Born and raised in Nashville, TN, Gear Seven collaborator Sam Siske developed an interest in filmmaking after witnessing The Empire Strikes Back at 8 years of age. That interest became an obsession and telling stories with a camera quickly became his life’s pursuit. Sam strives to tell stories that emotionally resonate with audiences and showcase honest moments and empathetic characters. His collaborations have included Spotify, Apple Music, Aflac, Warner Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, iHeartRadio, Rolling Stone, and Dr. Pepper. While developing his own narrative projects, Sam directs and shoots around the globe crafting meaningful collaborations with fellow creatives, agencies, record labels, artists, and brands.
Name: Sam Siske
Awards: 2022 nomination for Emily Rowed “Bloom,” 2021 Telly Award win for Bank of Chesapeake “Perks,” 2021 Telly Award win for Skyline National Bank “Boxes”, 2022 Webby Award nomination for Emily Rowed “Bloom".
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Sam> I think for me, with a script, it always comes down to the emotion and central theme. Everything kind of takes off from there. If I can connect with a script emotionally, that to me, is what I am drawn to and those are the projects I am most excited to shoot. Additionally, is it going to allow me to create some interesting visuals and technically try new things. When those things come together, that’s when I get really excited.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Sam> I always try to find the emotional core within the story that we are telling. Going from there, I ask myself if it needs a narrative structure or if it is something that is more about the visuals. At the end of the day though, everything comes back to the emotion. To me, that’s where I start and what I build visuals around.
LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
Sam> For me, research is very important. If I don’t initially know as much as I should about a brand, or project, I dive in and do my home-work. It begins with research of my own and if that isn’t enough I talk to others who have more knowledge on the subject than I do. It all starts with that understanding of what you’re working with and getting there is always a very important part of my process.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Sam> The most important working relationship on a project for me is the one I have with my producer. You have to be on the same page and trust your producer so that they can help you bringi the project to life and make what you need happen. That is only accomplished by problem solving together. I’ve seen productions where you’re fighting each other in that way and that never works. Start to finish, you are working together, making a project happen and making everyone happy – from the clients, to the crew, all the way to the finished product.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Sam> I got into the film industry and I wanted to be a director to tell stories. Emotion is what always attracts me to projects and stories. Am I emotionally drawn to it? Is there something I feel like I can bring to it that connects with me? I would hope then, when I’m done making it, that it connects with the audience. That to me is the type of work, whether it is a commercial or a film, that made me want to do this in the first place.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Sam> I think sometimes you can get locked in to a certain type of genre and style because of your past work. It’s always difficult to prove yourself in new genres or styles without that body of work to show for it. That’s why I’m always trying to diversify my work so that I don’t get stuck doing and getting called for one type of thing.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Sam> This wasn’t the craziest but was an example of embracing curveballs. One of my favorite projects to this day was a music video that was planned to be daylight heavy, lots of sunshine, most of it taking place outside. The day before we were watching the weather and the forecast called for rain. So I made the decision to creatively find ways around it and make scenes happen indoors or embrace and shoot in the rain when possible. We rainproofed the camera and ended up shooting the exterior scenes that we needed in the rain and it actually added so much drama and needed texture to the project. It taught me that sometimes you are going to be dealt a bad hand, and if you embrace it and adapt, it can make the entire project better.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Sam> As a director on an agency project, you are the creative custodian of that project for a short time but at the end of the day, it is the agency and the clients’ project. You are being brought on board to utilize your skills and knowledge as a writer or director to help shape that and make that the best thing that it can be but ultimately, it goes back to them and becomes what they need it to be. For me, as I strive to bring what I do best to a project, I have to make sure that the agency and client are getting what they want and what they need.
LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
Sam> Absolutely! I love any opportunity to introduce people to this amazing industry. I also feel very responsible and try to help mentor new talent as they navigate the industry because I remember when I started, I was that young kid just trying to figure out how to make it. This is very much an industry that can take advantage of you if you are not careful. When I was coming up, I was lucky enough to find mentors that helped train me the right way and gave me the opportunities to grow and to learn. If I can ever be that positive influence to someone else, it would mean the world to me.
LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
Sam> The biggest thing I picked up was the need for a routine. We were thrown out of our routine during the pandemic and by implementing a routine amid the pandemic, it made me habitually do things to creatively be available and productive each day. I was able to dive into more things and build more skills by doing so. Another thing was we weren’t able to go to set as much so I had to learn new apps and new technology in order to make projects happen. I’ve been able to implement new tools and technology that I now rely on for every project.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
Sam> To me, it’s something I decide from the outset of the creative by factoring in what is needed by the client. That then dictates my visual approach. Am I framing for iPhone or am I framing for wide-screen cinema? It’s my job as a director to try and have the best approach, from lensing to set design, for how it will work with all the different formats and options that are needed.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
Sam> Recently I’ve been able to work with xR technology and that to me has been incredibly exciting. I grew up a huge fan of Star Wars and what I’ve loved about Star Wars is that they’re always pushing the technology of creative storytelling. Their use of xR is what brought it to my attention and when I got the opportunity to work with it, I leapt at the chance! To be using that same technology and learning how it works and implementing it into storytelling, that part of me is very excited, the young filmmaker that got into this industry because of Star Wars. It’s just so cool. xR creates so many ways to tell a story and to be in different worlds and different places with such ease. It is definitely a big learning curve, but once you get past that curve, it really opens up so many possibilities and that’s what I’m really excited about as I continue to use it more.
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
Sam> Apple Music - "Where We Started Radio"
This project was a blast because I was able to bring xR technology into the mix. It gave us the ability to have the perfect sunset all day. Looking back, it really excites me about the many possibilities xR is going to offer me as a filmmaking tool moving forward.
Community Bank of the Chesapeake - "Perks"
This simple but fun spot was such a joy to bring to life. Everything revolved around casting the perfect "Dad" and when I saw Brian’s audition I knew he was perfect.
High Valley - "I Be U Be"
This video was maybe the first time I found myself able to make something that was truly my style: Gritty, raw, and with a deeply human, emotional core. This video had a small but mighty crew full of so many of my favorite people and that made it even more special.
"Beneath The Broken Sky"
This short film was such a labor of love. Made in 2018 with my closest friends and family, it was such a special experience and it continues to motivate me to continue toward narrative features and projects.