UCSB boasts many well-known alumni who also happen to be Hollywood heavyweights, including Michael Douglas, Don Hertzfeldt, Doug Bresler, Tara Miele, Brad Silberling and even Jack Johnson. Now, Scott Sampila and Brandon Beckner are joining the ranks of their fellow filmmakers who once called UCSB home. Sampila and Beckner co-wrote the new film, “Remarkable Power,” which is slated to screen at the upcoming Santa Barbara International Film Festival. With Sampila producing and Beckner directing, the film is proof that the people you meet in film class may well become your creative colleagues out in the real world one day. With the film festival right around the corner, Artsweek sat down with the former Gaucho filmmakers for a chat.
Artsweek: So you guys have known each other for while now, but how did you get involved in this project together?
Sampila: We met in one of our classes at UCSB, we got hooked up through some friends and have been writing together ever since. Our first film, “Fall and Spring,” was made in the mid ’90s and was a completely low-budget film, Brandon did the soundtrack and the whole cast was SB students. With this film, “Remarkable Power,” it has been quite an odyssey.
Beckner: The first draft was done in 2001 and then we made a short film based on it. Then we tried to get like three or four other directors on the project, but none of them worked out, so we took some time off and wrote like six other scripts and sold a TV pilot to FOX. We went back to the film – it was first titled “LA Dogs” – and wanted to just hire some local L.A. actors until Tom Arnold got his hands on it. By then, the script was passed around and people stared getting excited.
Now with your film “Remarkable Power” you guys have a great cast. How did people like Kevin Nealon, Tom Arnold and Kip Pardue get involved in this project?
Sampila: We met with our casting director Shannon Makhanian, who has a lot of indie experience like in Sundance and in the film “Brick.” We wanted to just get a couple of big names, and she threw out the idea to not just go for one or two names and go for seven or eight. Many characters circulate through this tale, so the script got sent around, and in the end, everyone in the cast did a great job.
Beckner: When we met with Kip Pardue, he asked us, “What the hell is wrong with you guys?” He thought the script was wild and was quite different than the scripts he has read in the past.
So, with “Remarkable Power,” what were you trying to convey to your audience through the film? What do you want your audience to walk away with?
Beckner: To walk out with a smile and that’s all I’m looking for. When we first wrote the script, we were more into the intention to have a scheme, but it takes away from the film [and] its comedy, and [the audience] is supposed to enjoy themselves. We are not trying to change the world; we want people to enjoy this fun, complicated and compelling film.
Sampila: I hope that people will go in and laugh; it’s supposed to be funny. Now filmmakers get into these serious, important, story-driven films, so we decided to take the opposite attack.
Now, you guys are both UCSB alums. Were you both film studies majors? Do you feel that taking film classes here at UCSB helped you in the long run?
Sampila: No, I was a sociology and pre-law major.
Beckner: Yes, I was a film studies major. I was one of the guys who was into Spielberg, “Back to the Future” and fun movies like that. In those classes, it was all about black and white; I thought the whole idea wasn’t me and what I wanted to do as a filmmaker. That’s what sent me into the musicals, and by the time I got back to film, I did the soundtrack for “Fall and Spring.” I never really had the USC-type film school experience, but I learned some great storytelling techniques. Back then, old films made me want to go fall asleep, but now I’m glad I was exposed to that because now I can appreciate it. Being in film school might have catapulted me into the industry right out of college, but this way we did this on our own. It was more of us saying we are going to make our own future. Maybe that’s why it took us a little longer, because we said we were going to do it on our own and we did.
What advice could you give to future filmmakers for a getting a project off the ground or even advice to college kids in general in about following their dreams?
Sampila: One word: “perseverance.” We had to chase this film. This isn’t going to be true for everyone, but it’s taken over 10 years to produce this feature, and it can be a struggle to stick with it. A lot of people who come to this get down and give up. You always question yourself, but believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing. It’s cool to see old films you never heard of and gain appreciation for them more as you get old. Stick to this path – it’s good for your own knowledge. Follow your own path. Don’t worry about what you want to do; enjoy yourself in school and come down to L.A. and get a job and an agent and get production-side, then gravitate to what you’re good at.
Beckner: The most I have learned and the closest I have gotten to realizing my potential in filmmaking is through writing. Live the film while you’re writing it. I wish I had taken a screenwriting class. For a long time, I just thought I couldn’t write, but then Scott and I sat and just wrote together and it just happened. It’s the pursuit of writing. In filmmaking, there has to be a little something wrong with you, in a good way.
Okay, even though it’s kind of cheesy, what is your favorite film of all time?
Beckner: Okay, on three, right?
Beckner and Sampila: One, two, three, “Goodfellas.”
Beckner: “Goodfellas” is just one of the most perfect films ever made, such great filmmaking.
Sampila: It’s one of those films that every filmmaker will say is just perfect, no matter the film genre, from comedy to horror.
So now that the film is out there in the public, what’s up next for you guys?
Sampila: Well, we are about to embark on an interesting year. The film will first be playing in the SB film festival and then we will probably travel the festivals and go around to different spots in the country and try to get a distribution deal. We have a high pile of other scripts, and we are always working on other scripts. But for right now we’re just focusing on getting it out there and seeing what happens. We are pretty pumped to see what happens. For now we just want people to come see our movie. It’s playing three times at the film festival, and the premiere is Saturday, Jan 26. We would love to have some UCSB students come and check it out.