Making a Horror-Comedy Film Come Alive

Dan Samiljan in the video for his Kickstarter campaign
Devin Doyle
Dan Samiljan in the video for his Kickstarter campaign

By Amy Forman

Published November 19, 2015, issue of November 19, 2015.

Ask any Swampscott or Marblehead resident about the inter-town rivalry, and you will likely hear about the traditional Thanksgiving Day football games and other sports competitions.

But filmmaker Dan Samiljan, a Swampscott native now living in Los Angeles, has taken a more imaginative approach about the longstanding rivalry between the two towns, creating a short horror-comedy film called “The Sub” about a reluctant substitute teacher working in an all-too-perfect high school.

“The idea of ‘The Sub’ is based on me being from Swampscott, and always wondering what was going on in Marblehead High School. It always seemed to have a prestige that Swampscott didn’t seem to have. I wondered ‘What are they putting in the water over there?,’” said Samiljan with a laugh. “I imagined what it would be like if I substituted for the day. My brain – that is influenced by the Twilight Zone – thought, what if some monster was brainwashing everyone?”

The script for the film has been written, the cast, crew and special effects teams have been hired, and fundraising through a Kickstarter campaign is underway. As the Journal went to press, $27,000 of the $38,000 goal had been met. The fundraising deadline is November 26, and the project will only be completed if the goal is met.

Samiljan, 31, a 2002 Swampscott High graduate, is no stranger to short films and directing. As a child, he always loved to write; when he wrote a play in middle school, his teacher allowed him to stage it in class, giving him his first directing experience. While studying film at Boston University, he began making short films with friends. Two were entered into several prestigious film festivals, garnering awards and exposure for the young filmmakers.

“After that, I knew I had to move to LA,” said Samiljan, the son of Alan and Brenda Samiljan, who immediately began networking with former Swampscott High classmates and eventually found his first production assistant job on “Judge Judy.” “As soon as I had that first job, it snowballed. You meet people who go off to do other shows or movies. Early on, I learned you have to get yourself out there and talk to people – people who do props, make-up, hair. I knew I wanted to direct. I knew 10 years from now, I would be asking these people for help for my movie, and that is exactly what ended up happening.”

In 2007, Samiljan became a director’s assistant, working on some short-lived television shows, “Cavemen,” “Life,” and “Lie to Me.” Now, he works on “Undateable” for a producer at Doozer Productions (of “Spin City” and “Scrubs” fame). “I love my job in the comedy world, where I have responsibility and can do creative things for the web, marketing and publicity,” he said, adding that this year he was given the opportunity to direct NBC’s “2015 Primetime Preview Show” to promote their fall line-up with the “Undateable” cast. “It was my first real directing job, and proof to me that this is what I was meant to do,” he said.

All the while, Samiljan continued to write and create short films, usually working with a budget of only $200. Last year his short, “The No Look Dunk” about a time travel toilet, received attention at the Nashville and Cleveland Film Festivals. He thanks his wife, food writer Laurel Randolph, for the inspiration for that film. “It was based on my wife making fun of me taking so long in the bathroom,” he explained.

Because of that film, Samiljan procured an agent, and began writing, with friend Dave Cain, the script that he had conceived of as a high school student. His goal is to create the short film, expected to be 15-20 minutes, and pitch it as a longer feature film.

“It is the first film where it is not just me and a bunch of friends,” he said. “In Hollywood, a $38,000 budget is nothing, but I feel like a king.”

If the money is raised, shooting begins in January over two weekends.

And this is just the start of the filmmaker’s plans. “I have plenty of ideas that I’ve written down over the past 30 years,” said Samiljan.


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