SAMUEL KAY FORREST is a multinational filmmaker and actor from London who has worked in theatre and film in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, London, Berlin, Amsterdam as well as India. He has recently completed the feature, HipBeat, a coming-of-age drama about a young male searching for his gender identity in the Berlin underground. We caught up with Samuel recently and asked about his latest project.
When and where did you decide to be an actor and a filmmaker?
My father, mother, and grandmother were all actors. My mother started teaching drama at my school in England when I was barely five, so I guess you can say it’s in the blood. The love of film and theatre naturally inspired me to write and direct my own projects. I grew up with the classics. My heroes were the filmmakers of the 60s and 70s. I always wanted to make films with that raw honesty.
How did the idea for HipBeat come to you?
It came from visiting Berlin and exploring the city. I was inspired by the inclusivity, openness, and acceptance of everybody in these spaces, in contrast to the close-minded attitudes that endanger the lives of queer people in many parts of the world.
How did you find your talented cast?
Authenticity is crucial to me and I believe there is a responsibility to consider this during the casting process. Some of the actors in HipBeat were friends from Los Angeles but most of the roles were cast in Berlin. Some we saw perform, others I was introduced to, and lastly by meeting people out in the queer community. I know when someone is right for the role instantly and I will build that person into the story. It was crucial to me and the producing team to always cast actors who are part of the LGBTQ+ community when the role demanded it. I always follow my instincts, which led me to assemble an international cast, much like Berlin itself.
Was it difficult to star and direct a film like this?
It wasn’t easy. I found I needed a lot of dedication, tenacity, perseverance, as well as patience. I was originally going to write and star in the film but early on I realized I was the best person to also direct, since it was based on my experiences and the activism I do in Berlin and Los Angeles.
How did you end up living in Berlin?
Berlin was a place I felt I could challenge myself and explore my curiosity. People embrace new ideas here and are never satisfied with the status quo. They are always looking to move forward. With a world filled with so much mendacity, I think there is a collective responsibility to create awareness and be proactive.
Do you find the film community welcoming there?
Being an independent filmmaker I tended to not meet many people in the German film community. The ones I did meet were very open and supportive. I mostly connected with the art and the queer community. The LGBTQ+ community in Berlin was welcoming and open to being involved with this project.
You’re certainly a risk-taker with the stories you tell, as well as the length you will go as an actor to bring a character to life. Is that something that is easier to accomplish in Europe versus America?
It all depends on the story you’re telling. Independent film is difficult to make no matter where you are. My personal approach is to completely immerse myself in the world. I feel there is a responsibility to do it honestly and that comes out of connection with the story you’re expressing. I commit that way but everyone has their own sensibility and process. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to telling a story if it comes from an authentic place. My aim is to connect with people and hopefully move them.
What were the hardest obstacles in making this film?
It’s not easy to get people to believe in a drama about social and political issues that affect the times we live in. I had to find a new creative way to tell the story. It challenges you to think about how to find the truth but with the limitations of a micro-budget. You make creative sacrifices on your vision but it also frees you in a way to find new perspectives in telling a story. Your constantly finding solutions, re-writing, and overcoming the demands of production throughout the whole process.
How did you manage to film the protest scenes? Was it all gorilla film making? Did anyone get arrested or in trouble for being there?
I wanted to catch the realism of the streets and the only way to do it truthfully was by going to a demonstration. May 1st is a holiday for workers and unions to protest against fascism in most parts of Europe, which started at the end of the 19th century. The protests often escalate due to police brutality, which I experienced firsthand during production.
I was wrongly arrested twice because of us filming the protest but all the charges were dropped when a police commissioner realized we were making a movie.
That is devotion to your craft.
So what is it you hope to accomplish with this film?
I want to start a debate about love, gender, and politics. As a filmmaker, I hope to encourage awareness and empathy with the film. My hope is I can reach that person who feels different and let them know that they’re not alone.
What’s next for you?
I have been working on three shorts films and developing my next feature with my production company Mother Earth FIlms. One is called Invisible Borders about two brothers who are hoping to reunite in Berlin after being separated crossing the Mediatarrian Sea from Africa and the other is about a man dealing with mental health and grief after the sudden death of his wife. The last one is about an imprisoned journalist in Russia. After these projects are completed, I am jumping back into pre-production for my next feature film, Godhead, which is about artists living in Los Angeles. All the stories I write are inspired by true events.
Thanks for talking with us, Samuel.
Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.