Sara Newton – Filmmaker
I met Sara when I hired her for a catering job during a time when I needed servers for my bartending company. I put an ad out on Craigslist and got several responses. Sara replied with a link to her YouTube channel. I watched a couple of her videos and laughed out loud. She had obviously set up a camera and shot them herself. She has a self-deprecating humor that is very compelling. I noticed her talent and hired her for the catering job. She has worked for me a couple of times and was one of the best workers I’ve ever had. I’m sure I can’t afford her now, because she is too busy making films, and that is the way it should be.
What did you study in college and what brought you to LA?
SARA: Like most everyone, I went through a bad break up and was left with nothing to lose. I was still ‘young’ enough for one more reinvention. “Go for the gold”, I said. Be a director or scientist. I went to school for politics and was doing my MA in the Middle East, so naturally I chose Hollywood. I could not afford more student loans. I had to try and learn it on my own, even if it took years. I came to LA because it’s the lion’s den. The best of the best. I sold everything I owned, burned a few items, and literally took off. I did watch “Escape from LA” the day before, drunk, so that may have had something to do with it.
Did you ever attend film school or have any formal training in filmmaking?
SARA: I did not. Frankly I rarely admit that so as not to alarm the army I am trying to build. It’s still an industry where you can learn it yourself. I landed in LA with the knowledge I got from blogs (this one included) and YouTube tutorials. Started interning, unpaid, with a pretty shady “producer” from a Mandy.com ad. I knew it was shady, but I also figured I’d meet others like me who could teach me stuff. And I did. The two guys I still produce with now, and attribute everything to, I met there as we “interned” cleaning rats from a basement in the Hills. I think we also installed a sprinkler system. The people you enter this crazy island with are the ones you usually rise with. Find a crew. Even if it’s not ideal at first. Start creating and lean on each other. The greatest human I know, I met at a screenwriter’s mixer.
What kind of adversity have you experienced since moving to LA, such as financial problems, car problems, roommates, etc.?
SARA: Oh man. I keep telling myself, if this were easy, everyone would do it. This city ate me alive a few times, but no great story lacks dramatic events. I shared a 1 bedroom with a family who plotted my death. I went through 2 cars and 13 breakdowns on every major freeway. Job losses to cursed nepotism. A grand in parking tickets. Nearly drowned in the LA river literally…catering jobs (long pause). But remember, we’re here for selfish goals of art; not saving lives. I was still the happiest human alive, though often starving. It’ll happen again too; and I’ll still love every minute because it shows I’m getting closer to making it; the tales of the giants before me had the same stories. I even lived in my car for a stint. I was lucky to meet great friends who helped me, and some distant family members who saved my life a few times. There’s no stability in this industry so you can’t take it personally and you have to accept it. You don’t have to be here, I chose this struggle. I could of gone home anytime. I have never lived anywhere, and I have lived all over the world, that changes so quickly. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. And I love it.
When do you think you reached a turning point and things really started to click?
SARA: I was so proud the day I said “It’s in the F-ing Valley!”; I became one with the city. I would say things clicked about 6 months in. It’s a beautiful beast of a place that requires patience and time. Professionally, I put a lot of eggs in a lot of baskets. I took any job in the industry I could, and I said yes to every project. I burned myself into the ground shooting and learning. But I didn’t have film school or connections so that was the smartest move for me. I created 10 small short-based sketches under a label I co-created for a web series that “failed” but it lead me to Nightpantz. I was able to show I could produce something from nothing.
Remember, who would pay anyone for anything without some samples of their work? When I created my first short on my own, I knew it was my turning point – a light, if you will, to my tunnel. Doing this interview is also a good sign it’s clicking into place.
I applied to every Craigslist ad, and the likes, for filming gigs. And for free! I got one response; Nightpantz had me join their writer’s room meetings. And I never left. Since then we’ve created over 30 cinematic sketches, a few shorts, and are blowing up in the LA sketch scene. Now we’re making the front page of Funny or Die. I got it figured out, kinda sorta.
What projects are you working on now?
SARA: Nightpantz is a freight train of lions right now; we’re currently doing a kickstarter campaign while we’re hot. We are launching our first large scale comedic short that I directed called “Let’s Build a Ramp“. Its a strange one… either insane or it’s genius; stay tuned. We are 200 strong in members and anyone can join us – it’s a collective. We have a website now, so I think that means something. I am drowning in post production but I think life could be worse. I am also launching a web series and shooting a dramatic short. Never stop shooting; I shoot every weekend. I’m currently the Field Coordinator for a TV show called “Love and Hip Hop Hollywood” on Vh1 as my day job.
Do you have any advice to give to people considering coming here? (besides don’t come!)?
SARA: This island is penetrable, I promise. The “industry” is intimidating but it’s just an illusion. Tell yourself you belong here, get up, and create from nothing. If you say it can’t be done unless you have the money, then adapt it. Don’t take the 405. Find others like you and latch on for dear life. It is ok to drive after 5pm on a Friday though you will hear stories. If you have a bit of money get a reliable car if you can, but you can survive without one. If you want to write, find a writer’s room. If you want to do stand up, find the mics. It is 100% what they say – it’s connections that are key. At least it is from my perspective. Lastly, as soon as it’s not fun anymore – get away for a minute because you really will not see that this city, though amazing, can wear you down. Only when you step away for a weekend do you realize where that angst is coming from. Just step away.