Carmel Valley native named American Film Institute Conservatory Fellow
Former Earl Warren and Torrey Pines High student Sara Ross-Samko is among 28 newly named Cinematography Fellows, including seven women, who have been accepted this year by the prestigious American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles.
The two- year graduate program was recently ranked the Number One film school in the world by the Hollywood Reporter because of the unique hands-on production-based environment, selective international student body, and number of highly successful graduates, including directors Terrence Malick (Tree of Life), winner of this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or, David Lynch (Blue Velvet), John Cassavetes (Woman Under the Influence), and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler).
“It’s an incredible feeling to know you are following in the footsteps of so many cinematography masters, like Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List), Matthew Libatique (Black Swan), and Wally Pfister (Dark Knight),” said Ross-Samko.
Ross-Samko was a trumpet player while attending Torrey Pines and began college as a music major, but she always had a passion for film music and production. She is grateful to trumpet teacher and band director Frank Glasson, Earl Warren art teacher Carolyn Lippencott and Torrey Pines theatre instructor Marilee Payne for their influence.
“These people fostered and developed young aesthetic oddballs like me into future successful artists,” Ross-Samko said.
Ross-Samko attended the University of Southern California Summer Film Institute and the moment she picked up a camera, she knew she was home. An honors graduate of the Los Angeles Film School, she was awarded a Women In Film Foundation scholarship in 2009.
Ross-Samko spent a year after film school as an on-set still photographer and 2nd unit director of photography. Credits included on-set stills for the OK Go music video This Too Shall Pass and the upcoming feature “The Ghastly Love of Johnny X,” production assistant on Showtime’s “Weeds,” and 2nd unit camera operator for several independent productions before sending a long-shot application to AFI.
Thousands of hopeful filmmakers from all over the world send in sample reels and resumes — AFI accepts only 140 Fellows a year across six film disciplines.
This was a dream come true.
“It took a long time for it to sink in that I had really been accepted,” she said. “My fellow classmates are astoundingly talented. I am just so grateful to be here — to have the opportunity to study under some of the great masters of medium and to be among the people who represent the future of the movies.”
Ross-Samko is the daughter of fine art photographer and Del Mar Mesa planning board member Lisa Ross and stepdaughter of retired SAIC corporate vice-president Bill
Woolson, both residents of the Carmel Valley area since its beginnings.
“I guess it’s in the genes,” said Lisa Ross. “My grandfather was a photographer in the Czar’s cavalry, my mother an accomplished sculptor, and I am in my third career as a fine art photographer. But Sara is outdoing us all.” For more information, visit www.sararosssamko.com or www.filmsetphotography.com.
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