Creative Q&A

When my good friend Samantha Rae Lopez told me she was coming to town for a visit and wanted to hang out, I jumped at the chance to not only see my friend but also get her to be my next Creative Q&A interview. 🙂

Sammie and Stef. Yay!

Sammie’s a filmmaker and activist who lives and works in Austin. She’s originally from San Antonio and I met her when we both worked at the AMC Huebner Oaks 24 movie theater (RIP).

We met up this past weekend, shopped, got some caffeine and chatted (I took the first and last photos; Sammie provided the rest):

So, start off by explaining to the readers what you do.

I’m the program coordinator for Latinitas. It started as a digital magazine to give a voice to Latinas who aren’t portrayed accurately in the media. All the content is generated by youth. We’ve evolved to have after school programs, camps and a teen program. I come up with activities for each semester. We have program leaders in 15 schools now, empowering girls through media and technology. That’s my full-time job, which I started when I left the Austin Film Festival in December.

I’m also producing short and feature films. I do production coordination, marketing and social media. It’s funny because I haven’t sought that out at all; it’s totally been word of mouth. Some of the people I’m working with I met through the festival, and they’ve introduced me to other filmmakers. I just can’t say no.

Poster for a short film Sammie’s currently producing (now in post-production).

That’s a lot!

Yeah, and I started boxing. Three days a week at 6 a.m.

Do you have rage?

I know! I’m so obsessed with it now. I’m going to kick someone’s ass probably.

Did you always know that you wanted to do film stuff?

Yes, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I did theater in high school and an independent study senior year, where I found Art, my mentor. That was the foundation of everything. I made a short film for my independent study, basically going from script to screen. I cast the theater kids; Art taught me how to use Final Cut so it wouldn’t look like shit. But it was my first film, so of course it was shit.

Then you went to UTSA for a minute…

I was there for one semester. I was a communications major because I thought I might do media, but I realized I wasn’t into the traditional college thing. Art told me about Full Sail University [in Orlando]. I was so focused on film, I just thought, “I have to do this.” So I quit UTSA and took the next semester off to prepare.

How was your family about that?

My parents were super supportive after we went on the [Full Sail] tour. I was blown away and so were they. After that, things were more comfortable because they saw how passionate I was.

And you were there for two years. How was it?

Other than the fact that it was insanely expensive, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was totally out of my element. Full Sail is 98% male, so I was really on my own. I got to explore my creative side and my technical side. We had 18-hour-day schedules, and we were only off on Sundays. It was insane. But that’s production life.

Sammie working on her final project in film school, where she was 1st Assistant Director, managing all of the logistics day-to-day during the shoot.

Recently my aunt was talking about how she missed the family when she and my uncle lived in New Jersey, but that she didn’t necessarily dislike being away because it allowed her to be the truest version of herself. Do you agree? Was that part of the appeal of going to Florida instead of staying closer to home?

I think about that a lot. I went to Full Sail with no concept of what it would be like, but every single thing we did was something I was interested in. Wherever that school was, I would have gone.

Staying home wouldn’t have been as emotionally hard, but I needed all that to grow. I missed weekends and holidays with the family; my dad donated a kidney and I couldn’t be there. But [being away] made me appreciate time with my family more, and I think I have a better relationship with my sisters now.

I always had every intention of coming back, though. Call it Texas pride.

Out of all artistic formats, why film?

There are so many elements to film. It’s so collaborative. Plus, watching movies as a kid, I realized that someone actually put it all together. I want to be the person who puts things in place for other creatives. That’s what was good about Full Sail — we had to do all the parts. So, as a producer, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

As cheesy as it sounds, there aren’t a lot of people in the industry who do it for the love of the process. They’re in it to be famous and make money. I love the process, and I love working on the independent level.

Sammie working as Unit Production Manager on a feature film called “Spring Eddy” (now in post-production).

Would you like to work on mainstream, big-budget things someday, if the opportunity comes?

It’s possible. It’s really about the team you put yourself with, and you really have to rely on who you know. The only thing I can rely on right now is doing the best I can. There are so many people out there trying to do the same thing. The big ingredient in everything you do has to be passion. If it’s not, it’s so obvious.

We had that conversation when I visited you in Orlando. Actually, that was when I first started thinking about writing a book, and I was telling you about it. I loved that moment — talking about our creative ideas and not feeling stupid about having them.

Yeah, because it was totally organic. We were looking for a process to make us happy. A lot of people can’t find that.  Everyone’s looking for a reason to wake up in the morning. I think the ones who don’t have that are the ones who go crazy.

Artists are pretty crazy. We’re just lucky because we have a place to channel the crazy.

Yes!

That conversation was also when we were trying to figure out how to get you a job with Robert Rodriguez when you moved back to Texas.

Oh, God, don’t get me started on that.

I totally agree with you about the process, though. I’ve had a blast working on my book these past couple of years. Writing, editing, working with my critique group… I’ve loved every minute. It would be awesome to get published, but if I don’t, it doesn’t take away any of my enjoyment of doing the work.

That took me a long time to figure out. Am I doing it to be famous? I had to step back and evaluate. The thing is, you start to generate positivity when you’re happy. I’m very influenced by the people I’m around. I want to be that positive person for other people. Good plus good equals good.

Sammie at the closing party of her last Austin Film Festival on staff. During her 4 years there, she was Production Manager, Assistant to the Executive Director and Producer on the PBS show “On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival.”

That’s my kind of math. OK, now tell me about the Robert Rodriguez thing.

I wanted to work for Troublemaker [Rodriguez’s studio] so bad! My first job in Austin was at the Austin Film Society, and my boss there left to go work with him. Then the job at the Austin Film Festival came up and I went there. Over the years people told me I should work for Elizabeth [Avellán, Rodriguez’s ex-wife and co-producer, who runs Troublemaker along with working on independent productions]. I first met her as a Latinitas rep. I’ve spoken with her a few times. She’s really supportive of what we’re doing. Now I feel like I have a familiar face with her. She’s so amazing. I want to be her.

Since we’re on the subject, tell me who or what else your inspirations are.

They’re unconventional because I’m a producer. There’s Elizabeth, of course, but also all creatives who put things together.

Austin, because it’s so embracing of my lifestyle and encourages me to embrace other lifestyles.

This is so cheesy — the process of going to movies and having a group experience. I love those moments where the crowd responds. Someone created that. I want to make the audience say, “Oh shit, that was crazy!” And then when I’m dead, that’s still there, like a time capsule.

When I’m an old person I want to have my own movie theater. It’s not going to be the next Alamo Drafthouse or anything, but I want to have a place for people to come and watch things together. The experience is what’s important.

You’ve talked a lot about helping other people on their projects, but do you still have ideas for your own stuff?

I’m in development on a documentary for LATISM [Latinos in Social Media]. The story is about how social media is affecting the Latino vote. I would be directing and producing that. Going the documentary route is creating a story out of something that’s already happening and affecting the audience that way. It’s not going to be on the film festival circuit or anything; I just really want to know why the fuck Latinos aren’t voting.

In what other ways are you a creative being?

I’ve started cooking. I’ve been doing a lot of research and getting creative with that. Also I’ve been hosting parties. That’s fun, and it’s another example of group enjoyment. I love looking at photography; I watch a lot of independent movies. I like meeting people outside of my bubble because they give me different ideas and perspectives, which is important because I’m working with a lot of different kinds of people.

Well that’s everything I was going to ask. Anything else you want to say?

I definitely have a long way to go. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say, “This is it,” because I feel like I’m always growing. I look forward to looking back on this time and saying, “That’s where I was then and this is where I am now.”

Keep up with Sammie on Twitter by following @SRaeLopez.

PS — Outside of the coffee shop was a pipe adorned with a funky knitted sleeve. I wanted to show y’all, so I took a photo, which Sammie took as an opportunity to pose:

“All I need is a cowboy hat,” she said. 🙂

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