My world opened up in 2016 when I worked on the short film, A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., based on the short story by Caron McCullers. It was Karen Allen’s (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Animal House, Starman) film directorial debut, and I was part of the Production Design department under the tutelage of Oscar-nominated Production Designer, Kristi Zea (Silence of the Lambs, Goodfellas, Revolutionary Road). Watching these two Rockstar women do their thing while collaborating with a highly talented and collaborative team of people was galvanizing. After we wrapped shoot, I had one thought: “I need to do this.”
So I did.
I joined every film crew I could that next year, taking whatever position that needed to be filled; I wanted to learn each department’s role and responsibilities. For me, this was the only way I was going to be an effective director.
In 2018, I wrote the short film, `A’ My Name Is, which centers around a young girl with early stage cancer who has a late-night adventure in a hospital that culminates in the realization of her mortality. I raised the funds, put together an incredible crew, including the stunning cinematographer Lara Aqel and highly-adept 1st Assistant Director Amy Lynn (Salt, Unfaithful, Oblivion). All we had to do was find the perfect lead actress; not an easy feat for such a heavy topic.
Fellow filmmaker Rob Alicea had just worked with Samarah Conley (then, 10 years-old) on his TV series, Adulthood, and suggested I contact her.
Samarah was the first and only actress to audition. She had extraordinary depth, especially for someone her age, and a beautiful personality on top of it; I knew immediately that we had found our lead.
The film went on to tour the festival circuit internationally and was awarded “Best WNY Short” at the Buffalo International Film Festival, was nominated for “Best Director Of A Short Film” at the Madrid International Film Festival, and our beyond talented lead actress won “Best Lead Actress In A Short Film” at the Nice International Film Festival, the Nova Star Awards, and the Young Entertainer Awards!
A brilliant rising star, here’s what Samarah Conley had to say in our recent conversation about working on `A’ My Name Is, and what she feels the future holds.
Working on ‘A’ My Name Is was such an incredible experience. I was able to create tight bonds with people during our short time on set which in turn created amazing memories that will last a lifetime. ‘A’ My Name Is is in honor of Sarah’s dad who passed from cancer and it was such an honor that Sarah wanted me to play this role.
Working on this film anchored my love for acting to another level. This was my first role in a film that I had to not just portray a sick child, but a terminally ill child. As with Sarah, this subject matter is also very close to my heart as my mom’s mom passed away from cancer at a very early age when my mom was just five years-old. I really embraced this role to the best of my ability and with a real passion.
This role has certainly given me more tools for my acting toolbox. I am certain that these tools have helped me with recent projects and will continue to further expand my acting career for many years to come.
At what age did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
When I was five years-old I really wanted to be on the Disney channel or Nickelodeon. I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with a talent agency in New York City. When I arrived, I was very prepared with a cereal commercial that I was given ahead of time. They called my name along with about ten other children. As I walked away from my parents I began to cry. They came to me right away and my parents decided we should leave. When we got down to the street my parents asked me why I was crying. I told them that they always taught me to never go with strangers and that I didn’t know any of the people that I was going with.
Fast forward to when I was seven. I was performing at a music recital and sang “Castle On A Cloud” for about 150 people. When I finished, I received a standing ovation. After that, I told my parents that I was ready for bigger audiences. I have always loved performing in front of people and I am so grateful that my parents support my love for the arts.
How did you know this was the path for you?
As mentioned before, I’ve always loved performing for people and every time I watch television, I am inspired by all of the incredible talent and I say to myself, “Wow! I want to really do that.”
You play a dying cancer patient in the film. Did you have any challenges while preparing for such a heavy role?
Preparing for this role was very emotional for me. To play a child with cancer was a challenge. I went online and researched images and videos of children with cancer to understand my role better. On set for any role, especially such a heavy role, requires a lot of patience and dedication to understand exactly what the director wants. I truly enjoyed working with Sarah and this role specifically helped me grow as an actress.
What was your favorite moment on set?
I have so many wonderful moments of being on set. To name a few, I enjoyed working with the hair and make up crew, bonding with Lori Singleton who played my nurse, dancing and singing with the 1st AD, putting on bright red lipstick and of course the food was amazing every day.
You’ve been acting since the age of seven. How was it collaborating with a first-time director?
Up until the days of shooting ‘A” My Name Is, I had worked on many projects with different directors with varying experience. Working with Sarah as a first-time director was a great experience. She was professional and organized from the day I met her at my rehearsal. Our shoot days were well run and she gave me great direction throughout each scene. The cast and crew she hired were all so professional and friendly which made my days on set very enjoyable. I look forward to the opportunity to work with Sarah again.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan on pursuing my career as an actress. I also love to write and am hopeful that one day I will write my own short film or even a feature. I am also a singer-songwriter, pianist and play the ukulele and would love to also expand my career as a musician. Sarah asked me to write a song for ‘A’ My Name Is which is the song I am humming at the beginning of the film. The song is entitled, “Broken Wing” which was produced and mastered by my friend Len Monachello at Soundtronics and is available on all music platforms. I was so honored to have not only been hired by Sarah to portray a terminally ill cancer patient for the film, but to have also been asked to record a song for it as well. I plan on going to college where I can study acting, music and geology. Yes, I love rocks and minerals.
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