Watch David’s “Weapons of Choice” on TERRA.
David Samollow grew up in a science oriented family and became interested in film and global communication at an early age. In 2009, he completed a bachelor’s degree in Radio, Television, and Film from the University of North Texas. Shortly after receiving his degree, David became a founding member of Texas based production company Memories Films and branding/advertising company Square 205. Since then he has worked as producer, editor, assistant director, and director of photography on numerous commercial videos and short and feature length films. He is currently completing a masters degree in the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program at Montana State University. He firmly believes using film as a tool to communicate the wonders of science.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about extreme morphologies?
DS: For as along as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with insects and their unique body structures.They can seem so very alien, yet life as we know it would be impossible without them. Doug Emlen was recommended to me by scientist Fred Allendorf as a great subject for a film. So I called Doug and we talked on the phone for about an hour and he explained his research with beetles and extreme morphology. It was exactly the kind of subject I was looking for.
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like in the field.
DS: All of the footage I recorded took place in a controlled environment. I visited Doug Emlen at his lab in Missoula, Montana which is where a large amount of the research takes place. While there, I shot most of the footage of the beetles. It would have been great to record the beetles in their natural environment, but time and budget restrictions limited travel.
TERRA: What surprised you the most about working with beetles?
DS: Before working with these larger beetles I expected them to be pretty sluggish and boring outside of battles. However, they proved to be remarkably energetic to the point where getting a few macro shots took some time because they wouldn't stay still.
TERRA: Did you have any funny moments while making the film?
DS: At one point during the interview Doug suggested bringing a beetle to the interview so he could easily show the audience a visual representation of what he was describing. He left the room and came back with a rhinoceros beetle clinging to his hand. Doug used a lot of grand hand gestures during the interview and the crew was almost certain the beetle would fly off, but it didn’t. It was pretty funny.
TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?
DS: Due to the small size of the beetles, I had to utilize a macro lens. It was definitely one of the more fun pieces of equipment I used, but at times was difficult to film with due to the shallow depth of field and constant movement of the beetles.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
DS: When I was younger I watched the Rwandan genocide unfold on television and it was the first time I realized that horrific atrocities still occurred. I became convinced that film was a way to bring important information to people all around the globe and perhaps help bring about change toward a better world. Later on I found myself leaning toward narrative film to present messages which I thought were important and received a degree in film. At the moment my interest has moved back toward documentary, although narrative isn’t out of the question.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
DS: I would definitely wear comfortable clothes for any kind of field work. Trying to shoot with shoes that make your feet hurt or clothing that doesn’t fit the weather is pretty miserable and might distract you from getting your best shots. Every shoot I have some sort of game plan in my mind. I find it very frustrating going to film without a framework of what I want. I do my best to get the essential shots I need and consider everything else a luxury. I also feel very vulnerable without packing backup gear and a backup game plan. Bringing the bare minimum is risky and if a light goes out or a lens breaks you can be in trouble if you are in a remote location. I bring as much backup equipment as I can and always have a backup plan if a subject cancels or a location falls through.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
DS: There is one dream project I’ve always wanted to do, but filming live dinosaurs is definitely out of the question. Of course, there are more realistic projects that I would be very interested in participating in. Filming in the deep sea has always seemed intriguing. Seeing odd creatures or even discovering new species seems like quite the adventure to me. I’m also constantly impressed by the frontier of genetic research so one day I would love to be involved in or start a project dealing with genetics.
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
DS: Being on a film set or on location I generally feel most comfortable behind the camera. I’ve been director of photography and a camera operator on several projects and every time I feel like I have such a large amount of creative control. I really enjoy taking what the director or producer wants and turning it into a beautiful and engaging image. Editing has a lot of creative molding as well, but being seated in front of a computer for so long starts to make me anxious.
TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
DS: Before I attended the Science and Natural History Filmmaking graduate program at Montana State University I was involved in commercial and narrative film. One project I worked on was an indie horror film about zombies. The budget was small, but I had a great time as the assistant director. The crew was full of enthusiastic and fun people who really enjoyed film and working as a team. I believe it’s important to work with a group of people who put their heart into a project, are talented, and treat everyone with respect.