Today Samantha Avila has a long resume of her work on a wide variety of films as an Art Director and Assistant Art Director. Who would believe that this woman raised in rural Colorado and Texas would be working on major films such as last Spider-Man movie No Way Home? Others include Jurassic World, The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, Independence Day: Resurgence, and others that can be seen at samantha-avila.com
Some of us dream of being discovered and becoming a key actor in a movie or television series; but most of us will never be discovered. And we don’t see the many other creative opportunities that there are within the film industry.
While at the University of Texas at Austin, Samantha decided she wanted to work on the art side of film productions. This is an exciting creative challenge and one of the most important parts of a successful production.
Upon graduation, she loaded up her car with her few personal items and dreams of moving to California. She went even though she had no leads and no major contacts. But she had a vision of what she wanted and was willing to sacrifice everything to find her place within the film industry.
She admits to being an introvert and had to work extra hard to send so many copies of her resume to many listed job opportunities only to have many not answered and the answers received were rejections.
Finally, a Production Designer offered her an assistant position to help him with his theater project in Los Angeles but could not promise a compensation. This led to her volunteering for many other film projects and doing any and everything.
Between part-time jobs, she continued to search for a break in the industry. “I found that volunteering or working on student, or low-budget films, you are allowed to do more and learn more of the aspects of the art involved in a film,” she said.
It is amazing that she did not give up. And when she got her first Art Department Assistant job she coordinated lunches, ran documents and designs amongst departments, and, in the process, learned basic and important parts of the job of one day becoming an Art Director. At the same time, she took time to speak with others in this area of work and watched others do this job, and continued to build her knowledge and comfort with the challenges of this Art Director position.
Art directors are independent contractors and have to negotiate their contracts and the scope of work for every film.
When watching a major film production, we only see the finished project. It may have multiple Art Directors. At times sets will need to have changes made very quickly, changing the color, designing a staircase or some other structure within hours. This means understanding what is needed and communicating clearly to the amazing team of technicians who can create almost everything.
Samantha has had to use every corner of her creativity and leadership to make her projects meet their deadlines. In recent years she has led panels of other Art Directors at these huge events called Comic-Cons. Having attended one I was most impressed by the knowledge of the films the conference participants possessed, who come in full costume of their favorite film characters. It is a wonderful festival of the arts.
Comic-Cons are more like popular arts conventions, with a trend towards the nerd culture in all aspects of the arts. They are all over the world, but the grandaddy mecca is the San Diego Comic-Con: https://comic-con.org/cci, while DragonCon is the one that takes place in Atlanta: https://www.dragoncon.org/
Not many artists have so many millions see their work and, on top of it, be preserved on the internet. These film productions are seen more times than those other historical items most Smithsonian Institute visitors can see.
Within the film industry, there is a move to be more inclusive of women, and BIPOC in all aspects of film production. But we all know that it will take more people pushing for these changes to become a permanent reality.
Working as an Assistant Art Director on A Wrinkle in Time, Directed by Ava DuVernay, Samantha says that DuVernay made a significant effort in advising departments to try and hire more women, and women of color.
Samantha, like many creative and driven individuals, has had to find a safe space in her life to solidify her sanity. She has a wonderful large black cat, Bowen, who joins her on the many walks she takes to see that wonderful world waiting out there for anyone willing to take the time.
“Making a film is telling a story, and since my youth days I have enjoyed not only listening to stories but telling them as well” Samantha explained.
The last day on the set is one of relief and pride, as they present their new film to the world. And perhaps it should be captured on film for all the film fans out there. Samantha says that a keynote for her work is having a “good work ethic, presentation, and good communication, in which one must know whom to talk to, at the right time, and with the right information”.
“In the future, I hope to be wiser, calmer, and perhaps one day, a Production Designer”, she explains. She also knows that in the industry many doors and opportunities can open up and one must be ready to move forward and explore all the possibilities.