Talanoa with the unstoppable, Samson Rambo
Updated: Oct 18
Interviewed & edited by Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu
Transcribed by Palepa-Sabrina Timu
Onset and taken by M2S1 Films - Take Home Pay, 2019.
Photo credit - Raymond Sagapolutele. Onset for Liliu Short Film working as a Intern /Cam-assist
My name is Samson Rambo, full Sāmoan, born and raised in South Auckland. I’m an artist. But I guess I am more known for my filmmaking work, particularly as my form of storytelling.
Can we talk about Rambo, and where that name came from?
So my real name is Samson Jones Vaotuua and it’s who I am at home. I have an alter ego. Since I was 16, I’d prefer to go by Samson Rambo as a sort of persona that I created as I was growing up in Otara. It’s who I am creatively and someone that I just naturally became since I was in high school. Growing up in Otara, there was a lot of masculine energy. And I wear my culture and hood on my sleeve, which is something that I strive for and is prevalent in my work.
Just going back to the name Rambo, there is that thing in Sāmoan culture, where we are named after each other. I’m like the 4th or 5th Samson, believe it or not. And Rambo was another way of me standing out, separating me, and making me different. It’s my right, to be my own person.
What area of the film industry do you work in? Did you envision this for yourself? Did you grow up wanting to be a creative person? Yeah definitely for me. I mean, we all know the immigration story of our parents moving from Sāmoa to here in Aotearoa which was the exact same for me. My family moved from Sāmoa in the late 80’s. Growing up with everyone crammed into one house, I learned Sāmoan first before English. Films helped me understand the world outside the barriers of my fale which also helped me learn how to speak English. That ignited the spark for me - I mean, we’re talking Michael Jackson, the music industry as a whole and everything. It made me so creatively intune with the arts. I guess when you combine that as well with church; you’ve got this whole mixture of things you kinda want to do creatively. Is there one specific moment you remember? I grew up without a father. I felt quite empty. That’s why I guess I can relate to Taika (Waititi) in a lot of ways. His work inspires me. A lot of people that I know are already working with him and I feel like I’m going to meet him real soon. Everything is playing out the way it’s meant to. When I hear stories about him, I can relate - no father figure around and I can relate. For me, I hung out with my grandpa when I was young. He was never keen on going to church that much. On Sundays, I’d kick it with my Grandpa and watch old Clint Eastwood movies. He'd talk to me, give me a video breakdown, Q&A sessions in Fa’asāmoa “le aka lea o le kama o Kilini, e le kaikai a oki Kilini” he’ll tell me and I’ll sit there. He’ll tell me stories, we’d even watch Terminator too. It was funny how my grandfather couldn’t speak English but he could understand stories for me that young. That was a defining moment for me.
Speaking about your family, did you grow up in a super conservative family? Super strict, really Sāmoan? Super supportive of you or did they have other ambitions for you? I grew up in a traditional Sāmoan family where my parents had the ideal dream for me to become either a Lawyer or a Doctor. However, I was a rebel and went against the grain saying ‘nope, I’m an Artist, there’s nothing else I can do’. Is that something you can relate to or add to? Can you speak about that experience for you? For sure, I can be transparent with a lot of people. Same story at the end which I can relate to. My family was really strict. My family weren’t supportive of me and everything I wanted to do growing up. It’s different now that it’s starting to work out. This is quite a touchy subject because my family never knew of my dream except for my close friends. That’s why I put on this persona of being this bad-ass because no one had my back growing up. I also had no older siblings older than me so I kind of had to be the rebel to branch off and live a wildlife life and be an Artist. I guess in a natural sense when you’re rebellious, you’re an Artist anyways. So I feeded into that character that I put into my work. It’s funny being around all my relatives such as my aunties and all them. I was the complete opposite of what all my siblings and cousins were. They were all academic. I was considered the school drop out. However, I eventually passed and did everything that they said I wasn’t going to do.
BTS - General Fiyah & Three Houses Down - It's You (Music Video) Do you have any advice that you would give to your younger self? I think now that I’m a bit older and look at it from a different lens. I think what I’d say to my younger self or someone who's going through something similar or, the same storyline is to focus on what you can control. Because everyone will put expectations on you of what they want you to be. You don’t have to be that, you do what you want to do. Follow your heart. Those few sayings have helped and pushed me to where I am. In saying that, I have great people around me, great energy.
I wanted to ask if you have any heroes? People that inspire you and/or people you aspire to be like. I’ve always had five people I’ve looked up to. Micheal Jackson has always been a massive influence for me creatively. Before I got into film, I was a dancer. I was on a dance circuit at the same time Parris (Goebel) was on. His (MJ’s) creative mind inspired me in that sense when I was younger.
Jim Carey earlier on. I know it’s weird. His early works in ‘Masks’, ‘Liar Liar’, you can see it in my personality through my earlier works.
Another person that inspires me is my mum. Everyone that knows me will know I’m like my mum. She’s a badass and does not care. After she realised that I wanted to be a filmmaker, she said that ‘I’m not helping my son out, I’m gonna push him’ and that’s what she’s done, yeah my mum.
And Taika - what more can I not say? I felt like I’ve met him so many times as I came across a lot of people who say that I remind them of him.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant - their mindset after going after what they want. You could text me at 0400am and I’ll still be up because I’ll be studying business. I’ll be studying not only my work, but I’d by studying my competition. I’ll study business, I’ll study how films are being broken down, stories and everything. I don’t know - Beulah (Koale) and I can agree that we’re both competitive in a great way. We know that whoever sets the bar, we have to take it a notch and know that the next generation will have to take it a step further. I have a fun question. If I could give you all the money in the world and offer the best resources (which you will have at your disposal), what would that look like? This is your time to not be humble. I would invest that into the next generation because I know what it’s like having all the skills and no one sees it right away. The next generation will bring out the next Tusi Tamasese, Jerry Tauamiti or even their own versions of themselves. They are the future. I am at a position where I can make stories and make that compound interest. How would you invest in them? Where would that money actually go? I’m a creative, I’m trying to learn that right now. I think having our own funding bodies. Our own Pacific screen bodies. Hollywood is going to come to us (Taika said it before) and they will come to us. They’re searching, we’re right here, they’re coming. We just have to start polishing the next generation with the resources and tools to sharpen our stories with a universal appeal which can and will relate to everyone.
Photo by M2s1 Onset for Take Home Pay as a Directors Intern with through NZFC - Stallone, Tofiga and the film crew
Do you want to talk about any other films that you’ve done? Or your journey of films? Let’s start with your music video journey? I haven’t done that much, I just made General Fiyah’s videos. Actually, it started off with Sione Pome’e approaching me. He saw my dance videos and he thought it would be great for me to do it. I took on the project. 3 music videos later, we were able to get them to where we are today. I’ll be honest, I’m not a music video guy. I always said no to anyone that used to approach me for directing and producing a music video because I always wanted to make films. However, when I realised what my skill sets for other people, that’s when I started to change my way of thinking and honing other skills. I really enjoy making them because he (General Fiyah) is something else. He critiqued my films well stating ‘is there anything else you can do? I think you can do better’ - he’s a smart kid, he’s really talented.
Did you win an award for your music video? Yeah. We got nominated for ‘Here To Stay’. For that music video in particular, for all the music videos I’ve done, I’ve always wanted to shoot them in Otara. I always wanted to shoot it in my neighbourhood because I really think it was important for me to showcase to the people, kids and youth in my neighbourhood to see that a brown kid like them is shooting his music video in his backyard and that they can do that too. It’s paid off a lot because, when I’m out and about with my partner at the mall or just out in Otara as well, kids come up to me saying “I love your work” and “Are you gonna shoot some more?” Let’s talk about ‘My friend Michael Jones’? What can you tell us about that experience? Yeah that was my first short. I went to an arts school and didn’t have any film knowledge. Everything I learned about film was just trial and error and doing it with my friends. That was a massive experience for myself. Ian went to film school and we wrote it with our team, Run Charlie. Eldon was one of our writers as well. We worked so hard. We wrote it and it wasn’t even finished. We submitted anyway to the NZ Film Commission and they said ‘Oh this is different’. So we got funded and it wasn't even ready. So we just worked and worked and it got to where it needed to be. I learned so much from the craft with getting people to invest in your story to boost it, you know what it’s like. Getting people to engage with them and getting them to jump onboard and to donate. So, from the pre-production onwards and working with actors - that was another process. We had a casting process. The writing was done in our fale here and bits of it was done with our producers in town. It was a four way writing team. We knew that when it was written, there was one thing missing. It was the haircutting scene which was the final product of it and then we submitted it.
Then we were onto the casting process. But before we came to the characters, I told the guys saying ‘I know who's gonna play the lead’ and they were like “who?” as soon as I mentioned ‘Villa, Villa Jr Lemanu’, they all flipped saying “how do you know?” I said “I know you guys have a process of how you do casting. But I just have a feeling that this guy is the one.” They’re like “are you sure?” and I said, “I’ve seen him around.” I was still learning and figuring out how I was gonna direct this movie because it was my first time. I knew the only way to get the actors to respect me was to go to acting classes. So, I went and joined Massive Theatre for a full year and a half and I stalked Villa for ages. He didn’t know my intentions. So I went and did acting with him and he became my acting partner. When it got to the point where Villa trusted me, I said to him “hey, we’re doing a movie, I thought of you as the lead, the role is for you,” he was so shocked because I didn’t audition him, and the rest was history.
Photo credit - Ralph Brown - My Friend Michael Jones (Short Film)
What about directing? What was that experience like? Because you had no experience and didn’t go to film school, how was that for you? I think it was just meant to be. Directing in a lot of ways is like, I can’t put into words aye. Were there heaps of you that just directed it? It was just Ian and myself. We both co-directed the film together. How was that experience with co-directing? At that time, it was quite challenging because we were both new to it. But when I think about it now, it was a perfect training ground for us to learn. Ian is very theory based where he focuses on cinematography and he got to work with Ian McCarrol who's a very experienced cinematographer. Those two worked really well together. That was amazing because it really showed his focus in cinematography throughout the film and we always consulted each other with how we wanted to shoot it and I was happy. With co-directing, it’s all about trust and that’s what I learned. You have to remove your ego with co-directing because it's not gonna work which is what I learned early on. My job was to focus on pulling the performances we needed for our team, our actors, our actresses and stuff. Learning to get them to trust me when I needed them to be at a certain level to pull an emotion, that was really cool for me. To just watch them explore and find that emotion for themselves - that was beautiful.
What were the awards that you won from the film? Did you also do any travelling with the film?
It travelled quite a bit. We went to Maoriland, Wairua Film Festival, I went to Canada in Toronto for the imagiNATIVE film festival. That was pretty cool. Have you been there before?
Nah, that was my first time. I never expected that anyone from our neighbourhood nor myself would go for any film work. So, that was quite a great experience for me to meet these other filmmakers and to showcase our work. They received it really well and I had a lot of members of the LGBT community come up to thank me privately after the Q&A. Even though they weren’t Sāmoan, they related to the film well in a lot of ways. I felt a sense of responsibility to recognise the importance of my work and stories which humbled me. Yeah, that was cool.
My Friend Michael Jones won something with the Show me Shorts Film Festival? Yeah, it did.
I know that Show me Shorts Film Festival is linked to the Oscars, is that correct? Yep. So what was that experience like? Whoa, that was a massive dopamine rush. I don’t think you could ever prepare yourself well for these types of experiences which is cool too. Which is why I credit my team. Because it was our first time, we didn’t realise how big these festivals were. When we heard that it was Oscar credited, when we won the first time for ‘Best Screenplay’, we thought ‘okay, that’ll be it’. Then, Villa took out the second award and won the best actor which was awesome. Then, we took out the third one ‘Best New Zealand Film’ and we just ran out of words because we’ve said thank you to everyone. That was quite massive because we didn’t expect to win, we were really humbled by the whole experience. It was really new for me. My only thought was to not trip on my way to claiming my award hahaha - I think that’s where everyone’s mindset is when they win an award, trying to not sulu when getting an award. Plus, Jacinda was there so I was trying not to trip.
Short Me Shorts (2018) - Samson, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern & Co-Director _ Co-Writer Ian Leaupepe
2018's Vodafone 'Best Pacific Music Video' for General Fiyah's feat. Three Houses Down - Here To Stay She made a shoutout for you guys right? Yeah, it was quite random, When we said our speech, we gave her a shoutout. Then, she asked to come and meet us. It was awesome, we had a good chat. She gave us some kind words and courage to keep telling our stories. She’s a massive movie buff and is also a board member of ‘Show me Shorts’. Well, she is the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage so that makes perfect sense. That’s so cool. Is there another film experience that you wanna talk about? I’m still trying to own that space of taking pride in my work. It’s something that I am working on. I take pleasure being mentored by a lot of great filmmakers, that’s where I’ve gained my skills including writing. I like being the fly on the wall when it comes to being around my mentors like Jerry Tauamiti and Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa. They helped me gain my stripes. To me, they’re like my older brothers. For me, my MasterClass was being on set with them. I watched them meticulously on every decision they made. What was beautiful about them was they would pull me in and explain why they made that decision and we would talk about it.
Coming from a place where I have no older brothers, it’s nice having them kinda be the older brothers I never had. They are so good to me on set and it means so much to me and still does to this day. One of the best parts I remember was the Big Screen Symposium. At the intermission, when I was at the bar, Tusi Tamasese came and spoke to me while asking in Sāmoan ‘o lou igoa o Samson Rambo?’ I turned and noticed that it was Tusi who said ‘I love your work’. I was shocked and said ‘What have you seen?’ He mentored me at the bar which was crazy. As I just met him, he said he needed a ride home so I dropped him off. As we were in the car, he was talking about film in a way I didn’t … He’s a sensei, so calm, I honestly couldn’t read him. The next day, he came and sat next to me at the Big Screen Symposium and he was just talking to me about writing. So that was pretty cool.
Do you have a bad experience that you wanna talk about? That we don’t have to name?
I think you gotta get burned a lot. You can’t expect to come and not get burned in this industry. Yeah, I can talk about some. I’m not afraid if they see this, it’s Samson Rambo talking haha. I worked on this one production and I got burned really bad. For a long time, this is where the five people that inspired me came at the right time. Before I shot ‘My friend Michael Jones’, I was out serving tea and coffee and was getting paid $50 a day. I didn’t care about the amount I was paid, I was just happy to be on set. I just loved it. You don’t have any experience when you come on set. So when you come on set, you give your best and you get treated badly, it puts you in an uncomfortable position.
I remember this one time I felt like this when I finished the job that day and I got hassled by some members of the crew. I made a promise to myself saying that I’ll never treat anyone like this on my set. I remember how I felt and continuously said that I will treat everyone on my set with respect no matter their level of experience. I think that was the beauty of that experience because I took that same experience and we did ‘My friend Michael Jones’. Before we started shooting, I was serving everyone tea and coffee. The crew that came in hadn’t met us yet. However when they walked through, they thought that Ian and I were the 1st AD’s. They’re not used to brown boys serving tea and coffee. It wasn’t until one of our 1st AD pulled us in and we specifically asked for a prayer to start the day. We had 40+ people there with a mixture of different ethnicities. I remember one of the art department girls she got called in and was drinking tea and coffee saying ‘ idk where the directors are’. After prayer, Nua pointed to Ian and I saying ‘these are your directors for the film’ and everyone’s jaw dropped because the directors were the same two brown boys that served them tea and coffee in the beginning. To me, that was a win. That bad experience helped us set the tone of how not to treat people … The silver lining. Do you have another bad experience? You don’t have to go into it, it’s up to you. Nah, everything has been sweet after that. I don't think it can be as bad as that. I always try to make sure I don’t burn bridges with anyone no matter how young they are because they could be the next great. I make sure that they feel when they meet me, I’m as genuine as I can be. What’s a typical day like with the regular Samson? Outside of Rambo? I have a hard time splitting the two up. I normally sleep 2-3 hours a day because I’m extremely competitive with myself. I’m normally up at 5am and I start training. I don’t check my emails or notifications unless I really need to. I’m really efficient with my time. I focus on my writing and all the things I need to do because I’m very greedy with that. So yeah, 5am I focus on my health through training because it’s very important. I’m trying to change what a film director looks like. I want my physical attributes to show that I am disciplined as well as being mentally stimulated. I work on my body and mental health and meditate as much as I can. After that, I focus on my writing for the majority of the day. After 1pm, I focus on replying to everyone’s emails. Then the rest of the day, I focus on my work like editing, focus on a skill a day and read one book a day. That’s how I work.
Wairoa Film Festival - Winning Moana Jury Prize Award
What are you watching currently? What am I watching? I’m watching a lot of classic stuff. I made a list of everything that Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg’s recommendations of what they want kids to watch. So, I’m trying to watch them in order. So, last night I watched ‘Momento’ again and tonight I will be watching ‘7th Samurai’ by Akira Kurosawa. I watch a lot of films to try and break down the story piece by piece. I read the scripts after I’ve watched it and then I meticulously go over the scenes that stuck out to me. I think my partner gets really frustrated when I repeat the same movie over and over again. I’m just really obsessed with trying to get that little nugget of why this scene worked and I guess for me, I see it as homework. Which is why I’m so obsessed.
Outside of directing, camera stuff and writing. Is there anything you can share about your dance career and acting? Do you want to talk about those experiences? How have they influenced where you’re at right now? I think the beauty of doing dance for me has helped me enrich my practice in filmmaking. My art teacher, Steve Lovett, whose a proud gay man taught me that. I remember my first year at MIT, I separated the two practices, dance (hobby on the side) and I was just picking up film (at the time, it was called moving image). I remember always coming out late because at the time, our dance crew (which was one of the most dominant dance crews within New Zealand), we were touring around New Zealand doing gigs. He said to me ‘Samson, wouldn’t it be a no brainer if you merged the two together and made it about your practice?’ and I said ‘nah, I wanna separate the two’. He just said ‘merge it, merge it. That will be your artwork’. I had to think about it because I never liked it at the time and when I think about it now, it makes sense especially with the work I am doing now and the work that I have done too. Classic example is the dance music video. I was never a dance choreographer. But, I knew how to dance off the back of my hand. I combined that with my knowledge of film. The way I shoot my films, I can pick up dance really fast then a normal filmmaker. I just know the counts off the top of my head. I remember working with Parris early on in my career, we got each other straight away and I knew we were very similar.
The way I move the camera, I move it like a dance. I go in different angles to compliment the experience in what the viewer would see. So, that’s the way I shoot them. In a way, dancing for me enriched my practice and acting for me helped me. I love acting so much. I love acting more than anything, that was my first passion. That to me only heightened my love for directing because I want my actors to be at that place they need to be. I want my actors to be as free as a bird. Those two things helped me with my ability and skill set and directing. There's a quote that I live by and I say it to myself like a mantra. It's from an old Japanese Samurai whose name is Miyamoto Musashi which quotes ‘every art form enriches the other’. To me, that represents no matter what art form you learn in whatever practice, when you combine all of it, it creates this new element of what your style is. So in a way, that’s what I think my style would be. Sorry, I’m getting too into it. No, I love that. I’m learning so much too. If you weren’t filmmaking, what do you think you’d be doing instead? It’s a hard one. Did you have any other ambition growing up?
I’ve contemplated that a lot. I don’t know, I think I would be an actor maybe. I think I’d still be involved in the arts somehow. Or, I’d be a boxer. Yeah, those are the two things I think I would be doing. Yeah, I don’t really know. I can’t think of anything else. I think I’d be point painting mountains. That’s what I did back in Tangaroa College. I was sh*t at every subject. But it was Art and Drama that took me out of the neighbourhood. I couldn’t read. Now, I’m doing all that in my 20’s. I think it’s really funny that it took something like filmmaking to flip everything for me to learn now. What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?
Focus on screenwriting. If you have a natural ability to do acting, do that as well. Balance is key. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Just focus on the craft. Focus on your script and don’t be shy to tell your story. Study the greats and be greater. That’s it. I don’t know. Repetition everyday. Focus on mastering your ability to understand, write and read screenplays. There’s nothing else you can’t learn if you don’t know how to write a screenplay and understand the story. Be fearless!
Photo by Caryline Boreham - Onset for 'My Friend Michael Jones' with alongside co-Director Ian Laeupepe and Cinematographer Ian MacCarroll
Have you submitted to the Pasifika Film Festival before? Have any of your shorts played in that? No, I haven’t. No, not yet. Do you know much about the Pasifika Film Festival? Just recently. What I can tell you about the festival. We’ve only existed since 2013. So it was founded by Kalolaine Fainu which is now co-directed by her and Eliorah Malifa. It’s a festival that used to run yearly and it’s bi-annual now. So the last festival was in 2018 and it’s a festival that travels. It starts here in Sydney, moves interstate, travels around New Zealand and to other islands of the Pacific. In the past it has gone to Hawaii and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you were ever to submit a film and it got a yes (which it most likely will), it’ll screen in all or most of those spaces. Why do you think it is important to have this space for Pasifika Filmmaking? I think it’s important because it’s run by us and that to me is a win. When we get a chance to tell our stories to people that’s running a program specifically for us, we get to showcase how different we are with the program. At our very nature and who we are as Pacific people I know that this is what we do. We are very loving people and we like to show in our own style our love through our stories. We’re extroverted people, so the way we show our films will be unique to us. I know we have our own style of how we run our own programs. I can only imagine what it’ll be like when I do get the chance to submit and how crazy it will be. I think it will be quite unique. Is there anything you’re currently working on that you’d like to share about? Or anything you’ve done recently that we haven’t talked about? Yeah, I’m working on a new short film at the moment. I’m in the writing process and I’m really enjoying the process of what I’m cooking up between myself and my other co-writer. I think it’ll be quite different to what I made previously. I’m really excited about it. I love it. It’s been getting me out of bed earlier and earlier each day. When those things start to happen, I want to speed up my sleep to get to the writing.
When you get to the place as a writer when the characters start talking to you in your head, you struggle to write and type as fast as they talk to you. That to me is a great sign of story progress. Then when you’re at a place where you feel like you have to destroy or kill your darlings, it’s about what’s not happening. Yeah, I’m just excited about that part.
What can you tell us about that project? Can you tell us any themes? Do you have any plans for it specifically? It’s still really early. The current theme that I am exploring is hope. It’s crazy because we’re at a time where we have to be real hopeful and it’s an idea that my team and I have been trying to work on for about 2 years. It’s taken so long to get here. But, I feel like it’s the characters that are speaking to me. I’m very intuitive as a filmmaker.
Just a question, Gabe, and asking you as a writer. But do you have dreams about your characters?
I do. And if I wake up from that, I have to write about it right away. I always have something by me so when I wake up, I’ll write about it and go to sleep straight away. I found that one time I had a dream, a character did that for me. I woke up and just went back to bed. Which I regret doing. I don’t remember specific details of that. They speak to me everywhere, just in random places. I can envision them, so it’s crazy when they appear as real-life people around me.
That’s so cool, I feel like I’m at that place which is why my head is all over the place. So when I present my ideas to my team, they can’t decipher it. I’m just excited because all the characters are just taking turns and speaking to me in unexpected ways.
Photo by Caryline Boreham - Onset Directing Villa Junior Lemanu for 'MFMJ' short film ‘My friend Michael Jones’, where did that story stem from? It started off as a nugget of an idea off an old script my producer Eldon had. He just had an idea of a kid who was a dancer and had OCD. He just presented it to us (Ian and I) and said ‘I think you guys would be perfect for this’. He knew I had a dancing background and asked what I’d be able to do with that idea. So, Ian and I went away and we started to project a lot of ourselves into the characters. A bit of my family upbringing to Ian’s experience in High School. It was a mixture of all of that. I remember writing it, just to make the characters become real to us, I remember saying to Ian in the writing session that the characters needed to be where we were from stating ‘I feel like at this point, it needs to be as relatable as possible.’
It spoke on many different levels when my family and friends watched it at the Film Festival and they were able to relate it to someone who those characters would’ve been like in some ways. So, I remember being in my old high school, it was one of the best experiences to shoot ‘My Friend Michael Jones’ at my old high school. Beulah (Koale) is another example because he was like our high school All Black, not that he became one, but because the work he’s gone off to do has made our school proud at the same level. I remember in our school foyer, there were no rugby trophies. Tangaroa College wasn’t the first option or choice if you wanted a career. You either had to go somewhere else and get represented there. For him and I, we would talk about this in our zoom chats talking about being the best example for these kids looking at us.
Anyway, I remember going there with my team of 40 cast members, one of my old teachers Miss Lauese approached me saying “Sam, do you want to come and talk to my class?”. I remember pausing production and telling everyone that I would return afterwards. She told me to give an inspirational talk and asked how I made it. I told her and her class that I haven’t made it, that I was still climbing. There was a guy at the back of the classroom who was still asleep and I pointed out to him saying “Hey, I was just like you, you need to figure out what you wanna do, you can make it”. He sat up immediately and to me, to inspire those kids who were saying ‘Sam’s the man’ it was weird for me to see kids in my high school like that. That was really cool. And a moment I won’t ever forget. Where can people see your work? I plan to make a website, it's in the cards for me. I think people would just find my work on instagram. That’s where a lot of my DMs come from. Instagram, youtube and festivals if you’re looking for ‘My friend Michael Jones’. I aim to have a proper youtube channel and a website. I’m learning that I need to stop being incognito, show my face to my online audience and engage with them. It’s usually not a priority for me. But, I know it’s important because you have to sell yourself in a way. Do you not respond to people online? Comments and stuff? Not really, I don’t sit well with it. I have a harness mindset of my work and how it’s supposed to be because I’ve put it out to the world. I’m still trying to work on that.
I feel you. I’m exactly the same.
Okay, you know the very first time you watched a film of yours, were you in the audience with them? Yeah I was. What was going through your mind while that was happening? Try and think about the very first time that happened. Because, you’re watching it with all these people watching too. So, what was happening in your mind while that was happening?
The Samson Jones Vaotuua side of me was coming through. I have to be humble. I felt uncomfortable about that. I don’t like praise. However, that other side of me knew that this is what I am meant to do - make films. When I am at a Film Festival, I put on my Samson Rambo hat and I love every minute of it. No one sees what I could’ve done better because I am so obsessed about what I could’ve done better whether it may be something technical or a tea cup that shouldn’t have been in shot. To be honest, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m just trying to be present when watching my films and detach myself and how I feel. That’s what I’ve noticed now.
Photo by Caryline Boreham - Onset for 'My Friend Michael Jones'
What’s your greatest fear? What’s your biggest motivation? To make things easier, I’ll tell you mine. So my greatest motivation is my parents. However, my greatest fear is that they’ll never see me at my greatest potential. They both go hand in hand with one another. So, what’s yours? I’m with you on that. My greatest motivation for me is my grandmother. She was the only one that believed in me. Unfortunately, she passed away before my filmmaking journey. But I made a promise to her that one day I’m gonna win an Oscar and will mention her name. She believed me. I told her that I will. Not that I was doing it for her. But, because I was gonna get it. My greatest fear is that I won’t be living up to my full potential, the same as you. That and time. Time is very important. Time is very expensive. You can get money and all that. But you can’t get time back.
What advice can you give to our Pasifika community? I always say in private and small circles because they’ll ask me the same question. I always say, to never pigeon yourself in one craft. If you wanna be an actor, then be an actor. If you wanna be a comedian, then be a comedian. If you wanna do music, then do music. I feel we’re blessed with so much talent. But, we sell ourselves short to our own abilities. We can do a lot but people just don’t want to. We are the protagonists and antagonists ourselves. We stop ourselves, it’s the inner voices that we listen to. We don’t realise that we can harness those voices and use that negative energy to show ourselves that we can do it.
We’re in a new wave with Pacific Artists and Filmmakers, we’re trying to simultaneously do everything in our art and learn more about that. At the same time, we’re trying to unlearn everything from growing up. All this trauma, it’s what we struggled with. If we use our trauma and usher that into our work, our work will be so rich with our stories because no one can tell our stories as good as us. We’ve lived through them, it's a real experience. Those are some stories I know I wanna tell. I’ve done some crazy as sh*t in Otara. Some of them I have to put away for more mature purposes.
I feel we’re in a really good time to tell our stories. I’m really optimistic about it. I remember telling my Producers who are palagi and they’re realists. But, I have an optimistic view on how I see it because that’s the only imagery I can project on whatever the experience they have saying “Nah, it’s gonna work. It has to”. It goes back to my experience when I applied for funding last year and I was up against some big names. My producer told me the news that we didn’t get the funding which didn’t phase me and shocked him by asking why. I said “in the craft of filmmaking, you hit your peak when you’re 40, why should I be bummed? I’m happy for them”. I also wanna let our Pacific people know that there’s enough room for everyone to shine at the top. There’s a stigma with the tall poppy syndrome which we can relate to in our culture with aspects of ‘loto leaga’ and all that. I don’t think about that. I try and project my good energy and focus on what I can do. Everyone has their own time. Do you have any last words?
I have 2 responses. One is my alter ego and one is me. You decide who is responding:
One. The only thing I know for myself and my journey, I’m so laser focused on what I need to do to get my film done. I have a lot of friends who are so fixated on how people see them. I’m the total opposite. Everyone should be concerned about themselves. When you start to realise that, you’re gonna produce your best work and that was based on focussing on yourself purely. That’s just a perception I feel social media does to a lot of people. That’s why I just share my work and go back under my rock and back to my work.
Two. Make it happen! Just make it happen! We waste a lot of time trying to source our knowledge and read all these books when I feel like we’re going more outwards and away from our purpose of telling our stories than just actually doing it. That’s what I notice as I get older. However, when you just write for 30 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and then back to writing for 30 minutes, that’s the recipe right there. That’s what Stallone and Jerry said. But it’s hard. It’s easy to think about it and do it. However if you don’t apply what you know, sit your butt on the chair and make it happen, you’re just gonna be walking around with this idea. Then someone will take that idea and make a film out of it and you’ll be like “this guy just took my idea”. Just make it happen! Then once you make it happen, make another thing happen. That’s what I feel we should do.