Samantha Nell, making her mark in performance directing

Gentlemen Films director, Samantha Nell, has quickly made a name for herself as a strong performance director with a talent for storytelling. Her reel showcases stand-out work in both comedy and drama, often combining the two, and has seen her directing some of the most renowned and respected actors in South Africa, in commercials and now in her debut feature film for Netflix. We caught up with the Gentlemen Films director about her rise in the industry.

“I’ve had a blast over the last few years, growing, honing my skills, and now getting to run the marathon of the feature film. I am so proud of what I achieved, but also of the director that the process helped me to become. I’m excited to bring this new energy back to commercials and to future narrative projects.” Says Samantha.

Toward the end of 2021, Samantha was approached to direct a raunchy romantic comedy with some meaty dramatic bits for Netflix. The film, called ‘Do Your Worst’, debuted on March 10 2023 and quickly jumped to the Top 10 Netflix movies in South Africa (and Kenya). It is a hell of a proof of concept for Samantha’s reputation as a performance director in both comedy and drama as well as a filmmaker with a knack for collaborating with seasoned actors.

Stills from Samantha’s feature film for Netflix, titled ‘Do Your Worst’.

On where her skill for performance directing comes from, Samantha says: “Jewish neuroses, haha. No, I think performance runs in tandem with story. Ultimately, story is a cause-and-effect journey to move the character through emotional spaces. So, it’s quite technical and you need to be able to communicate that to your actors.

The thing that helps me when talking to actors, is that I come from a traditional narrative background. I’ve been an actor both in my undergraduate and in my master’s degree and with that comes an understanding of the process and the tools that unlock performances.”

Whilst shooting her feature film Samantha hasn’t stopped directing commercial work, something she is eager to focus more on now that film production has ended. She has made spots that run the gamut of emotions, from laugh to cry to doccie work, Sam has been busy.

‘Do Your Worst Trailer

Spar Tops! ‘Month of More’

Showmax ‘Greed Personified’

Legalwise ‘Dont Risk It’

Owner of Gentlemen Films, Director Greg Rom says: “Working with Sam for the last three years now, it’s become apparent that she can take any script and breathe life into it. She has a deep understanding of how to weave a story, an understanding of performance, comedy, timing and being smart with production resources. She gets what it takes to deliver an idea, concept, humour, and agencies love working with her, they almost always come straight back after a job to brief her again. Above all though, Sam knows how to direct actors.”

According to Samantha, a total film buff who nerds out on the cogs of filmmaking, there is a clear difference between directing feature films and commercials. “Feature films allow for a detailed exploration of a character’s journey from one point to another, which is the luxury of the time you have to tell that story. But when you only have 30 seconds, we tend to depict different states of existence from scene to scene and use the cut to evoke the change between them. Both mediums have extraordinary depth, but it’s only by knowing exactly which medium you’re playing in that you can really make a narrative pay off; whether it’s 30 seconds or 90 minutes, story is king.”

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Sanra Broekman

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Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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