The mastermind behind short film “Rwanda Blend,” Sam Zvibleman, took his turn in our virtual interview chair. With a curious mix of self-effacing perfectionism and humble irreverence, Zvibleman details the inspirations and happy accidents of his filmmaking journey.
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker?
SZ: Growing up in the suburbs of Saint Louis, MO – filmmaker, as a profession – never crossed my mind. It was never brought up as an option. It was never on the table. Movies just happened I didn’t ever think about how, or that there was a creative voice behind it. I also didn’t even grow up watching a lot of movies. Mostly Chris Farley and Adam Sandler movies. The only ones we owned were VHS copies of West Side Story, Ghost, and The Red Balloon. I don’t quite know how those influenced me, but there ya go.
I did work on the school newspaper and thought I was going to be a journalist investigative reporter or sports writer. So I was always a writer. Beyond that kind of career direction, I think what influenced my voice the most as a filmmaker is an innate sensitivity towards people no matter how “good” or “bad” or whatever they are and that is something I very much got from my parents. And I like to think that comes through in characters I write. Not judging them, giving everyone humanity.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams?
SZ: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker after watching Taxi Driver my freshman year of college. There was a midnight screening at the shitty local theater. At the time, I was already getting excited about film, because I was taking an introductory film class on a whim. But Taxi Driver just knocked me on my ass. I literally sat in the theater alone after the end credits. I was suddenly aware of the director and his power. And then wanted to do that. I wanted to have that effect on someone. To knock some college freshman on his ass like Marty did to me.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories / experiences / peers / teachers?
SZ: I switched from Journalism School to Film at USC. There was/is an infamous instructor there, Drew Casper. He was a big reason why I switched into film school. He was such a passionate man and fun to watch lecture. A lot of people really can’t stand him, because sometimes he was full of it and I think even he knows that, but beyond that, his enthusiasm for film just… infected me. Now I’m mostly inspired by my friends. I have a lot of really talented friends who I look up to and really try to learn from.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
SZ: No day job. I’m always writing. But for fun, I like to play a lot of tennis. And I’m trying to do more surfing.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
SZ: I still do projects that don’t have a single dollar or you know, the red vine and banana budget.
WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making/acting? First screening? First show?
SZ: I guess I don’t know where to draw the line. What does professional mean? I’m always a nervous wreck at screenings. For whatever reason, I’m always convinced the movie won’t play or that the projection will stop and ruin it. At my most recent premiere I got lucky because I was too hungover to really worry.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
SZ: “Rwanda Blend” was extremely challenging to make for a lot of reasons. I had to fight hard to finish the film and it took a lot out of me. And it didn’t turn out exactly how I would’ve liked [Editor’s Note: Seriously?!], but I’m proud that I didn’t give up on it, even though I wanted to for a long time. [Editor’s Note: Thank you, for not doing so!]
WMM: What are your current project(s)?
SZ: I just finished writing a web series with Tara Samuel. It’s a crazy one. Damn good, too, I must say. It’s called “Karen of God.” Tara plays a mother and wife who’s addicted to masturbating. It’s hilarious and provocative, but also very moving, with some magical realism mixed in for good measure. We’re getting ready to go out to distributors so we can fund it and get it made, because it deserves to. What Tara is doing with it is just amazing and inspiring. She brings me up to her level, and I’m just damn lucky she agreed to work with me.
I also have a feature film called “The Sound and The Shadow,” which I co-wrote and produced with my friend Justin Miller. We work-shopped that at WMM many moons ago. It’s shot, edited, mixed waiting on coloring and then, you know… film festival, the multimillion dollar deal, etc. Right? That’s how it works? 🙂
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project?
SZ: I’ve found great actors that I still work with. Tara Samuel, Chris Mollica, Rhomeyn Johnson, to name a few. Joe Leonard and I met because we’re both St. Louis guys. He invited me to the very first WMM workshop. He and Sam Mestman have been really, really supportive since day one.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences?
SZ: A few years ago, I’d probably list off my favorite directors as being Scorsese, Kurosawa, Coen Bros, etc. Now, my influences are friends who make things. It’s damn hard to make a film, no matter at what level. Good or bad, I almost don’t care. People who make the effort, execute, and put it out there. That’s who I respect. Of course, if it’s ambitious, they get extra points. People with passion influence me. They don’t have to be artists. People who put their balls out there and try something and do it genuinely – earnestly – not as a gimmick or out of opportunism.
WMM: What are your top 5 films? Top 5 directors?
SZ: Changes all the time, but some variation of Taxi Driver, Rashomon, 2001, Big Lebowski, Goodfellas. Directors: Scorsese, Coen Bros, Kurosawa, Fellini, Kubrick.
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
SZ: I did some editing for a web series that just came out called “Next Time on Lonny.” I loved it because every day on set I would laugh my ass off, collaborate with my friends. And the environment, starting with the director, Dan Schimpf was so open and generous about listening to other peoples’ ideas. It taught me what a film set could be.
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
SZ: I would try to hit more singles and doubles than try to hit home runs each time.
I wouldn’t try to make everything I do so precious. Perfectionism has prevented me from making more stuff. It’s something I’m still trying to work through.
WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?
SZ: Not that I’m in any position to give advice, because who am I? Make a lot of stuff and learn every aspect of filmmaking that you can. Collaborate with people you like. Fail. Don’t quit. The other option is being born into tons of money and having famous family members. Either path will benefit you.
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM?
SZ: Seeing new actors. Reading other writers’ work.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
SZ: A ball, a camera, a radio, a deep fryer, and I suppose a boat to get me off that godforsaken island! Maybe one of those women you can rent, too. Wait, I’m being told that that’s not a thing. 86 the rent-a-woman. [Editor’s Note: Umm… they are a thing. I believe they are called sex workers. Not so much an “item” per se.]
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
SZ: Bass player in a reggae band.
WMM: What’s next for you now?
SZ: Just put together a doorway pullup bar. So, getting shredded I guess? Oh, in terms of projects. Well… writing a TV show with Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, who are two of the funniest and most talented actor/writers/people I know. I’m excited to be writing a kids’ show with Lisa Steen. And trying to produce “Karen of God” with Tara. I write with a lot of women, I just realized. And of course, excited for people to see “The Sound and Shadow” hopefully summer/fall.
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?
SZ: Laughing with my friends and music.