Visiting 40-year veteran sound editor transitions to director

Vickie Sampson will be showing her newest short film "Shelby's Vacation". The screening will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in AJ175. Seed&Spark, Photo Courtesy
Vickie Sampson will be showing her newest short film "Shelby's Vacation". The screening will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in AJ175. Seed&Spark, Photo Courtesy

Vickie Sampson will be visiting Ball State’s campus this week to screen her newest directorial work, the short film “Shelby’s Vacation.” The screening will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Arts and Journalism Building Room 175. 

While her return to directing is somewhat recent, Sampson’s journey in the movie business has been a lifelong process.

Sampson has been around the movie business all her life. Growing up, she watched her mother, sound editor Kay Rose, work on countless films and win an Oscar for her work on “The River,” the first for a female sound editor. Sampson can remember, at 15 or 16, visiting her mother’s friend Verna Fields often, who was a film editor on “Jaws,” and, later, vice president of post production at Universal.

“Verna and my mom were friends, so I’d hang out at her pool, and Spielberg would come over with his springer spaniels and hang out in the backyard,” she said.

Her mom’s work and social circle rubbed off on Sampson, and she quickly soaked up a love for the movie business. She started off helping her mom and Fields with sound editing until she made her own name in the industry. She’s worked on many popular productions, including “Return of the Jedi,” "Speed,” “Donnie Darko” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

After 39 years of doing primarily sound work, Sampson decided to retire from sound and focus on her first love: directing. 

During her career, Sampson was chosen as one of twelve women out of 600 for the AFI’s prestigious Directing Workshop for Women, where she directed her first film, “Last Chance Saloon.” She went on to direct the 30-minute film “Click Three Times,” starring Isabel Sanford (from TV show “The Jeffersons”), which won many awards. 

“I went through high school and always thought I would be writing and directing stuff, that was my thing,” she said. “My goal was always to write and direct. But post production is a demanding field, so the writing and directing had to be put on hold for a while.” 

When the script for “Shelby’s Vacation” came along, Sampson knew this was her chance to jump back in. A friend she was connected to through a women’s film group, the Alliance of Women Directors, was looking for a director, and after a few meetings, Sampson was picked for the project. 

Nancy Beverly, a Hoosier native, had originally written the film as a full-length feature, but as time passed, she converted the script into a 30-minute short. Beverly is also a co-producer on the film. The two women started a fundraising page on Seed and Spark, a website that allows individuals to raise money for projects if they meet 80 percent of their funding goal.

Sampson said raising the funds for the film was difficult but rewarding.

“We did a campaign online, which I never want to do again,” she said with a laugh. “But we raised $32,000, which was more than 80 percent of what we were looking for, so we got to keep it and proceed with plans to shoot the movie.”

The movie was filmed in Southern California and features Laura Grimaldi and Brynn Horrocks playing the main couple, Shelby and Carol, who meet during Shelby’s vacation and learn to let go of past heartbreaks. Sampson hadn’t directed anything long since the short film “Click Three Times” in 2000, and said being on the other side of the boom mic again was eye-opening.

“I learned a lot about directing,” she said. “My DP [Director of Photography] and I spent hours and hours going over shot lists and storyboards, and then you get to the location, and by the time you’re set up the sun has moved and you have to find another tree to shoot next to! You kind of have to make a plan and then throw some of it out the door.”

Aside from the showing of “Shelby’s Vacation,” Sampson is also on campus to work with Vanessa Theme Ament, a professor of telecommunications and an Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Endowed Chair at Ball State. 

Sampson and Ament are friends who met while working in the field of film sound. This semester, Ament is leading a team of students in the creation of a documentary, “Amplified: Women in American Film Sound,” that will focus on both the accomplishments and challenges experienced by women in the industry. The project is hosted by the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

Sampson will be sharing both her expertise and her own experiences with the team. She said she has experienced her fair share of sexism in the workplace.

“I’ve been the only woman on a dub stage many times, and I’ll bring up an idea and people will just nod their heads, and then five minutes later a man will say the same thing I did, and the group will say, ‘That’s brilliant!’” she said. “It’s a tough place to be, and it can be easy for men to take advantage of women editors or assistant editors.”

For every bad experience, however, Sampson said there were also good ones. She still recalled the respectful treatment she received from director Richard Kelly on the set of “Donnie Darko,” on which she was supervising sound editor.

“We learned how to speak each other’s language,” she said of Kelly. “Now that I’m directing, I can help people with sound and be more aware of the work everyone else has to do.”

Sampson, who has taught at UCLA, AFI, USC and Video Symphony, always enjoys speaking with film and TCOM students about her career and the value of prioritizing good sound in the movies they make. 

“I love reminding them of the potential sound has to offer them as filmmakers,” she said. “It can make a scene feel scary, happy, claustrophobic – it has the potential to make people’s stories better.”

Sampson still has a hand in many different ongoing projects, both for sound work and directing. Though officially retired from sound editing, her love of the film industry and the magic of movies will continue to keep her involved and working.