With her sexy brand of gender-defying style, filmmaker Sam Lee has become a fixture in magazines and the Instagrams of industry heavies BJ Pascual and Liz Uy. She’s emerged less an It Girl and more a femme fascination: a sideboob-baring darling in front of the cameras whose work behind them is even more impressive.
Besides racking up international award nominations for her film Agos (2011), the Philippines’ first surf documentary, a fashion film she shot for Preview Magazine went viral last year and also managed to depict an overlooked kind of love.
As she heads off to Melbourne for grad school, B/BLOG caught up with Sam and discussed shooting rock stars, leaving to learn, and the process of putting personal feelings into film.
B/BLOG: Why leave now when you’re starting to make a name for yourself?
Sam Lee: That’s why the idea of leaving is so scary for me because I’m starting to establish myself here and people are starting to recognize me for my work. But at the end of the day, it’s only going to add to Sam Lee the brand. You also have to think about growing as a person and developing your craft. That’s what’s good about Manila in having a group of friends that are your family in the industry. You know you can always come back, pick up, and work with them.
Agos was a big career milestone. What inspired that, for people who don’t know?
I first learned how to surf when I was studying in Melbourne in 2009. The reason why I left was I didn’t want to do my thesis, I didn’t want to face the real world. So when I came back to Manila, I just wanted to be in the beach every day. Since I picked up surfing when I was in Australia, it was the perfect marriage of everything I wanted. I think the reason why it did so well is because I really loved it. I spent 10 days shooting Agos and two months editing it. It wasn’t hard for me at all.
Just like you were putting your feelings into film.
And that’s the philosophy I carry with me. Obviously you have 16-hour workdays and it does start to feel like work. But I try to make it as fun as possible.
Besides doing the Valentine’s film with Catriona for B/BLOG, any recent work worth mentioning?
Last May, the biggest thing for me was when Ely Buendia asked me to shoot his music video. Number one, Ely Buendia still does music videos and number two, it was so much pressure. The music video wasn’t really my style yet. It was based on James Bond opening credits. The second 2013 milestone was the Preview girl film, just because six months ago, it had 80,000 views on YouTube. It meant a lot to me kasi the roster of directors they picked are all really established. I think I was the youngest one in the set. The third is I shot my first TVC for Wanderland, the music festival. It’s not out yet.
What’s interesting about the Preview film was that it had lesbian undertones. How did you manage that for a women’s fashion magazine?
The brief kasi for that is ‘What is a Preview girl?’ When you go to UP film, everything is still academic versus practical. So every time I start a passion project of sorts, I always do research. So I wrote a proposal for Pauline [Juan, Preview editor] and the line I remember from it is, ‘Why do guys have a version of a guy’s guy? A Preview girl is a girl’s girl.’ Based on that, yes, there are lesbian undertones but she could also be a best friend. It’s also funny, when designers make me do fashion films, it’s always about…someone in my life at the time.
So your work has to be very personal?
When it comes to passion projects. I can’t naman dump my feelings on a Vidal Sassoon viral video (laughs). Also, for people like me, it’s very rare that people say, ‘Here’s some money, go do what you want.’ When that comes along, you might as well leave a piece of you.
Watch “Catriona Does Valentine’s,” a fashion film Sam Lee shot for B/BLOG’s B/TV: