When I grow up, I want to be like Sami.
“If I think something should exist, I make it” – is what she told me during our interview, the interview of which we talked for 1.5 hours and Panda somehow managed to cut down into 23 minutes for the podcast episode. From producing a documentary that’s now featured on Netflix - to creating her own music video film festival in Los Angeles - to starting a political movement, Sami Kriegstein is a force to be reckoned with.
Sami’s apartment in West Village is a perfect reflection of herself: refined and elegant with a side of funk. As we sat down to chat and I gazed at the 31-year-old who has an IMDb page and today gets to pick her own gigs and make her own schedule, I wanted to know how on Earth she got to this point.
It all started with the Breakfast Club. Sami had an affinity for film and plays from a young age, but her first foray into the production world was when her and her friends decided to put on a version of The Breakfast Club. Her high school wouldn’t support it, so they said fine - we’ll just bus people over from the high school to our friend’s attic - and from there, the rest is history: she had officially caught the production bug.
Then, the summer before her senior year, a grab-the-bull-by-the-horns type of opportunity arose. While she was a summer intern, her boss caught wind of this thing called competitive acting. Sami’s boss was like... “you should make a movie about that – no, seriously... you should make a movie.” And so Sami convinced her parents that if she raised enough money, she would take a year off school to create the film. $300,000, 400 hours of footage, and 7 years later, Figures of Speech is now a feature length documentary on Netflix.
Figures of Speech
Featured on Netflix
Sami does SO much. Her professional background includes Maker Studios, Fullscreen Media, Caviar Content, Astronauts Wanted, and most recently, Refinery29. But that’s just the LinkedIn version.
Another thing she thought should exist, and thus decided to make? The Los Angeles Music Video Festival, a ﬁlm festival for music videos, which is running now for its 7th year. I literally have a difficult time planning my lunch schedule for the week, so the thought of planning an entire festival from the ground-up is mind-boggling.
Although Sami has been in the field that she loves for some time now, she admits that it took until she was 31 to start directing. Brief sidebar: for anyone who is a novice to the film industry like me, Sami describes the difference between Directing and Producing as such:
Directing: The Director is the one who takes the project and translates the vision; brings the creative vision to life.
Producing: Can mean a million things, can mean that you wrote the check, can mean that it was your idea & you put the pieces together. It can mean that you babysit the Director. Essentially, it’s a very broad term that means you’ll be doing whatever needs to be done to get it done. My favorite analogy: “you’re the captain on the kickball team and you get to pick who is on your team.”
So, what finally pushed Sami to jump off the producing ledge and into the directing waters? A little help from her friends.
Sami’s friend, Kate Dearing, had an idea for a web series, which Sami and another friend, Amanda Cowper, then helped bring to life - fast forward, Women of a Certain Age was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival. Aside from the fact that, er, hello, it’s the Tribeca Film Festival, I love this story because Sami talks about the importance of bringing other people in to your passion project: “all three of us waited a long time to take that step on our own, and I think it was having each other and keeping each other accountable.”
You’ll have to listen to the interview to fully soak in her advice, but, to sum up Sami’s Words of Wisdom:
Measure twice, cut once
Buy that domain
Be patient with yourself
Find some friends to do it with you
Focus on one thing first
For the purpose of the podcast episode, we focus on film production and direction. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she also started National Pantsuit Day. (I know, as if producing and directing films and starting her own film festival was not enough, Sami also organizes political movements).
The purpose of TheYoungNYC is to interview and learn from inspiring New Yorkers who are following their passions. More often than not, our passions do not align with that thing we do to pay the bills.
For Sami, her passion and her job fall under the same umbrella, and of this I am in total and complete awe. As you’ll here in Episode 1, this is not by happenstance. It’s by design. And after talking to Sami, I realize that it’s because of her total and complete grab-the-bulls-by-the-horn mentality.
Finding something that you love that also pays the bills, to me, seemed like an unattainable dream. It was something I believed in when I was little, but then let go of oh.. about… two tech sales jobs ago. Sami re-instilled my faith. It isn’t easy, but it is definitely possible. In the wise words of one of my favorite Pinterest posters, “dreams don’t work unless you do."