Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Samuel and thank you for agreeing to share your story with us. How have things been this year so far?
Samuel Smith: Hi Lee, thank you for asking. This year has been really good! My short film Tengu: Birdmen Of The Mountains has done well in the festival circuit so far. I felt that I must start the year by attending Asian On Film Festival. I had a great time there and the festival helped me hook up a few local stunt chaps, so I was able to see a bit of the LA scene and shoot a few fight scenes. One of the setups was on Venice beach at sunrise in the rain with David Cheung and a superb wushu guy. I hope to share that clip soon. My second short, I Am Not The Devil, went into the film festival circuit this year and seems to be doing okay, being nominated for a few things. The rest of my time I’ve been focused on writing two feature scripts which is a process I love and despise in fluctuating proportions.
FCSyndicate: Writing does have it’s pleasures and grievances I suppose as with a lot of creative processes lol. Let’s talk some Samuel Smith history! Tell us what led you to get into the crazy business of film?
SS: I first got into making films when I started shooting music videos for local bands. I would find a track I liked and then tell the band what kind of music video I wanted to make for them. It was a really satisfying process! This was back in 2003 when making things look good without a big budget was a spectacular challenge!
After a few years I got signed to a promo production company. This led on to filming live bands. I spent the next five years shooting band performances and artists for NME. I started making commercials and video content for brands, glossy things to pay the bills while I shot more and more elaborate narratives for music videos. Finally, Tengu: Birdmen Of The Mountains was made and then I Am Not The Devil.
FCSyndicate: You could have observed any genre you wanted at the start of your directing career, but you chose action, and I’m not complaining! ? I am curious, though. Why action?
SS: I grew up on action films – Jackie and Bruce, films like Shaolin VS Lama, Raiders Of Wutang, 36 Chambers, Iron Monkey, etc. I love them all! I also used to train a lot and read marital arts books. I specifically enjoyed reading the esoteric subjects like chi manipulation, bone marrow cleansing, path notes to enlightenment, these esoteric subjects I have a thirst for that I can’t quite quench. So when it came down to choosing what to make as my first short film it seems right to make it in the kungfu action genre.
FCSyndicate: And how timely was this for you between that decision and meeting your lead actor for Tengu? Tell us how you and David Cheung met prior to casting and filming.
SS: I put a casting call out for kung fu stunt chaps. David got in touch. he was so positive and enthusiastic, I knew we would work well. He brought with him his stunt crew who are an amazing bunch of guys. David and his team are super professional and badass at what they do. I look forward to shooting scenes with him with a little more time and budget to indulge.
FCSyndicate: Tell us about the preparation and production it took for a project like Tengu. You said it was filmed in a day, if I recall… Were there any issues beforehand and leading up to filming?
SS: Once I had written the story it was just the game of achieving the vision against the budget. Obviously the idea had been tailored to a low budget, like the family house could be simplistic, made from sticks, as the story is told through the voice of the child .
I organised few rehearsal sessions in North London before the shoot day for David and his stunt crew. Filming the rehearsals meant I could study the fight sequences before shoot day. I had initially wanted to shoot some more scenes with the family, some happy family life stuff, but when I did my shooting scripts I soon realised there would be no time for it.
FCSyndicate: Tell us about the costumes and why you chose this particular look for the creatures in Tengu. Were there any other variations to experiment with and pick from?
SS: Traditionally the Tengu mask is a red face with a big round long nose, or variations on that, so not too upsetting. I’ve always found the plague doctor masks of the 17th century super disturbing so it seemed better to put that into the mix. A group of black-robed ninja chaps with dirty white plague masks on, running at you through the woods is going to cause most people some nightmares!
FCSyndicate: Was it difficult to find a location to shoot at?
SS: A friend new a guy who had a place, it was an a location that had been used for filming before. It worked out quite well.
FCSyndicate: Your second project, I Am Not The Devil, has also screened for several audiences in the past year. What inspired that particular concept?
SS: I wanted to shoot a clip that was jammed full of action, just a blatant excuse for an all mighty ass whooping! So the film is essentially a chap fighting his way across a room full of bad guys, to save the girl. Though the short is intentionally basic, (time and budget appropriate), this script is based on an idea that I had for a TV series which is a more developed concept of a morally sound criminal who is betrayed by the criminals that employ him. When he attempts to steal back what is his, he gets possessed by a demonic force. The hero then struggling to deliver a good and righteous revenge on the gang with the devil inside him wanting to tear the world apart. Hopefully I’ll get to make that version of it some day.
FCSyndicate: I love that premise! As you may well know, sites like mine hunger for projects such as yours to share in full. Can you tell us when we’ll see these amazing shorts online, if ever?
SS: Tengu: Birdmen of the Mountains is about to finish its run in the festivals then I will put it online. I am writing the feature length spec script of Tengu currently so it will be amazing to see this in a feature length form! I Am Not The Devil will (fingers crossed) be in festivals all this year, so i will realise it online next year when its finished it’s run. If people are interested in seeing my work please email me at Samuel@imagecleaver.com and ill send them links to a screener.
FCSyndicate: Can we expect David back on screen for Tengu? What’s your ideal casting for the feature thusfar?
SS: David would be great in that role but choosing the cast seems like a long way off currently.
SS: There are a few action films I’m excited about seeing, Blade of the Immortal… ticks my boxes!!! Also, The Villainess and The Foreigner. they need a viewing. I also really need to see I Am Not Madame Bovary, which looks like it would be visually and stylistically satisfying!
FCSyndicate: I’m looking forward to some of those titles myself.
SS: I think i would just like to thank everyone who got involved in helping me make the films I’ve made so far.
Everyone knows that short films are made for the love and that freedom really means you can do what ever you want. Even though on the surface it seems limited by budget and time, making impossible things happen, that’s such a rewarding process, there is always a way, you just have to work out the path of how you can get there.
If people would like to follow my journey as i make my first feature, which should be shooting in a desert in October 2018, if all goes to plan, then please go to my website www.samuelsmithdirector.com and I will have a blog or something similar set up soon.
My experience of the action genre is that it is such a positive place, filled with highly motivated and positive individuals, I can’t think of a better place for a filmmaker to grow stronger.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.