Featured Artist: Sam Cook

A look into student filmmaker Sam Cook’s life and work.

Photos by Ryan Gwyn and courtesy of Sam Cook

Three a.m., in front of a glowing computer screen surrounded by towering speakers, the junior sits writing a script that will most likely never leave his bedroom. This is a glimpse into the life of student film-maker Sam Cook.

Cook began making videos with friends in elementary school, and since has produced two films with James Franco, in addition to countless films he has produced independently. Only a junior, Cook has a resume that someone twice his age would envy. His film “Nadir” co-directed with Sebastian Chapela, was selected for the All American High School Film Festival in New York City. The film premiered at AMC Times Square. “Nadir,” tells the story of a young boy and his struggle with substance-abuse.“Warped,” another film of his, has been recognized with a Scholastic Key Award. Cook wrote, directed, shot and edited both of these films. “I would have flown out for ‘Nadir,’ but I care about my films way more than I care about awards,” Cook said. “I’m not trying to win anything or get famous. I’m just doing what I’m passionate about.”

Cook first picked up a camera in elementary school when he and a group of friends made a film to promote his school’s core values as a class assignment. He then transitioned to making YouTube videos in middle school, amassing a following of a couple hundred. At one point, Cook was producing up to three videos a month and getting paid promotions from Maker Studios, a studio that would be a future partner in a film he produced with James Franco.

However, there came a point where the YouTube content he was creating no longer felt genuine. “I found that I was no longer connecting with my audience and [YouTube] just didn’t feel as fun anymore,” Cook said.

A new era of his film career began when he was selected as one of two freshman to participate in a film class taught by James and Betsy Franco. Their mission was to make a full length feature film from scratch.

Photos by Ryan Gwyn and courtesy of Sam Cook

The first step was adapting Betsy’s book, “Metamorphosis: Junior Year” into a screenplay. After the writing was done, each student selected a role in the production for themselves. “I chose to direct, because even though I was one of the youngest there I just wanted to do it, because I felt that I was qualified,” Cook said. “I wanted to push myself.”

His peers and mentors helped Cook to realize his full potential in film making. Working in a professional environment, using high-grade equipment and making connections with industry professionals made Cook aware of his promising future in the film industry. “It was a lot of young people [that I worked with], but they actually work in the industry professionally.” Cook said. “I could ask them anything I wanted to, and they would give me real answers. I really got to see how I could eventually fit into this professional world.”

The final film, “Metamorphosis: Junior Year” premiered at the Cinequest Theater in Redwood City and was showed at the Mill Valley film festival, which showcased hundreds of films over the span of ten days.

In his sophomore year, Cook was eager to participate in the class once again, this time as a student mentor. “I was showing the new kids the ropes, and it was a totally new experience,” Cook said.

The project was set to be a feature length film with a several hundred thousand dollar budget, until their major investor pulled out. “When [the investor] pulled out of it, all of a sudden it went from this huge [film] to a short film with almost zero budget,” Cook said.

After the initial disappointment dissapated, Cook was ultimately pleased with the experience. “It turned out to be way more hands on than the year before, and since so many students dropped the class we all got to do way more,” Cook said.

Photos by Ryan Gwyn and courtesy of Sam Cook

In Cook’s free time, he writes, films and edits his own movies. “Most of my scripts I don’t even bother making,” Cook said. “I will write them and the next day look back and just hate everything. If something makes it through that [process], it’s something really special to me and something I’m passionate about. It’s so much easier to make a film that you’re passionate about.”

Photos by Ryan Gwyn and courtesy of Sam Cook

His process is simple: once he develops a script, Cook will begin production. Using actors from Paly and often working with co-directors, Cook  films and eventually edits his projects. “I like to work with others but I can’t work with just anyone,” Cook said. “I need someone who I can bounce ideas off of and get genuine feedback from.”

Cook is the definition of a perfectionist. “Whoever said ‘films are not made, they’re stolen,’ had it exactly right,” Cook said. “I’m never done, there’s always something I want to fix or work on, but there are deadlines and time constraints, so at some point I have to stop,” Cook said.

For the future, Cook is looking forward to continuing to participate in the Francos’ class– if it continues. He has ambitions to study film at Dodge College of Film at Chapman University, which he has already toured and visited many times. Although he is young  Cook knows he wants to influence  the film industry. “I want to leave my mark on the industry and to show kids that all it takes is some passion and ambition,” Cook says.  As to how, Cook said: “I guess we’re gonna see.”