A few years ago I did a directing workout group on the East side and I swore I would never do it again because the commute was so misserable.  But every year there is something and every year I’m rushing from work to get there.

11:00 PM - Often I’m finishing above mentioned screening, workshop, rehearsal or event by this time, though I’ll probably be the last person to leave because I can’t stop talking with people once I’m working creatively.  I’m getting back in the car to go look for parking in my own neighboorhood, which could take a while.  I’m wishing I could just keep working, or write, or go explore the city at night and look for cool locations to shoot, but I know I have to work in the morning and I already feel exhausted, but so much more alive than I felt all day before this.

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?

WATER! As much as I can get.  I sometimes drink green tea, or hot chocolate, but I’ve never been a caffine person.

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

I follow @IHeartFemaleDirectors and @WomenUnderTheInfluence religiously from my @SeekingOurStory account as well as @awd_directors and #FemaleFilmmakerFriday, oh and I love @theICFC so much!  @RMorrison is my hero, and @Ava.  I need to stop using social media.

What should everyone try at least once?

Watch a silent film with live accompanyment, on a Wurlitzer if you can. In LA the Orpheum and the LA Conservancy present wonderful programs as do The American Cinematheque and the UCLA Archive at The Billy Wilder Theatre at the Hammer Museum.

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

In any old, beaux arts theatre.  Growing up I wanted to die in a theatre so that I could become a theatre ghost.  I guess being a director is kind of the same thing.

How did you get into the industry?

I started my passion for theatre and filmmaking through access to robust arts, theatre and music programs in school both in my private elementary education and in the public-school system. I found so much support in my home town community theatres as well as with a renovated movie theatre where I worked as a volunteer in high school.  At public library I could rent tapes, videos and books with a wide range of content. Interning with a small video production company back home gave me access to their library of international films and silent films which all greatly refined my goals as a director. I am so grateful for the local communities and creative outlets that gave me room to grow. Truthfully, I learned most about art and movies as a consumer growing up.

Leaving home to attend Emerson College still stands as a turning point for me.  I made the decision to go towards this industry when I enrolled because Emerson presented a very specific program of study for film and media geared towards working in Hollywood.  My last semester was in Los Angeles, where I worked as an intern for Universal Pictures and then transitioned to temp work during the end of the semester.  I didn’t even go to graduation because I had lined up many job interviews thanks to the wonderful executives at Universal who passed on my resume. I began working at The William Morris agency directly after graduation.

Any emerging industry trends?

Clearly immersive storytelling continues to grow. From VR to projection-mapping and site-specific theatre, the fringe communities in Entertainment really do build alternate realities for audiences to step into. This technological approach to storytelling mirrors the trend towards expansive franchise universes such as the super hero movies we see in theatres. Everything must be bigger, more involving, more theatrical to drown out the noise of the outside world and keep an audience engaged. Audiences’ expectations have evolved to the point where the attention span for little, human dramas has disappeared from the film world, which explains why TV really flourishes in this space.  The long arcs for characters on television really gives us access to get to know the people we watch on screen. The way we consume media, at home on our own timelines and sometimes binging for days, feels more and more like reading a novel than like attending a cinematic or theatrical event.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

We have seen real shift towards including diverse voices, especially from women and people of color, which must continue.  As the streaming video market increases the demand for content keeps exploding.  This wide array means audiences pick and choose within their own tastes so the landscape for diverse voices opens as audiences seek stories that speak to their unique and varied interests.  The internet largely drives this change as barriers of access get eliminated.  What I used to see growing up in a private library or personal collection is now accessible on the internet, though in large part this content gets remixed with other content in a way that remove the original context, so I don’t know if the stories will survive in the same way, or if we just will know our media history through clips and gifs and cultural references.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I would like to see a platform where long form narrative storytelling, such as feature films or operas or symphonies, can reach the current audience.  The technological size limits for data have minimized our timespan for consumption to little bites.  As a creative, I want the ability to serve a full meal.  I don’t know how to achieve a socially relevant platform for new, long form content but as a creator I know that I want to tell the kind of long form stories that drew me to a career as a media artist to begin with.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

The internet largely threatens the big studio system.  In a way, the current system must topple as the audience moves towards newer models of distribution.  Cell phones already created immense change in a short period of time, just in the last five years really, as they emerged as a content consumption platform.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

I as a filmmaker must tell my stories. I’ve found the most success comes from following my own interest. I don’t know of a better business initiative, I can’t find a better reason than to do what I want to do because it interests me.  As a storyteller I find the more personal my interest the more universal its appeal to others.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Every moment of every day feels divided between the art making process and the business process in this Hollywood industry.  Choosing, do I pay rent or pay to make a film, feels like a constant battle.  I never feel safe in sitting back and waiting for my time to come, because I’m afraid that when it gets here I must be ready with my skills sharp and my wits intact.  Honestly every day feels a bit like preparing for the apocalypse, but entertainment must continually evolve to stay relevant especially right now.  I must continue to evolve to stay relevant myself.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I want audiences who see my films to feel something real.  Now, they might not want to feel anything real or they might be numb to feeling in their own lives, I know I certainly am, but if I can touch someone the way that art touches me, deeply to the core of myself, then I have succeeded.

How do you motivate others?

I give my all at every moment.  As a leader, I know that I must go where I ask others to go, I must feel the immensity of what I ask of my collaborators and audiences.  I also find that I must do my own self work, selfcare and mental and emotional healing in order to capably support the people I work with. I very consciously do not want to pass on abuse to those that I work with and I want honesty and openness in my communications with others and with myself.  It takes a lot of energy to inspire, especially when I feel less than inspired myself.  On a practical level, I find that eye contact, participatory listening and a real want to understand others helps me to build trusting work relationships.

Career advice to those in your industry?

What do you want? Do what you know you must do to get that thing that you want. The more honest I get with myself, the clearer my path. When I don’t know what to do or where to go, I must get very quiet and listen carefully and honestly to myself. My feelings often show me the way and I must trust them to lead me safely towards whatever outcome will best serve my growth as an artist.