FilmCourage: Where did you grow up?
Samantha: Yes, we have quite a few lawyers on both sides of the family. I figured becoming a lawyer was the best excuse to be forced to learn golf. I also thought- and have been proven right- that a law degree would be an ideal background for contracts, negotiations and understanding intellectual property, which are all significant aspects of producing.
FilmCourage: You passed the State Bar on your first try. This is not an easy accomplishment – was the Bar exam as difficult as you imagined?
Samantha: Studying for the Bar was pretty grueling- it was basically a full-time job for 10 weeks leading up to the exam. I’ve always been good at school so my hubris was at an all time high. The night before the exam I knew that I had studied all I could and the only true way to prepare was to go to the movies. I saw “Salt” starring Angelina Jolie. After three long days of test-taking, however, I was surprised to discover that I had temporarily forgotten my own name.
Samantha: The film was actually originally written as a feature. The concept was born from a series of interactions during which one of us would exclaim, “hey, that’s funny, put that down”. We offhandedly discussed how amazing it would be to have our own talk show, during which we could use our comic timing and material towards good, rather than inconsequential nothing. Acknowledging that such a lofty goal was perhaps unrealistic, we turned the idea into the original “Let’s Rap” storyline, in which a like-minded sibling duo would set their own course for talk show hosting glory. We partnered with the team at Landed and created an abridged version to film as the short. The intent was to test the waters and decide whether producing the feature was a good idea. Right or wrong, here we are today!
FilmCourage: Once you both decided to make the longer version of Let’s Rap, how long did you spend writing the feature script? How many days did you spend planning the feature film?
Samantha: Once we decided to go forward with the feature, we brought Neil Huber on board as our director. He had edited two previous short films produced by Landed so we knew he understood the sensibility of what we were trying to achieve, had a visual eye and editing background that would be key to bringing the story alive and was also sensitive to the characters essentially being our avatars. Neil and his writing partner Desmond Sargeant brought a lot of wisdom to the script and all four of us hammered out changes and additions that were both creatively and logistically necessary to carry out the project. I’ll admit on record that Desmond is responsible for Dogtor!
From there we were in pre-production for a couple more months, during which we assembled the rest of the key crew and finalized our cast.
FilmCourage: In production?
Samantha: The production was sixteen shooting days over a three-week period. Watching the characters of ‘Bo’ and ‘Melanie’ come alive in the exceptional hands of Brendan Gall and Rachel Wilson was truly a dream come true. Rachel is the prettier and skinnier version of myself I’ve always wanted.
FilmCourage: Where did you secure the locations for Let’s Rap?
Samantha: Our production team was extremely fortunate to have some very generous friends and family members who offered their homes and offices as set locations in Toronto and Waterloo. Other locations included DeLecq Café & Wine Bar, a local east end establishment in Toronto and the Glenn Gould Studio. The radio station sequence was filmed on site at 360FM, a local Spanglish station on the west end of town. The owners of the station were also kind enough to let Jesse and I co-host a rush hour timeslot a month after the shoot. Randal Edwards and Emma Hunter (Ethan and Lauren) were our guests. So, in a brief but wonderful moment, our talk show hosting fantasies were lived.
FilmCourage: What universal themes are explored in your film?
Samantha: ‘Bo’ and ‘Melanie’ each have their own unique struggle, despite having so much in common and a shared sense of humor. The theme for ‘Melanie’ is that following the safe path is never going to satisfy her when she has larger dreams. She can’t hide behind her fears and anxiety so those are the traits she needs to overcome in order to achieve her true potential. For ‘Bo’ his struggle is not about confidence. It’s about taking responsibility for his adulthood and treating his aspirations seriously and with mature determination.
FilmCourage: What did turning Let’s Rap into a feature film teach you?
Samantha: The surprise was that my brother and I get along most of all when we are working together on a project. We fought less as creative collaborators than we ever did in a social context. I credit that to the fact that there was no remote control to wrestle over. I also learned that Jason Priestley is as cool, talented and nice as I hoped he was when I became a fan in 1990.
FilmCourage: You raised over 30k on Indiegogo for Let’s Rap? What did that budget go for?
Samantha: Raising funds on Indiegogo was instrumental in adding resources to our total budget, which was applied across all departments. In particular, it allowed us to rent space at the incredible Glenn Gould Studios in the CBC building, which was used for all the talk show stage scenes.
FilmCourage: How did you obtain your 249 backers? What was the average donation? Did you know most of the backers personally or as acquaintances?
Samantha: Most of the backers were friends and family of our team. This was a passion project that started from nothing but a few jokes so we were truly touched by the generosity displayed by our circles. The donations ranged from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. No matter the size, it all added up and we couldn’t have asked for more support.
FilmCourage: In hindsight, what worked for your Crowdfunding campaign? What would you change if you had to do over?
Samantha: The thing that worked for the crowdsourcing was simple perseverance. It’s never comfortable asking for money, but when you can express why something is important to you and also explain how that money will be used toward something tangible, people can be very open-minded. I took a lot of inspiration from my late grandmother Sylvia, who was my biggest champion and never took no for an answer. If we had to do it all over, I would change the dress I’m wearing in one of the promo videos. It is hideously short.
FilmCourage: What is your opinion on crowdfunding moving into 2016?
Samantha: Crowd-funding is still an excellent way to finance films, especially films with modest budgets that need the additional funding to supplement resources. There are a ton of platforms on which to do so and loads of projects looking for dollars. The way to set yourself apart from the competition is to create a personality for your crowd-funding campaign. Build excitement and expectations about your project so your target audience can’t help but give up their coin. A touch of blackmail also never hurt anybody.
FilmCourage: How is having a talk show similar to presenting your client’s case in court?
Samantha: I don’t practice trial law but I do have experience from my mock trial days in law school. A talk show host’s persona is an extension of a real demeanor, but in many ways, it is a character. That character is one that exudes confidence, assertiveness and has the chops to ask the tough questions. Similarly, in presenting a case at trial, the lawyer must be perceived as equally confident and assertive in order to compel a jury to take notice of his or her facts. In order to overcome my shyness during mock trial, I created my alter ego, Heather. She is named for Heather Locklear, specifically in the part of Amanda Woodward on “Melrose Place”. That is not a joke. Heather still shows up in instances of stage fright and negotiations.
FilmCourage: Have you acted in any of the films you’ve been a part of?
Samantha: I consider myself to have an extremely keen eye for acting talent. Assembling the excellent cast of ‘Let’s Rap’ is probably my greatest achievement of the producing side of the project. Part of having that keen eye is the ability to recognize that I possess zero acting talent and would never harm a project of mine by sullying it with my lackluster gifts.
FilmCourage: What is your role and duties at Landed Entertainments LLC?
Samantha: I don a couple different hats for the company. I’m the General Counsel for the California office, meaning I oversee contracts, acquisitions and intellectual property issues. As a producer, I am involved in developing new projects, assembling crews and tending to all casting related needs, including guild compliance. As in all mixed company, I also consider myself the comic relief.
FilmCourage: Most crucial points filmmakers should consider when looking for and securing distribution?
Samantha: Every film has a demographic that will embrace it. When partnering with a distributor, it’s essential that they can both identify that demographic and be able to tap into it.
FilmCourage: How do you balance a thriving career in entertainment and being creative on the side with comedy screenplays with your brother, Jesse?
Samantha: By watching a lot of TV.
FilmCourage: If you were to propose a filmmaking panel (such as at a festival or other event) and lead the discussion, what would you call the panel?
Samantha: Sherms Terms. A blossoming topic in the film world today is the role of women in comedy. When I was growing up there just weren’t enough funny women to look up to and there certainly weren’t female dominated comedies. It confused me because I knew I was funny, therefore others like me must have been around. This dearth was not because the talent wasn’t there- it was because of the misconception of what women were like. Luckily, in the hands of such awesome females as Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Tiny Fey, Jenny Slate, Maya Rudolph, Kristin Wiig, Mindy Kaling and so many others, the landscape is changing. My film panel would primarily discuss how jealous I am of each of them.
FilmCourage: From a production angle, what is the biggest misconception most independent filmmakers have about any stage of making an independent feature?
Samantha: Before I started working on a set, I don’t think I realized how much food a large group of people needed to last a day or how much money any of that cost. I basically learned that I would never be successful on the ‘Price is Right.’
FilmCourage: Your bio mentions you’ve written a romance novel! What’s the difference in creating characters in novel form versus a screenplay?
Samantha: I did write a romance novel and self-published it on amazon. It was something that started as a bet but became a real project as I got more into the writing process. The intrinsic difference between a novel and screenplay is that the novel is able to delve into the inner monologue of the character. Whereas a character on-screen must display his or her motivations through action, demeanor and spoken dialogue a novel can capture exactly what the character is thinking internally. So, when creating a novel’s character, you have the opportunity and choice to present a lot more information. A movie character’s personality must leap from the page in the hands of the actor.
FilmCourage: What’s next for you creatively?
Samantha: I’m working on three different comedy screenplays, one of which is another sibling comedy co-written with Jesse. I’m also about to launch nostalgia based movie podcast with my friends Chris and Jeremy called “Is This Good?”
Samantha has been passionate about television, film and the arts from a young age. She studied English Literature and Film Studies at the University of Toronto in her hometown. She then moved to Chicago where she graduated cum laude from Loyola University Chicago Law School. Knowing that Chicago was no place for a filmmaker, she again made a significant move to Los Angeles, California where she passed the grueling state bar on her first attempt.
She met the team of Landed Entertainments in 2012 as they went into production on the short film Comrades in Los Angeles. Samantha participated as production legal counsel and immediately a close working relationship was born. Since then, she has worked with Landed on seven music videos, the short Americanistan and, of course, the Let’s Rap short film based on this feature. She now heads the Los Angeles office of Landed Entertainments and splits her time between Los Angeles and Toronto.
As a writer, Samantha collaborates on comedy screenplays with her brother Jesse, with whom she shares a similar proclivity for off-color humor and pop culture referencing.
CONNECT WITH LET’S RAP MOVIE:
Jesse Herman and Samantha Herman
Randal Edwards, Brendan Gall, Rachel Wilson, Jason Priestley
Jesse Herman, Samantha Herman, Ali Mashayekhi