Sam’s journey as a filmmaker began in his freshman year at UC Davis in northern California. He took his dad’s GoPro to college, filming daily life on campus and making monthly round-ups. “When you have a GoPro, you need to film cool things,” Sam says, speaking from an Air BnB in Bali. “So we went out, did 18-year-old kid stuff, and I’d make monthly films.” His round-ups soon picked up steam amongst his community, and then he started making films for different student bodies on campus.
At the time, there was no infrastructure for filmmaking at UC Davis, so Sam had to be entrepreneurial in order to build momentum. He knew he wanted to travel and make videos, so when he graduated in 2016, Sam took the money he’d saved from filming weddings and bought flights to Europe with a friend.
Before the trip, Sam emailed about 500 companies, asking if he could film their products in exchange for freebies. The only companies to get back to him were the European Rail System, Wombat City Hostel, and a clothing company from Sacramento. That was enough. The pair bagged free rail and accommodation for the entire trip, and Sam got to experience first-hand what it’s like to work with big brands. He also learned an important lesson: “It’s a numbers game,” he says. “No matter how new you are, someone will eventually say yes.”
A year later, he emailed another thousand companies and got free flights and accommodation to Guam in exchange for filming a reggae music festival. Then he was off to Vietnam to film a promo for a pharmaceutical super-fruit startup, then to Kenya to work with an NGO.
“That trip opened many doors for me because it gave me a proper portfolio in the travel space,” Sam says.
Sam went to Thailand on a third expedition, where he met a travel photographer called Luke J Clark. “He was the first person I met who had the same goals and dreams as I did,” Sam says. One evening, Sam sacked off plans to travel with Luke to the famous Thailand Full Moon Party in a remote part of Thailand. It turned out to be the best decision he ever made.
“Three weeks later, Luke and I were in Iceland, and that’s where we decided to start a travel production company together.” For the next three years, Sam was neck-deep in Move To Create, jetting around the world to work with some of the world’s biggest travel brands.
“Luke was 19, and I was 23,” Sam says. “So you can imagine, the big companies might not want to work with such young creatives, but they were happy to work with Move To Create, the travel production company.” Over the next months and years, the pair would work with Shangri-La Hotels, Adobe, Omega, Etihad Airways, and scores of other major travel brands.
Sam’s company was just building momentum when COVID-19 came along and almost ruined everything. But Sam took the opportunity to build his own brand independently and see what he could do with YouTube. While the world was coming to grips with lockdown, Sam tapped into the one thing everyone was dreaming about travel. He uploaded a video explaining how he became a travel videographer and then created a tongue-in-cheek music video about content creation.
Within a few months, Sam had 50,000 subscribers. “That’s when I realized I can make my own videos and get paid to do it on my own terms,” he says.
Just as Sam’s YouTube career was taking off, Artlist reached out, looking for small creators with big potential to grow with the company. Sam fit the bill perfectly, so Artlist became his sponsor and ensured he could continue creating throughout the pandemic. “Now, I’m as deeply intertwined with the Artlist brand as a creator can be,” Sam says. He’s created dozens of videos, spoken on panel discussions, done voice-overs, and even produced an original track for Artlist.
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Sam uses Artlist’s music catalog to soundtrack his videos and inspires other creators to do the same. As a result, Sam often works with other Artlist creators. A good example is Feelm, the Slovenian filmmaking duo responsible for making one of Artlist’s most downloaded pieces of footage. When Artlist decided to create a film about Feelm, it was obvious that Sam would be the best person to film it.
So in early 2023, he jetted from LA to Portugal to meet with Feelm as they zoomed around Portugal in their van. “It’s kind of meta having a YouTuber make a film about filmmakers,” he says, but Sam is just as comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it, a unique combination in the film world.
“This was the first time I’d ever met [Feelm], and we spent three days together,” Sam says. “Day one, we got to know each other because, as a director, it’s important to take a step back and get to know the subjects to ensure I’m telling their story correctly.”
On the second and third days, we explored the coast of southern Portugal, driving from spot to spot to capture their unique life and work. They re-visited the location where Feelm shot their famous footage of van life on the coast and captured the moment Feelm could make their dreams a reality.
“That was the core component of this story,” Sam says. “I wanted to show through their eyes what it meant to realize their dream of traveling and being on the road, all thanks to this one shot that blew up and gave them the financial freedom to create that life for themselves.”
Sam loves to connect with other creators, as it inspires him to continue chasing his dream. “It’s great to meet other people who have taken that risk and broken the norms, whether they’re musicians, filmmakers, or visual artists,” Sam says. “And that’s a big part of what Artlist does – a good majority of their catalog is made from independent, real filmmakers.”
Sam’s advice for those interested in following in his footsteps is simple: start. “Don’t wait until you have assignments to explore creative freedom,” Sam says. “If you have a full-time job and want to make travel videos, set aside time to travel and aim to create a set amount of videos each month or year. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I’ve done this for ten years now and learned the hard way that many people will say no before they say yes.”
Sam’s mantra is: “You get paid for tomorrow what you make today.” It means that all the effort that goes into a project will pay off down the road when the commissions start rolling in.
It’s a mantra that’s served Sam well. It’s why he’s one of the most successful travel creators on the planet, and it helped him connect with Artlist, who have been instrumental in giving him the creative freedom he longed for. “Working with Artlist is cool because they want to know what makes me who I am and how they can support me,” says Sam. “So it’s pretty easy to feel empowered as a creative when working with a company that asks questions like that.”