SAM BAILEY

ARTIST, DIRECTOR, WOMAN, HUMAN

Who is Sam Bailey?

I remember listening to Sam Bailey talk to a room of students in a newly refurbished EMU, thinking, here’s a woman who is ready to claim her truth.  Her smile was accompanied by a conviction. Almost aware of her presence, she exuded a passionate energy and confidence with the aim to push her critical self further. The ooze of Chicago’s all pervasive POC space inches into her infusion of music, artistry and color. Sam dreamed of being an actor.  And then came the archetypal roles. And they showed again. And again. And again. The sassy black friend. The slave girl who performs. The robotic implementation of an identity. Sam’s decision to direct her first short series titled ‘You’re So Talented’ stands as an example of many who are making an active choice to take agency over their own narratives.

 

On a Tuesday afternoon, as she worked on developing a script of her web series ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I got a chance to chat with her over the phone.

You know, I like being around a lot of people and I like ensemble work and I’ve taken that from my theatre background. Filmmaking is such a team sport, everyone kinda has to pull their weight to come to this one singular vision and so I really appreciate that. So for me, it’s being able to really build a world and have a vision for it that not only evolves with the team I bring on but also gets actually made like there’s something really exciting about seeing something from inception through post-production and release.

What was it about directing that really spoke to you?

SAM BAILEY

ARTIST, DIRECTOR, WOMAN, HUMAN

Who is Sam Bailey?

I remember listening to Sam Bailey talk to a room of students in a newly refurbished EMU, thinking, here’s a woman who is ready to claim her truth.  Her smile was accompanied by a conviction. Almost aware of her presence, she exuded a passionate energy and confidence with the aim to push her critical self further. The ooze of Chicago’s all pervasive POC space inches into her infusion of music, artistry and color. Sam dreamed of being an actor.  And then came the archetypal roles. And they showed again. And again. And again. The sassy black friend. The slave girl who performs. The robotic implementation of an identity. Sam’s decision to direct her first short series titled ‘You’re So Talented’ stands as an example of many who are making an active choice to take agency over their own narratives.

 

On a Tuesday afternoon, as she worked on developing a script of her web series ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I got a chance to chat with her over the phone.

What was it about directing that really spoke to you?

You know, I like being around a lot of people and I like ensemble work and I’ve taken that from my theatre background. Filmmaking is such a team sport, everyone kinda has to pull their weight to come to this one singular vision and so I really appreciate that. So for me, it’s being able to really build a world and have a vision for it that not only evolves with the team I bring on but also gets actually made like there’s something really exciting about seeing something from inception through post-production and release.

Since you’re developing ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I’m wondering, how do you go about pitching ideas to people who don’t have the lived experiences of your characters?

Hmm yeah, it always goes back to the actual heart and blood of these characters who also happen to be queer, also happen to be people of color and also happen to be women uhm and that influences their storyline but is not the main thing about the storyline. They seem to understand that to a certain extent.

How do you navigate trying to represent a variety of people on a show titled ‘brown girls?’ Does it become a necessity to include as many identities within that space?

If Fati’s gonna write nuanced characters, then I’m gonna put it into play and bring that to life and  we have to give ourselves the freedom to also not have to represent everyone. I think that’s a burden that creators of color have to deal with or just creators from marginalized backgrounds and it’s really unfortunate but I’m not ashamed to say that my stories revolve around POC and more queer POC, so that to me is my portion of activism you know, and then the way that I do that is to explore the concept of humanity and show humanity, and hopefully that will make people see themselves in those characters.

Do you think of yourself then as an activist?

Uh no  don’t think of myself as an activist strictly, because I think there are people that are doing the groundwork for that and that are doing it in really beautiful ways and really hard ways and that is not my calling. And I’m so so happy and appreciative this exists and when I can go out, I do but I think that my that art is a form of my activism...it’s a different form of activism and I think telling your story....it’s a part of that in terms of fighting against a white supremacist hierarchy in how we tell stories and who deserves to get their stories told.

I’m wondering...what keeps you motivated when times get rough?

You know...my friends. I have some really amazing friends who not only keep me motivated but influence me and inspire me. It’s weird calling them friends and weird calling them family. I feel like I have really intimate friendships and the majority of them are artists. People that really push me and we all seem to be kind of going through similar things at the same time, so it feels good to be able to be like yo, I feel a different type of way or I feel like a horrible artist and they understand that and they can pep talk you off the ledge a little bit, so really, for me, it’s just about continuing to be in communication with my community, even when I’m not in Chicago..you know?

I noticed at your talk as well, you mentioned Chicago a lot...I guess, what does Chicago mean to you? What does it represent? You make me want to know so much more about it.

I mean Chicago is everything to me, Chicago's home. I like living in LA and I feel like LA is my office but Chicago’s where I put my head down and can actually relax in a really interesting way.

 

Chicago taught me how to be an artist. It taught me how to be a human. It taught me how to move through spaces with people who may or may not look like me and who may or may not share the same experiences as I do. I think Chicago’s approach to art is very blue-collar kind of...get your hands grimy and work with people you want to work with and get the job done, which I think has taught me so much in terms of stamina on set and just really focusing on the work and not getting caught up by the flashiness of it all, which can feel fleeting and and feel like a rollercoaster.

 

So for me, Chicago grounds me in a way that I don't know any other city that has ever really done. I like other cities. I like visiting them but you know, Chicago really is just in my veins.

How do you ‘manage’ your set if that’s even the right terminology, as someone who’s figuring it out as you go along?

On the set, you know I think it's interesting, because every head of a department will think their department is the most important. But we just ‘create’, thinking that we’re gonna make the best work. For me, it's being really clear about the vision of the show while also working with everyone because everyone is as important to the series  as I am so I want to make sure that I'm giving them the attention to listen and figure out what they're saying and if it’s just a better idea, sometimes other people have better ideas, and that’s being real, it’s about being able to kind of leave my ego at the door and try to get them to also leave their ego at the door. The most important part is nothing is bigger than the project.

Did you grow up like ever imagining that this is what you would end up doing?

No I mean I really wanted to be an actor. I really thought I was gonna, you know, be on Broadway. I think in the back of my head, I was interested in writing and I was interested in creating stuff but when I got to college, I thought I had to pick a specific lane and for me it was acting but it’s interesting to me then that it drove me to where I'm at now and I can't really think of doing anything else like you know, I wanna direct, I wanna write, I wanna produce...some kind of filmmaking that allows me two dabble in all of that.

SAM BAILEY

ARTIST, DIRECTOR, WOMAN, HUMAN

Who is Sam Bailey?

I remember listening to Sam Bailey talk to a room of students in a newly refurbished EMU, thinking, here’s a woman who is ready to claim her truth.  Her smile was accompanied by a conviction. Almost aware of her presence, she exuded a passionate energy and confidence with the aim to push her critical self further. The ooze of Chicago’s all pervasive POC space inches into her infusion of music, artistry and color. Sam dreamed of being an actor.  And then came the archetypal roles. And they showed again. And again. And again. The sassy black friend. The slave girl who performs. The robotic implementation of an identity. Sam’s decision to direct her first short series titled ‘You’re So Talented’ stands as an example of many who are making an active choice to take agency over their own narratives.

 

On a Tuesday afternoon, as she worked on developing a script of her web series ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I got a chance to chat with her over the phone.

You know, I like being around a lot of people and I like ensemble work and I’ve taken that from my theatre background. Filmmaking is such a team sport, everyone kinda has to pull their weight to come to this one singular vision and so I really appreciate that. So for me, it’s being able to really build a world and have a vision for it that not only evolves with the team I bring on but also gets actually made like there’s something really exciting about seeing something from inception through post-production and release.

What was it about directing that really spoke to you?

SAM BAILEY

ARTIST, DIRECTOR, WOMAN, HUMAN

Who is Sam Bailey?

I remember listening to Sam Bailey talk to a room of students in a newly refurbished EMU, thinking, here’s a woman who is ready to claim her truth.  Her smile was accompanied by a conviction. Almost aware of her presence, she exuded a passionate energy and confidence with the aim to push her critical self further. The ooze of Chicago’s all pervasive POC space inches into her infusion of music, artistry and color. Sam dreamed of being an actor.  And then came the archetypal roles. And they showed again. And again. And again. The sassy black friend. The slave girl who performs. The robotic implementation of an identity. Sam’s decision to direct her first short series titled ‘You’re So Talented’ stands as an example of many who are making an active choice to take agency over their own narratives.

 

On a Tuesday afternoon, as she worked on developing a script of her web series ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I got a chance to chat with her over the phone.

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Sam Bailey's website: sambailey.com

What was it about directing that really spoke to you?

You know, I like being around a lot of people and I like ensemble work and I’ve taken that from my theatre background. Filmmaking is such a team sport, everyone kinda has to pull their weight to come to this one singular vision and so I really appreciate that. So for me, it’s being able to really build a world and have a vision for it that not only evolves with the team I bring on but also gets actually made like there’s something really exciting about seeing something from inception through post-production and release.

Since you’re developing ‘Brown girls’ for HBO, I’m wondering, how do you go about pitching ideas to people who don’t have the lived experiences of your characters?

Hmm yeah, it always goes back to the actual heart and blood of these characters who also happen to be queer, also happen to be people of color and also happen to be women uhm and that influences their storyline but is not the main thing about the storyline. They seem to understand that to a certain extent.

How do you navigate trying to represent a variety of people on a show titled ‘brown girls?’ Does it become a necessity to include as many identities within that space?

If Fati’s gonna write nuanced characters, then I’m gonna put it into play and bring that to life and  we have to give ourselves the freedom to also not have to represent everyone. I think that’s a burden that creators of color have to deal with or just creators from marginalized backgrounds and it’s really unfortunate but I’m not ashamed to say that my stories revolve around POC and more queer POC, so that to me is my portion of activism you know, and then the way that I do that is to explore the concept of humanity and show humanity, and hopefully that will make people see themselves in those characters.

Do you think of yourself then as an activist?

Uh no  don’t think of myself as an activist strictly, because I think there are people that are doing the groundwork for that and that are doing it in really beautiful ways and really hard ways and that is not my calling. And I’m so so happy and appreciative this exists and when I can go out, I do but I think that my that art is a form of my activism...it’s a different form of activism and I think telling your story....it’s a part of that in terms of fighting against a white supremacist hierarchy in how we tell stories and who deserves to get their stories told.

I’m wondering...what keeps you motivated when times get rough?

You know...my friends. I have some really amazing friends who not only keep me motivated but influence me and inspire me. It’s weird calling them friends and weird calling them family. I feel like I have really intimate friendships and the majority of them are artists. People that really push me and we all seem to be kind of going through similar things at the same time, so it feels good to be able to be like yo, I feel a different type of way or I feel like a horrible artist and they understand that and they can pep talk you off the ledge a little bit, so really, for me, it’s just about continuing to be in communication with my community, even when I’m not in Chicago..you know?

I noticed at your talk as well, you mentioned Chicago a lot...I guess, what does Chicago mean to you? What does it represent? You make me want to know so much more about it.

I mean Chicago is everything to me, Chicago's home. I like living in LA and I feel like LA is my office but Chicago’s where I put my head down and can actually relax in a really interesting way.

 

Chicago taught me how to be an artist. It taught me how to be a human. It taught me how to move through spaces with people who may or may not look like me and who may or may not share the same experiences as I do. I think Chicago’s approach to art is very blue-collar kind of...get your hands grimy and work with people you want to work with and get the job done, which I think has taught me so much in terms of stamina on set and just really focusing on the work and not getting caught up by the flashiness of it all, which can feel fleeting and and feel like a rollercoaster.

 

So for me, Chicago grounds me in a way that I don't know any other city that has ever really done. I like other cities. I like visiting them but you know, Chicago really is just in my veins.

How do you ‘manage’ your set if that’s even the right terminology, as someone who’s figuring it out as you go along?

On the set, you know I think it's interesting, because every head of a department will think their department is the most important. But we just ‘create’, thinking that we’re gonna make the best work. For me, it's being really clear about the vision of the show while also working with everyone because everyone is as important to the series  as I am so I want to make sure that I'm giving them the attention to listen and figure out what they're saying and if it’s just a better idea, sometimes other people have better ideas, and that’s being real, it’s about being able to kind of leave my ego at the door and try to get them to also leave their ego at the door. The most important part is nothing is bigger than the project.

Did you grow up like ever imagining that this is what you would end up doing?

No I mean I really wanted to be an actor. I really thought I was gonna, you know, be on Broadway. I think in the back of my head, I was interested in writing and I was interested in creating stuff but when I got to college, I thought I had to pick a specific lane and for me it was acting but it’s interesting to me then that it drove me to where I'm at now and I can't really think of doing anything else like you know, I wanna direct, I wanna write, I wanna produce...some kind of filmmaking that allows me two dabble in all of that.

And I ask this question not to bring up regrets, but I suppose, if you could talk to yourself when you were younger, what would you say or suggest to her?

Hmmm you know I would say...continue reading a lot and figure out how to to write your story down...like feelings all that stuff to keep record of that because I think it's really important to be able to look back on your experience and be like, oh this is the kind of effect this road took on me and I kind of wish that I had written more when I was younger and not just dabbled in it.

 

I think also just like trusting the journey and being patient which is like one of my biggest fatal flaws and I'm horribly inpatient and I just would want to remind her, oh you can be patient and also whatever is meant for you, is meant for you. I’m not religious but the only thing that I do take from my christian background is that the universe is never going to give you more than you can bear, and I think reminding myself of that a lot...especially now when everything's moving so quickly and it’s just a bigger stage than I’ve ever had before, it’s just like, actually, you're very much equipped to handle this.

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