Filmmaker Spotlight: Sam Lane

October 29, 2018

Sam Lane caught the Audience Awards’ attention with her film “Spell of the West,” which took third in our Animated Shorts Film Festival. MOMA also featured the film in its BOBUDGE Shorts Program this summer, which presented a collection of eight new American short films made by emerging female directors. Lane, 21 years old, grew up in the hills of Los Feliz, near Griffith Park. She is currently a BFA4 in Experimental Animation at CalArts.

I wanted to reach out after I saw Spell of the West because I think it’s a such a compelling film, both conceptually and visually. How did you come up with the setting and main character?

Thank you! I first came up with the idea in a comics class, and I felt drawn to a Western theme. We had a couple of storyboarders from Adventure Time come into the class to speak, and I was really inspired by the total bizarreness of the tone of that show. My story ended up taking on a bit of that tone, and I started building a Western-inspired magical world. To me, Westerns are all about people living epic stories in epic spaces. But the spaces themselves–deserts, rivers, stuff like that, end up being a dramatic backdrop instead of a primary force of the story. I wanted to turn that inside out, and make a Western that focused on the relationship of the characters and the land itself. And of course, I was interested in telling the story through a female character.

What is your dream in pursuing animation? How have your goals as an artist and filmmaker changed while you’ve been in school?

The real dream would be to direct, either for TV or features, but until then I would love to be a boarder or writer. In the projects I’ve made throughout my time at school, the part that has been consistently exciting to me is story. This year, I’m directing a senior thesis project backed by the Princess Grace Foundation USA, and it’s the first time I’ve ever directed a large team. I am completely stressed out, but the stress is vastly outweighed by the fact that I’m genuinely thrilled to be working with so many hyper-talented people–and so I’m realizing more and more that directing feels right.

Your color schemes and stylistic decisions are really captivating. Who and what did you look to for visual inspiration?

Oh! I happened to take a color class right around the time that I was working on concept pieces for the film, which ended up being extremely useful. I was inspired by the candy colored worlds of Adventure Time, as well as Gary Baseman’s work. Both of those worlds use organic, colorful shapes, which I thought would work well to tell a story that focused primarily on plants and animals. There’s also a simplicity to those styles that works very well for animation.

I read in your interview for Short of the Week that your film is primarily about emotional connections to the environment. What experiences drove you to address this topic?

I have been lucky enough to see some truly beautiful natural places. The most powerful experience for me was the time I went to Australia. My Grandpa had passed away, and my family decided to honor his memory by visiting his favorite travel destination. We went to the Daintree rainforest, and it was the first time I had ever felt overwhelmed by plants. I felt like I was on another planet. Trees talked! Animals built stuff! Mushrooms glowed! Our guide told us the true story of a giant snake waiting in an apple tree to devour his children.

Growing up in LA, my concept of nature was mostly pollution-battered trees confined to small sidewalk squares. Nature was structured around people. But in the rainforest, nature reached biblical proportions. That–combined with the fact that my late Grandpa had somehow led me to this place–gave it great personal and emotional weight. Since that experience, I have always felt a greater respect for my natural surroundings.

To me, an important factor of this piece is the gender dynamic. When I first watched it, I took it to be about a woman’s wellbeing, being quietly and gently cultivated for years only to be demolished by a marauding man or event. Was this theme part of your intention? If so, what responsibilities did you feel in depicting this narrative, and what was difficult or empowering about it?

Gender is something I try to treat very delicately in my films. Of course I want to tell stories that feature women. I’m a woman. But I try to be really careful to avoid making the story revolve around womanhood itself. I’m more interested in telling stories that happen to feature women–because there is so much more to life than gender!

That being said, there were several reasons for having a female lead. Since I was already playing around with the classical elements of Westerns, I wanted to keep the theme going and switch up the type of lead they usually feature. But I also think I wanted to envision the kind of future that matters to me, of women stepping up to the plate when it comes to issues bigger than them. I made a cowgirl eco-warrior because I think it would be cool to see in real life. And in general, I think the more stories that exist with female leads, the less mysterious female characters become.

What advice would you give to someone, especially a woman, aspiring to make it in the animation industry?

I’m still a student, so I would also like to know the answer to this. But I would say that in general, speaking confidently about your work is important. I think sometimes girls are taught to be a bit more humble about their efforts, but in this field especially, you need to be very loud. Scream in public places, such as libraries and DMVs, as you wave your drawings around. Exhibit your strength by flexing in front of TV executives. Mail your scripts in suspicious looking boxes to top government buildings. If all else fails, people will definitely remember you.

Watch Sam Lane’s film, Spell of the West

ABOUT AUDIENCE AWARDS: Audience Awards provides filmmakers with the opportunity to change the world through stories, win prizes and build an audience. Films are judged by industry professionals and the global audience. We are committed to providing a stage for diverse, emerging talent and their work. Our platform is dedicated to celebrating the power of storytelling and building an audience. Created by filmmakers, for filmmakers, Audience Awards offers an invaluable platform for exposure. Our filmmakers don’t just gain exposure – like press and social media engagement – but also opportunities to accelerate their careers. Learn More:

Interview and Article by: Halisia Hubbard. Twitter: @halisia | email:


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