Today’s Feature, April 3-4: Sam Friedlander

January 18, 2008 at 5:48 pm (Today's Feature)

Sam Friedlander Sam Friedlander was inspired after an accident that would have had most kids grounded (trust me, it’s pretty funny but I’ll let him explain in his XXQs). Years later that inspiration led him to create the award winning short film “Lucid”. From there he directed the one million plus YouTube viewed comedy, “Lazy Monday”, which helped open even more doors he refuses to let close. He now runs his own production company, while he continues to draw more and more attention at film festivals across the country. I had an opportunity to hear all about Sam’s plans for the future and his take on the film industry today. Get used to hearing the name Sam Friedlander.
XXQs: Sam Friedlander

PensEyeView (PEV): How and when did you first decide you wanted to become a screenwriter and director?

Sam Friedlander (SF): I always loved playing with my parents’ video cameras when I was a kid. First a Super-8, then one of those big VHS camcorders from the 80s. Which, by the way, don’t balance that well on top of 10 shoeboxes. I found this out when I didn’t have a tripod, and tried stacking shoeboxes to make up for it, putting the camera on top of the stack. Within a minute, the camera fell about 8 feet onto the ground and broke, a couple of months after my parents got it. The best part was that when the repair place sent it back, they had taken the tape out and included it, so you could watch the fall from the camera’s viewpoint. It was great. Anyway… So yeah, I made movies as a kid, and all through high school. It was usually to substitute taking a test or writing a paper, but I loved doing it, and was pretty good, so I kept making them. Then in college, I got more serious about them and my senior year I shot a short film as an independent study – again, to replace regular coursework. I sort of realized at this point that I always had fun making movies, and if I could do it and make a living, it would be a really good substitute for “regular work”. That was the when and the how; during college, and because I had so much fun doing it.

PEV: Did growing up in New York have an influence on you?

SF: I loved growing up in the suburbs of NYC. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was so great to be in a suburban setting, with grass, trees, and quiet surroundings, but also to be a 22 minute train ride from the most exciting city on earth. I think it was a nice balance to have.

PEV: You graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2000 and then attended University of Southern California film school. I can imagine the [scene] in Nashville and Los Angeles is pretty different?

SF: Not as different as you’d think. I actually compare the two cities a lot. Nashville feels like a much smaller Los Angeles, and instead of the scene being centered around film, it’s centered around music. Which is my other love. So it was a great place to go to school. Nashville feels like small town sometimes, but it’s about a million people. And it’s got a football team, which L.A. doesn’t.

PEV: What is it like for a young screenwriter/director in LA?

SF: It’s really fun until someone asks you what you do, and all you have to your name is a short film or two. When I go home, or visit my grandparents in Iowa, or go to any other city for that matter, if I say I am trying to “be a director”, everyone has questions and is really interested. In L.A., its kind of conversation ender. You always want to talk yourself up a little, if you have a project going on, but you don’t want to be that asshole at dinner that keeps overstating his importance in the industry. One of my first weeks out in California, this guy came out with us who was a friend of a friend. He kept talking himself up all night, saying “I’m a producer”, and “I’m one of the lucky ones – 3 months in L.A. and I am producing.” I was intimidated. I found out later he was like a PA on some Canadian deer reproduction documentary, and it was pretty funny. I found out how many people talk a big game. I’ve never seen that dude again, or seen anything he’s done.

PEV: When was the moment that you realized, this is for me?

SF: My second semester of senior year of college. It was on the drive home from the first day on shooting my independent study film. I had been on set for 15 hours, I was tired, and my car was overflowing with equipment, food, and film cans. And I was just thinking about the day and how much fun I had, and I realized then that if I could do that all the time, I would be a very happy person.

PEV: Explain your writing method. Are you a night owl? Morning person? Lock yourself in a room for 48 hours?

SF: My writing method is to procrastinate until I can’t anymore, and then crank it out. I work best under pressure. I let ideas marinate in my brain until I have to put them on paper, and by then, they are usually a little more focused. In general, I am a night person, but I rarely get any writing done at night. Usually, I have to isolate myself from all distractions. Depending on the project, sometimes I write first, sometimes I outline first, and sometimes I do it at the same time.

PEV: What do you do when you hit the [wall] and can’t put your words on paper?

SF: Play on the internet. Play guitar. Walk my dog.

PEV: Do you find yourself constantly jotting down notes, thoughts or lines throughout the day?

SF: Sometimes. I definitely have done it before. I am usually not “jotting” though. I am a gadget obsessed guy. I pull out my Treo and email stuff to myself. If something’s in my email inbox, I will remember to follow up on it.

PEV: Describe how you felt when you won your first award?

SF: I didn’t know I was eligible when I won the award for Best Screenplay at the Beverly Hills Film Festival. It was an overall screenplay award, so I just figured it was only for features. So when I heard them say my name, I was more surprised than anything else. I thought it was an error, and I was already thinking ahead to how awkward it was going to be to have to give it back later. That’s what was going through my head.

PEV: Your award winning short film, Lucid has brought you many of those awards, how did that film come about?

SF: ‘Lucid’ was an idea I had for a feature film and I was in the process of outlining it during my last year at USC. When it came time to write my thesis short film, I decided to condense the story into a short and use that as my story. I wrote the short script for about 3-4 months. After the script was written, I was able to put together a great cast and crew, and a couple of months later we were done shooting. Post took about a year, because I was finishing class work at USC and a few other projects. It premiered on the film festival circuit about a year ago (March, 2006) and has been showing on the festival circuit ever since.

PEV: The YouTube favorite, Lazy Monday, which you directed, is a huge success (over a million views on YouTube). Explain what went through your head when you saw it on stations like VH1, Bravo, CNN and in New York Newsday and the Wall Street Journal?

SF: We posted the video right before Adam and I went to Sundance, so we were on the phone with Mark (our other collaborator), checking emails and views the whole time we were there. When we got back the week after, we got calls from CNN, Vh1, Bravo, etc. It was really exciting. Some people sent us hate-mail too. That was fun. I will say, for the record, that there have been tons of “response” videos to ‘Lazy Sunday’ — and the one that came after ours was great too (‘Lazy Muncie’) — but after that, the quality pretty much dropped off. I don’t want to overstate our case, but we created one of the first successful response videos, and I am proud of that. From the exposure of that web video, we signed at UTA’s online division and we just finished shooting a pilot for a scripted web comedy series a few days ago.

PEV: Any response from Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg?

SF: No direct response. We heard from backchannels that they had seen it a week or so after we posted and that was good enough for us. We were psyched they watched it. Theirs was unbeatable, in my eyes, and so we were just happy to offer up something that also amused people and got seen a lot.

PEV: YouTube has received its fair share of criticism but also gives a unique outlet for people. What is your take on the YouTube craze?

SF: YouTube is awesome. I love it for its place as an outlet for anyone to distribute their videos worldwide. That has its downside, of course, because there is just so much crap on there. But I also love being able to go online after I miss something on TV and see it over and over.

PEV: What is a normal day for you?

SF: One of the reasons I wanted to do film work was the lack of a normal schedule. I hate having the same work routine. I did an internship in development and it was really educational, but at the end of the day (literally and figuratively), I could not stand being in an office. So my days totally vary – there’s no “normal” day. Sometimes I am doing meetings, pitches, and writing. Sometimes a day will just be a ton of calls and emails. Then if I am shooting something, it becomes full days of pre-production, etc. I love never knowing what a day will be like.

PEV: When you are not working, what do you like to do?

SF: I love to watch stuff on my TIVO. I love to play guitar and record stuff in Garage Band. I love to play on Google. I like to play basketball at the park near my house. I love to play with my dog Max.

PEV: How is running your own production company; SUPDAWG PRODUCTIONS, different from working for a production company?

SF: If you want to stay creative, it’s a lot harder when you work for someone else’s company. I actually formed two partnerships to work on projects. One is Supdawg Productions, with my friends Adam and Mark. The other is going known films, with my friend Matt. And quite often, those two partnership overlap. There is no difference really, in having a company banner, and just working independently. The term production company is thrown around a lot out here in L.A., and it really means nothing unless you have credits to go along with it. For me, forming partnerships was really just a way to say – hey, we like working together, let’s file the forms so we can legally call ourselves “_____ Productions” and do business together. Matt is a lawyer, so I found out that without filing some papers, it’s not legal to run around adding “productions” to whatever name you and your friends come up with. So yeah, the partnerships are really a formality so that we can conduct business in a legal and professional manner. We don’t have offices or anything; that will be the day.

PEV: Any hard times dealing with the “celebrity personality”?

SF: None at all. I’ve embarrassed myself a few times, but that’s about all.

PEV: How is writing for television and writing for film different?

SF: I can answer a different question. Writing for web (which I am doing now) and writing for film. I have written short films that have been made and a couple of feature screenplays which have yet to be produced. And I have written stuff for the web that has been made. In writing, the only real difference is length. Right now, anything over 5-7 minutes is useless on the web. People say they are doing 20 or 30 minute webisodes. That’s a joke. I don’t know anyone that will watch 30 minutes of the same video on a computer screen in one sitting. Also, when directing for web, you have to remember that people are watching it on a 3 or 4 inch window usually, so you’ve got to limit your wide shots and get in more close-ups. Basic, but important.

PEV: If you could work with one actor/actress, living or deceased, who would it be? Why?

SF: Hmm. If you mean, big movie star, I might say Jim Carrey right now. I love the fact that he switches from dramas to comedies with such ease, and is awesome in all of them. Anyone who can be in ‘Dumb and Dumber’, and then turn around and be in ‘The Truman Show’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine’, and execute all so well is amazing. Will Ferrell can also do that. I’d also love to work with Ryan Gosling. He was so good in ‘Half Nelson’. This is a really hard question.

PEV: So, what is next for Sam Friedlander?

SF: As I mentioned before, I just finished shooting a pilot for a scripted web comedy series called “Phil Blanks”. If that gets picked up for series, I will be making those episodes the rest of the year. It’s a really fun interactive concept, where the audience helps write the script each week, and then we go out and produce it. We wanted something that captured the best elements of the web — short content and interactivity. Besides that, I will be continuing to write and get a few feature film projects going. Hopefully ‘Lucid’ the feature will be my first big directing job. To find out more about Sam Friedlander and his work, check out these sites: http://www.myspace.com/samfriedlander

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