He is the man behind Night Surf Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Sam Vary: My name is Sam Vary, and I currently work in New York City as a programmer for an ad-tech company. I studied film and Russian language at the University of Vermont before moving to Brooklyn, where I’ve lived for the past 7 years now.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?
Sam Vary: I think the first time I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker was when I was watching PBS late at night for some reason, and a short film came on about a barber working in occupied France during World War II. A German officer sits down and asks for a shave, and the barber begins to lather him up. As he goes about shaving the officer, various townspeople catch on to what is happening, and give the barber signals, furtive looks etc. mostly encouraging him to cut the officer’s throat. There are a ton of interesting shots that build tension in the film (razor held to the neck, the body language of the townspeople, the editing of the barber making eye contact with certain people in the crowd while holding the razor, etc.) and I was fascinated with the way that the short film generated so much suspense. Here’s a link to the film if you’re interested: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3qf2z
SKSM: When did you make Night surf? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Sam Vary: I made Night Surf when I was a senior in high school. We filmed the movie half in Portland, Maine, and half in a place called Small Point for the beach scenes, with a cast that included several friends from school as well as my younger brother, Zach, who plays Needles in the movie. I bought a new Macbook at the time (2007) which was a big deal and allowed me to use Final Cut for the first time, and I also bought a Sony Handycam, so we spent maybe $1500 on the whole production (including gas money to drive around Portland and Small Point for filming). It probably took me two weeks to get all the footage I needed, and then editing took two more weeks after that.
SKSM: How come you picked Night surf to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Sam Vary: I had been wanting to do a Dollar Baby for a while, but I had to pick something that didn’t required only the bare minimum of makeup or special effects, and also something with locations in the story that fit what I had access to. So a story that mostly took place on a beach in Maine was perfect. I am definitely a fan of that specific story as well, with all its connections to The Stand and everything, so it was a very natural choice to pick this story as a project. I also thought that I would be able to have a lot of fun filming all the characters in various states of death and decay at the end of the movie, which turned out to be the strongest part of the film (I thought).
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
Sam Vary: I think I just came across this in my general readings and research of Stephen King, at some point a very long time ago (high school). I have read most of his novels and have been an avid fan of his since I was about 8 or 9, so I’m sure I learned about Dollar Babies fairly early on. I just waited until the end of high school to try and make one.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Sam Vary: Since we filmed the story in black and white, we relied on Hershey’s chocolate syrup for the generous amounts of fake blood that we decided to use, so I had the actors lying down in puddles of chocolate syrup (especially my brother Zach, playing Needles, who was lying on a bathroom floor with his face directly in a large, spreading pool of it). That was pretty funny. Everybody really enjoyed playing dead, from what I remember. We also managed to get some good cameos from other people who wanted to appear in the movie, such as an older family friend named Bruce Osterling, who played Alvin Sackheim, the guy that the characters tie up and burn at the stake as a sacrifice to the disease, Captain Trips. The whole project was very memorable, actually.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Sam Vary: That is a good question. I lost track of my DVD copies of the film a long time ago, but I am tracking down a digital copy at the moment, so I can provide you with a link as soon as I locate that. I would love it if you wanted to host the film on your site so that more people could watch it and leave their reviews in the comments, something along those lines.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Sam Vary: I have not really received many reviews one way or the other, except for friends who have watched it and enjoyed it. They particularly enjoy the music used in the movie, although I would probably get into some hot water with the copyrights on those songs.
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Sam Vary: No, but we are going to have a screening in Brooklyn with friends as soon as I get that digital copy back.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
Sam Vary: Yes, I’ve always been a huge Stephen King fan. I really got into him when I read Cujo and Cycle of the Werewolf, and by ‘got into’ I mean, those books traumatized me, and I craved more like them. So at this point I have read most of his novels, although I am not a big Dark Tower fan. I read the first book but have not felt much inclined to read the others. Black House is one of my favorite books of all time though, and that obviously has Dark Tower connections. Never read The Talisman though. I guess if I had to give you my top 3 all time Stephen King books or adaptations, it might go:
- The Stand (novel)
- Pet Sematary (novel)
- The Stand (mini-series)
I’m also a huge fan of the Mr. Mercedes TV series, which just came out with its second season. Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway are awesome in that series, and the Hodges trilogy (especially the adaptation) feels very fresh and exciting in terms of King material.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Sam Vary: No, although I did meet Stephen once at an event and lecture that he was giving at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut, a few years ago. I did not mention my movie, unfortunately, and I doubt he’s seen it. We talked about Under the Dome, which was his new show on CBS at that time, and the fact that we were both from Maine. I also gave him a hug.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Sam Vary: I definitely would like to make more, it’s just hard to find time with a busy job in New York and other hobbies. I’ve been focusing more on my screenwriting and short story writing over the years, both during and post-college, and amateur filmmaking is extremely difficult to produce with good quality. I would rather work on screenplays for Stephen King adaptations, so maybe there are some producers who just need a script for their upcoming Dollar Baby. If I could pick another short story to shoot, I think Strawberry Spring would be a good one, or I’ve always wanted to see what The Jaunt would look like on film. Definitely one of those two, but they’d be tricky to produce.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Sam Vary: I am editing a fantasy / horror novel called The Crimson Harvester and trying to send that out to publishers eventually, as well as a bunch of different screenplay ideas. I have been developing a mini-series with a friend in London actually based on a group of American soldiers who were kept prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II, so that may prove fruitful as well at some point soon. Lastly, I’m in the process of putting together a short story collection. I have a few of the stories posted online. Right now I’m just offering the audiobooks for sale, but I have an author page on amazon that you can check out if you’re interested. (www.amazon.com/author/samvary)
SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Sam Vary: That I studied Russian in college and speak it fluently.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Sam Vary: I will make sure that Night Surf is made available online very soon, and if you enjoy Stephen King books and movies, you should check out some of my audiobooks, and keep an eye out for my books (hopefully) in the near future!
SKSM: Would you like to add anything else?
Sam Vary: Thanks for your interest in my work!