Written by Ayesha Nizhoni
Recent Ohio University Film MFA graduate Sam Stewart is reaping the benefits of his time at OU. When he’s not putting in a full day’s work at his NYC based internship, he’s forging ahead with plans for a future independent film. Sharing his ideas about what it means to be a creative individual in pursuit of often elusive goals, Sam offers insights into the mind of an OU film graduate newly immersed in the professional world.
OU Film Underground recently had the chance to talk to Sam about his time at OU, his current internship, and his thoughts on the realities of life after the MFA.
1. Please tell us about yourself, your background and what made you choose OU for film school.
In terms of my background, I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Rochester in 2013, where I studied film and feminist theory. I've always had a love for film and its illusory magic, but my education was almost entirely theoretical, and as an undergrad I only made a small handful of shorts, most of which were bland, unimaginative, and painfully melodramatic. I've since burned the majority of them.
The reason I chose to pursue Ohio University, as opposed to FSU or NYU where I had been waitlisted, was because my interview with Steve Ross presented OU as a welcoming environment that openly valued my ideas and experiences. I found this to be true. The faculty at OU made me feel as though I had something to offer them, as much as they had to offer me, and that sense of reciprocity -- the acceptance of filmmaking as a fluid and imperfect art form -- is what solidified my decision to attend.
2. I understand that you're currently in an internship in New York. Please tell us about the internship and how you came to be involved.
I am currently working as an intern for Jigsaw Productions in NYC, where I work on a show called "Death Row Stories," the first season of which is out on Netflix now. The show itself is about as grim as you'd imagine, but certainly interesting, and I've learned a great deal about the process of documentary based television. My role, specifically, is to assist the Assistant Editors as they ingest and catalogue new footage, create multigroups, and organize the overall media workflow for the editors. I work a great deal with Avid Media Composer, and the software skills I learned at OU are what made that possible.
I received this internship when Jeremy Zerechak, an OU alumnus who was leaving as I was entering, became Post Production Supervisor of "Death Row Stories" and contacted Steve Ross looking for interns. Steve and I had a solid relationship when it came to the quality of my work, and he asked if I would be interested. I immediately said yes and he passed my name along. Within the week, Jeremy called and offered me the position. I've never had to work less hard to get a job opportunity -- and I say this as a testament to the strength of my connections with the OU faculty, as well as my fellow students. The friendships and working relationships I've forged during my time in film school was, without a doubt, one of the most valuable aspects of my attending.
3. What's a typical day like for you at your internship?
A typical day usually involves me arriving for work a little before 10am. From there things tend to fluctuate depending on whether or not new footage has arrived, how close we are to export deadlines, and the overall stability of the Avid software. More often than not, I spend the rest of my day transcoding footage, organizing the various pieces of archival media that this documentary show uses (i.e. crime scene photos, witness testimonies, news clips, etc.), and creating audit spread sheets for the thousand or so music tracks that need corporate licensing. Basically, I do the drudge work that the assistant editors don't have time for. Pretty standard as an entry level position.
4. How do you think OU prepared you for the professional world of filmmaking?
I think OU prepared me well for the working world. Film school is almost entirely what you put into it. I don't believe it is necessarily the faculty's job to prepare you for something that can only be fully appreciated through experience. You have to work to understand what the working world is like, especially when it comes to creative work. OU helped me as best as it could to realize my own ambitions and to find my voice as a filmmaker, I don't really see how I could ask for more.
5. What do you wish someone had told you about film school and life after it?
I wish someone had told me to think long and hard about what success as a filmmaker really means to me. It has become all too apparent that I will never work in the Hollywood industry, and that I would never want to. The closer you get to the heart of the industrial film complex, the closer you get to everything that I find disgusting about the process -- committee decision making, sexist / racist propagandizing, manipulative exploitation, etc...
But maybe you want to make the next Avengers movie, and if so, think long and hard about what that will mean: the hours, the compromises, the alternative opportunities lost for one all or nothing goal...
Or, maybe you want to remain a true indie filmmaker, and you'll never make money off of your work, but it will still be yours, and even if just a handful of people see it, that's enough for you.
Or, maybe you're just a hobbyist after all, and you'd rather watch a movie than make one, or make just a few shorts here and there without any real intention to distribute or fuss.
I don't think any of these options, or their in-betweens, is better or more valuable than any of the others. But I wish I had thought more intently about what I hoped to gain as a filmmaker, or even as a creative individual.
6. What are your plans after your internship is over?
After my internship is over my plans are to take the experience I've gained and apply it to any other job I'm able to find. My goal is find more work in a post production house, or possibly as a videographer while I save up for and work on my feature film. There are a few teaching positions that I'm also interested in applying for, but my main hope is to gather a crew from a few OU friends, and in a year or so, maybe two, put a feature into production. I'm not ready to divulge much about the project, other than to say I'm estimating (based off a first draft) a budget of about $30,000 - $40,000 -- dirt cheap all things considered.