Filmmaker. Workflow Architect. Founder. Entrepreneur. And now, investor. The nomenclature is less important. The bottom line is that Sam Mestman, CEO of We Make Movies, has made it his mission to make an impression on the filmmaking world by bolstering storytellers, instituting an affordable and quality driven process around content creation, and ultimately shattering the myth of the false dichotomy between business and creativity. He has worn many hats throughout his career, but no matter the hat, Mestman is in the business of helping people.
His personal journey begins with a colossal heartbreak over his first feature film out of NYU film school, in which the issues had nothing to do with the film itself, but a system that was set up for failure. WMM was born out of this deep frustration, while he continued to work in the industry at large as an editor and colorist. In the process, the first iteration of his former company LumaForge (which has subsequently been sold to OWC) was formed, as he saw a need for better workflow management and sharing. Simultaneously, he co-founded FCP Works, an Apple Pro video community that focuses on integrations and education of the FCP ecosystem.
Mestman has been a thought and tech leader at NAB and IBC for over seven years, a position that influenced the inception of WMM's Smartphone Studio. The pandemic necessitated the pivot from local community based outreach to a proper startup, and thus shifted WMM into being a production, branded content, and community oriented business. That leads us to today, when We Make Movies is combining all the divisions of what we do and developing a healthy new pipeline for filmmakers to develop their films while acquiring film financing.
WMM: How has your personal and professional journey as an artist, and specifically a filmmaker, influenced the development and direction of WMM throughout the years?
SB: I think the biggest thing is that I began all of this as an angry young filmmaker with a chip on his shoulder who felt the world owed him something. We Make Movies began after I landed in LA right as the financial crisis hit, the independent film scene imploded, and the independent feature that we had spent the last two years working on, How I Got Lost, that was supposed to put us on the map and get me to the point where I would be able to direct my first movie, got completely lost in the undertow of the crisis and the dark underworld of the film distribution game. We had done everything the right way and the way people had told us to do it… we had followed the rules, done the festival circuit, played all the games, and had still managed to be a cliché. We had lost all of our money for our investors, and I had just taken a giant belly flop into an empty pool, and was broke, deep in debt with minimal prospects… and We Make Movies was a Hail Mary pass to keep things going… not a plan.
Anyway, the experience with the appropriately titled How I Got Lost cemented in me that the system was not going to work for me. I was going to have to get out of the traditional box, and find a different path. It also left me with zero margin for error, so everything for me became about efficiency and accountability, whether that was with money, on set workflow, post production workflow, marketing, or distribution. When you have no resources, you are forced to become resourceful, and We Make Movies became my lab, my community, and the place where I began to work things out and take them into the outside world. It turns out this scientific approach to filmmaking isn’t much different than what they do in Silicon Valley and with software development. You take a concept, you test it out, you try it out on an audience, you see if they like it, and you tweak it and iterate it until you have a product… so really what We Make Movies has taught me from the very beginning was how to be an entrepreneur and how to build and test products. It also has taught me how to be accountable for my decisions, to look inside for where the problems are, and not to look around and point fingers and try and throw everyone else under the bus when things don’t work out the way I wanted them to. It was the beginning of my entrepreneur school that has taken some pretty unexpected turns over the last few years, and is now with this competition finally back to where I started in the first place, which is figuring out how to build a sustainable model of filmmaking that works for both filmmakers and investors. We have built the prototype very quietly over the last 10+ years. Now it is time for us to launch it.
If there is one thing I hope to do with this competition, it is to shatter the myth that creative people and investors are somehow in opposition. That creative people/artists/filmmakers have to be impractical divas with no concept of how money works, and that investors have to be hardened bean counters who only want to exploit creatives and destroy their dreams. These are the biggest lies we tell ourselves in the film business, on both sides. Having been on both sides of this now, on the creative side as a filmmaker, and as a person who built and sold a tech company with LumaForge, and now as the CEO of We Make Movies, and an investor in this competition, my expectation is now for filmmakers to take a pragmatic, accountable approach to creating great movies, and for investors to find a safe place to invest their money into projects that will be creatively fulfilling for them. This needs to be a win-win or it won’t work… but I think it’s going to work.
WMM: What role has WMM had in shaping the indie film scene? What does our organization specifically do that draws people in and makes them want to collaborate with us? Which of these things are you most proud of creating / developing?
SM: Above all else, we listen to people and solve problems. I want We Make Movies to solve problems for filmmakers, which is why it’s often so hard to put a label on exactly what it is we do. Fundamentally, we listen to what our community is trying to do with their creative pursuits on an individual level, we meet them where they are at, and we try and make that creation process easier for them. You shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you make a movie… but unfortunately that’s what most independent filmmakers end up doing. They have to be EVERYTHING when they make a movie, and wear a lot of hats, and the first few times you make something it can feel extremely overwhelming and like you’re in a dark room filled with mousetraps. The biggest problem I want us to be able to solve is to turn a light on for independent creators, and help them navigate their way towards whatever story they want to tell with minimal pain.
Everyone who works with us does so in a different way. You might need help with developing your script, pre production, insurance, on-set workflow, post production help, or building an audience or marketing your project. You might even be a company that needs help creating content and marketing it digitally. No matter where you are in the content creation spectrum, We Make Movies can help you do it faster, better, and cheaper. Personally, I’m proud that after all of these years, I can write those last couple of sentences and know that what I just said is actually true. It’s the place I needed as an aspiring filmmaker but could never find. We really do solve problems for people and companies, and it’s satisfying to know that we can provide that service for people and help them solve problems no matter where they are in their creative journey.
WMM: How has our expansion through the Smartphone Studio and collaborations with Apple, Apogee, Filmic Pro, OWC, etc, informed your vision for WMM?
SM: Point blank, it proved to me what I always felt… which is that We Make Movies would be WAY bigger outside of Los Angeles than it would be in Los Angeles. In LA, there’s a lot of hardened talented people and a perception that if you can’t help my career and help me make money, you don’t matter. Outside of LA, people are less jaded and they just want to make cool things. The career and the money side are a bit less important, and people don’t tie their egos and self esteem to how famous they are, and whether they make a ton of money from their talents.
In going out and working with all of these communities through Smartphone Studio, an entire world has opened up for me. It has become clear we can be a part of making sure ANYONE can tell their story through video no matter who they are, where they’re from, or how much money they have. It has been humbling to be a part of building Smartphone Studio, working with the Orphaned Starfish Foundation, Chicago Summer Stories, and creating the eARTh project. It is also everything that We Make Movies is supposed to be… which is about teaching artists and content creators to be self reliant, resilient, and empowering people to take their creativity in their own hands and ask for no one’s permission to tell their stories. We’re doing it in the real world with communities all over the world now… and we’ve just made this curriculum free with SmartphoneStudio.tv. My hope is that we are going to truly play a part in creating a generation of filmmakers who find it absolutely absurd to think they need someone else’s money to go make their movie, and think it’s completely crazy that they can’t make something awesome no matter where they live and who they know. When we finally live in that world, I’ll know that we succeeded.
WMM: How do you feel WMM is aligned with the "Silicon Valley mentality" and what are you intentionally trying to create for WMM that is similar to that model?
SM: We are Sillicon Valley for Filmmakers. We are their incubator, their Y-Combinator. With the Make Your Feature Competition we are changing the rules for filmmakers. You have a great idea for a movie and a way to make it cheaply? We want to hear from you and help you make it happen. Period. Submit your movie, bring your A-game, and lets go. We want a full meritocracy with no excuses, no whining, and no gatekeepers. We want to create a place where talent can win out, where interesting movies get made, and where star power and money do NOT trump creativity, hustle, and talent. We want a meritocracy and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Not only that, though, but our goal here is to help challenge you to make you into a better filmmaker and make better movies. We want to give filmmakers a support system, and we want to give them coaching throughout the process and developmental tools to build the BEST possible story. Vision isn’t enough. You need to be able to have your ideas be challenged and withstand criticism with solid reasoning and ideas for WHY you want to do what you want to do and for why what you want to do is the best idea and actually possible to be done in the real world with the resources you have. Our goal with this is to treat filmmakers and creatives like business people who have to RUN a business, or in this case, a movie. It’s not good enough to have a great idea for a business/movie. Most businesses AND movies fail. You have to be able to execute and have a plan for how you are going to bring your business/idea/FILM to life. We want to bring a startup mentality to film. It’s an idea whose time has come and we plan on executing on that at a very high level with everyone we work with.
WMM: What is it about the MAKE YOUR FEATURE COMPETITION that excites you the most? How do you think we are revolutionizing the climate for filmmakers through this process and why do you think this is imperative to the direction and development of WMM? What are you hoping to achieve (in the larger picture) through this competition?
SM: The Make Your Feature Competition is going to put filmmakers in a position to succeed in a way that no one else has done before. Not only will we implant a tech startup mindset to this process, our goal with this is to build a true minor league talents system for films and a crowd sources sustainable way to give new, deserving a voices a chance that is done completely at a grassroots level.
More specifically, we are trying to put proper guard rails on the independent film process. Most indie films fail because it’s impossible for them to have all of the pieces in place to make something that competes with Hollywood. However, we’ve done the process work for you, and what we will do for you is give you access to Hollywood level workflows, development, services and support at indie rates. That is the true game changer. We are taking Hollywood’s approach and making it affordable to ANYONE.
In our current world, investors and creatives are at odds with each other, and neither side feels like they can trust the other. Creatives feel exploited by investors and people with money just want to crush their dreams and ruin their movies. Investors on the other hand, feel like filmmakers are just desperate parasites who want to take their money but don’t want any kind of accountability for how it’s spent. We Make Movies' goal is to be a balancing force between these two ideals. We want to give filmmakers a place to find financing and develop their voice, career, and properties in a way that feels authentic and in line with their values… and we want to give investors a safe place to find incredible talent who actually WANTS to be be accountable for making something awesome and making their investors proud they put money into a movie… and to invest in an infrastructure where everyone’s interests and concerns are met. We are creating a system that is great for creatives AND investors with a process and approach that is extremely efficient and designed out of more than a decade of blood, sweat, tears and above all, pain. We have built the process and approach that no one ever gave the creative people at We Make Movies, so we made it ourselves, and our goal is to now bring it to the rest of the world so more great stories start getting told again.
WMM: You are one of our judges / investors for the MAKE YOUR FEATURE COMPETITION (surprise, everyone)! What captures your attention when you are deciding whether or not to invest in a film?
Break the mold, do something awesome that can fit WITHIN the prescribed limitations we are purposefully being imposed on the applicants, and you’ll have my attention. If you double that down with a willingness to hustle, a desire to make something great, and a collaborative spirit, you will get my attention.
DO NOT SAVE THE CAT and give me another tired paint by numbers movie where I know what’s going to happen 3 scenes before it happens. Bring something simple and inspired that you’re willing to craft into a diamond with us and lets go make something awesome.
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.