Five Ways to Make a Film When You’ve Never Made a Real Film Before

The star of (and inspiration for) Andrew Morgan's new narrative feature Samantha Rose on their experience making a movie for the first time.

1. Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Someone
The synthesis of the film Samantha Rose came about solely through my quasi-connection to my partner’s mom’s family friend. Andrew Morgan, a director whose documentary The True Cost I saw in college, is incredible. He is one of those people who has an innate ability to break through a person’s walls in less than 30 seconds. The comfort you feel with Andrew right off the bat is truly mesmerizing. He has something many filmmakers do not – heart and a deep understanding of human nature. I met him four years ago, when my co-star Johnny Dawson and I first started dating. I was on a month-long trip to visit Johnny in California. One night, Johnny’s brother Ethan (who also starred in one of Andrew’s films, Long Gone By) was babysitting Andrew’s four adorable children. The first time I met Andrew was in his daughter’s bedroom; he had no clue who I was and was heavily confused that there was a stranger in his daughter’s room. I don’t blame him at all. The second time I met Andrew was at the Long Gone By premiere, which was in New York, where Johnny and I were living at the time and where I am originally from. After that, we became Instagram pals and eventually – after a lot of him internet-stalking me! – Andrew told me I looked cool enough to be in a movie.

Sam Rose with Andrew Morgan on the set of Samantha Rose.

2. Be Obsessed with Film
You can’t make a movie without being obsessed with film. I don’t mean buying a ton of movie tickets and seeing everything that comes out immediately. I do mean torrenting a totally obscure movie that your favorite film director made in college before they made that crazy popular one you liked. Being obsessed with film sometimes means talking up a completely ridiculous movie on a first date and explaining why it’s changed your life, only to absolutely scare the shit out of the person you’re trying to court. It’s about spending nights in high school inside your house because you went to the video store and rented (500) Days of Summer for about the 1000th time and not wanting to waste your precious time with people you only kind of like. It’s about being open to films touching your life and afterwards having a greater understanding of the world, as well as yourself. You’ll be so obsessed, you’ll even be willing to make a movie in the middle of a global pandemic just so you have something to look forward to.

Sam Rose and Johnny Dawson filming a scene in Samantha Rose.

3. Have a Good Reason to Want to Be in It
The first movie I ever saw that truly influenced me was Kissing Jessica Stein, because it was gay and Jewish. My mom was watching it on TV back when TV was a thing and I must have been around seven years old. I sat down to watch the scene where Jessica and Helen are making out awkwardly on the couch. I remember seeing myself in that scene. It was the first time that I had encountered a movie that really changed the way that I saw the world and also saw myself. See, as a seven-year-old, I was gay as hell. To me, love never had a gender; not even as a kid. I was in love with Kim Possible, and Cole Sprouse, and everyone in between. Watching that movie, however, allowed me to access something I’d never seen. It allowed me to understand that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. I never thought it to be unnatural, but when I saw Jessica kiss Helen, I knew that queerness and the fluidity of love without gender was something I hadn’t just made up in my head. I wanted to be that person on screen who could help someone to see themselves more clearly. So when Andrew approached me with the script for Samantha Rose, I couldn’t say no. To be a role model for some pansexual, non-binary, awkward Jewish kid, or even to just show the world that someone like me exists – it was a no-brainer.

Allison Berman, Johnny Dawson, Natalia Ruiz-Heinsohn and Matthew Danger Lippman in Samantha Rose.

4. Bring Your Friends
When faced with casting a film about camaraderie and friendship, who better to choose than your real-life friends? Natalia, who plays Luna, is one of the people closest to me in my life. We met in a digital cinema class in college and have been friends ever since. We lived together sophomore year, even though she was allergic to my cat. Vili is Johnny’s real-life childhood friend. They met at church sleepaway camp. One day, Vili randomly texted Johnny to see if they wanted to bike to go buy Vili a hat. Johnny accepted, and they ended up biking about 27 miles. They’ve been best friends ever since. Matthew Danger and I met through an old roommate of mine that he was seeing. At the time, he worked with my friend Allie at a coffee shop in Brooklyn called Little Roy’s. Johnny needed a job at the time and so I connected the two. The three of them worked together for around a year until Johnny and I moved to Los Angeles. Now, while I have this space, I want to hold myself accountable for the fact that this film is overwhelmingly white and lacks true representation. This is Johnny’s and my doing, because we cast the film. We do not take this lightly and going forward this is something we want to pay more attention to and correct.

“If they ask you to jump off a cliff, you say, ‘Uhhhh, maybe?’, but eventually, you say, ‘Yes.’ ”

5. Just Say “Yes”
In order to make a movie, you have to go with the flow of things. If your director needs you to move to the right, you say, “Yes.” If your director asks you to give variation, you say, “Yes.” If they ask you to jump off a cliff, you say, “Uhhhh, maybe?”, but eventually, you say, “Yes.” You say “yes” not because you’re a pushover, but because you care. You truly care about the integrity of the film. You want it to be good. You want to make something cool. You want this process to be as easy as possible. We all have a common goal on set and that’s to make something important, to make something beautiful. Just remember in those moments to remain humble. You are lucky for this opportunity. You are lucky to be in this moment with these incredible people. These moments cannot be replicated. These moments are unique, and they are special. You hope that you’ll get another opportunity like this, but you never really know. So every day be grateful and be open to the possibilities that can arise from making your very first film, and just say, “Yes.”

Sam Rose is the star and associate producer of Andrew Morgan’s new narrative feature, Samantha Rose, out now to rent on digital through Freestyle Digital Media. They are an artist and actor living in Los Angeles with their partner and cat. In their free time, they like to go to the beach, make jam, and write songs.