INTERVIEW: Film Critic and Festival Director Kevin Sampson
Created in 2013 by Film Critic, Film Festival Director and Film Publicist, Kevin Sampson, Picture Lock is a leading force in discovering fresh voices in cinematic storytelling. From analyzing Hollywood films to reviewing and highlighting the work of independent filmmakers, Picture Lock is a hub for honest film critique for the indie filmmaker, mainstream film and tv lover, and film and TV enthusiast alike.
Today Kevin and I talk about indie filmmaking strategies and the importance of PR & Marketing for filmmakers. In his online course, PR For The Indie Filmmaker Kevin teaches indie filmmakers how to give their film a leg up on the competition from the perspective of a film critic.
We also talk about the long road to becoming a film critic - there is a lot of hustle involved in this biz, but also the value of the films we love and share with our audiences.
Watch the interview here:
*This transcript has been edited and condensed for length.
AD: The Picture Lock show is for movie reviews, industry news, you do filmmaker interviews and all that kind of good stuff. You are on radio in the DC area and you turn the show into a podcast. Tell me how did you get started? How did you get this show on the road?
KS: 2011 I graduated from American University in Washington DC and I got a MFA in film and electronic media, then from there I discovered while in film school that I really enjoyed film criticism. I had a class that was ‘film theory and criticism.’ I remember we watched some old films and being amazed. From there, that sparked my interest in doing film criticism and Picture Lock started as a blog where I was doing movie reviews and it was funny because in the early days I wasn’t on any press list in DC. I was hustling.
At the same time after graduating I went and started working at a public access station in Arlington Virginia and as part of that I asked the staff ‘hey do you guys have a film review show,’ they said they had one years ago but there’s no film review show going on now. So I was like, ‘cool, I’d love to interview people, guests, talk about movie reviews.’
It started on tv there and even back then I would strip the tv show and put it out to podcast. Just take the audio. From there, things have just grown over time. Eventually, I did become a member of the DC area film critics association and other film critic bodies. Then I wasn’t having to wait in line for hours. You know the grind.
AD: That’s when you know you’ve made it, when you don’t have to pay for your own screenings! Little bit by little bit.
KS: Exactly. Since then it’s grown to where it’s no longer a tv show but it’s a radio show - it airs on Fridays at 3:30PM EST and then has a re-air on Mondays 11:00PM on WERA 96.7FM so it’s really become a great opportunity to be able to talk about what I love which is movies. Then also what I try to do is highlight independent filmmakers because as an indie filmmaker myself I feel like that’s where the best stories are told.
At the end of the day during Oscar season, we’re not going to (well now maybe) have the opportunity to see Marvel films. For the most part it’s the independent films, those small stories that we are attracted to because film really is a mirror to our lives. So it’s really exciting to be able to do that and also I really try to highlight female filmmakers as well. So we have a little partnership with ‘Film Fetale,’ so I make sure to have them come on so their voice is represented.
AD: I love that, that’s really awesome. It’s a long game isn’t it to becoming a film critic and building that yourself because it’s not a line of work that is just a job application that you can apply to. You really have to carve it out yourself so i think that’s really cool that you were able to pitch to where you were working at the time - ‘you don’t have a show, I’d love to do that.’ It’s that hustle, you’ve really got to make something out of nothing if you want it.
KS: It really is. I know that you know the hard hours of schlepping as you do with setting up the camera and then you have to edit and then put it out there. All of that takes time that nobody sees. For some reason obviously we love this. I think at the same time it’s important to allow people to better understand some of the films that they’re watching. Critics look in depth into the arc behind it and I think that’s really important. One of the things I love is talking to an indie filmmaker and then talking on that geek-out level.
AD: Yes! That mutual cinema love is what it’s all about. I think it’s also really important to spotlight indie filmmakers because they don’t have that marketing where people can find out about their films. The films can be genuinely really good but if people don’t hear about it… it relies so heavily on that word of mouth. It’s so important.
KS: Also that’s a cool place where we as film critics get to step in and say ‘hey, have you checked out “x” film, it’s amazing’ and the folks that follow us and believe it our voice check it out and they’re able to be enriched. So it is a cool job.
AD: What are your favourite go to movies. You’re a cinelover, a filmmaker yourself what are your big influential movies from your life.
KS: You can’t really ask a film critic ‘what’s your favourite film,’ that’s such a hard question but I typically find myself drawn to dramas, definitely suspense thrillers but my all time favourite movie is probably It’s a Wonderful Life. I told somebody this recently, if I had to sit my kids down and say, ‘watch this movie, this is what life is all about.’ It would be It’s a Wonderful Life because I think life can be tough sometimes, sometimes you have a dream or you have this vision of where you want to go and maybe you don’t get there, maybe you do. But what are you doing along the way. The way that film is put together, I love it. The story behind it is my mom used to watch it every single Christmas growing up. At the time I didn’t realise it was actually a really good movie.
AD: It was just something always on every Christmas?
KS: Every Christmas my mom has to watch this thing so I was memorising lines and all this stuff but as I got older I was like, wow this is amazing. So that’s probably one of my all time favourites.
AD: That’s a good one.
AD: I want to talk to you about your online course, you have a course about PR and Marketing for Indie Filmmakers. Can you talk me through a little bit more of that?
KS: What’s cool about being a filmmaker and then going to film school and going onto being a film critic is it opens you up to the whole machine. I understand what it takes to make a film but then I also understand film criticism and how that circuit works. So after receiving tonnes of emails from publicist and it’s like, if indie filmmakers would have the opportunity to know how to market their film and engage the public. Then hopefully they’ll be able to get their films out there a little bit more. What I’ve found with doing interviews with certain indie filmmakers, they don’t really think beyond ‘that’s a wrap’ and start thinking about the festival circuit, distribution and having an actual strategy and plan of attack to getting their film out there.
In terms of the story telling, I really do believe in indie filmmaking and the small stories. This is one of the ways I wanted to give back. I have the online course, then the book is going to be dropping in March.
AD: Indie filmmakers they need to be their own team. One you finish the film you think ‘ok the hard work is over, i’ve got my film in the can.’ No no no, wait, now you have to market it and get it out there for the world to see. Otherwise no one’s going to know about it.
AD: I’ve got one more question I’d love to wrap things up with. If you could have dinner with one fictional character who is alive or they might have died onscreen, who would you like to have dinner with?
KS: What kind of a question is that?!
AD: I know, it’s so open ended
KS: This is not fair Adelle.
AD: You were answering so eloquently I just had to throw a spanner in the works and catch you off guard
KS: Honestly the first thing that came to mind is - Thanos.
AD: Amazing Marvel villain. I think the best that we’ve seen onscreen
KS: Exactly, just like they did with Killmonger (Black Panther) you can understand where he is coming from.
AD: Even though it’s completely radical, completely extremist and it’s incorrect! You can still understand the logic behind it.
KS: I also think, he even knows it’s not 100% correct but it’s what he has to do.
AD: Are you excited to see Avengers: Endgame this year?
KS: I’m so excited. As we’re recording this, I was literally just finishing up my Captain Marvel
AD: Oh! I haven’t seen it yet, don’t say anything.
KS: I’m really excited about Endgame.
AD: The hype is real. They have been keeping us so tightly wound on this one. This is also what’s most fun about Marvel, I know the fan boys can get agitated and there’s a lot of hate thrown around, but what’s really fun is the fan theories. I love delving into those fan theories. “oh there was this little thing in the background and it could mean all of this” just going on those wild tangents. It’s kind of cool.
KS: The fan boy stuff is really fun
AD: I think it’s good fun as long as it’s not taken too literally and sometimes take it too far… you know what I mean. It’s all good fun.
Alright, excellent thank you so much Kevin for joining me. This has been such a great chat. I’ve enjoyed talking about the passion and the movie love, because you are definitely one of those film critics who is all about the movie love.
KS: It’s always a pleasure to talk with you and I love following you and all your work. Thanks.