MONTCLAIR, NJ - One of Montclair’s own is putting her life on the big screen, and is sharing it at the Montclair Film Festival.
Liz Samuel is a Montclair resident, a wife, a mom of two, and an accomplished actress, and now, she can even call herself a filmmaker. After dealing with loss and trying to balance all of the things going on in her life, Samuel turned to what she knows best to share her story: film. Not only did she write her film, she also produced it and starred in it, and came out with a short film she is proud of.
“Momtress” is a comedy/dramedy that tells the story of a mom who is trying to keep her life in balance. She wants to be a good mother and keep up a successful acting career while also trying to deal with the loss of her own mother.
“'Momtress' came out of a tough year of grieving the loss of my mother. She was my biggest cheerleader, my every day phone call, my best friend,” Samuel said. “Losing her meant that I didn't know who would be there for me after every audition, callback, kid situation, wins, losses, etc.”
Samuel began writing episodes of the series in May 2016 and by the beginning of June she had combined six episodes into one short film, which is set to be the pilot of the series. She worked with a consulting producer to hire a director, cast and crew by the end of June and shot the film in just two days in mid-July, a timeline Samuel said was “very ambitious.”
“The editing process was much more arduous than I had expected,” Samuel said. “I thought we'd have it cut by end of August. Instead, we did not finish this project until mid-December! So many edits, so many decisions.”
The town of Montclair played a huge part in the film, with the film being shot mostly in and around Samuel’s house in Upper Montclair, as well as outside La Belle Vie Salon in Watchung Plaza and outside of Watchung school.
The cast even includes actors from Montclair. Leo Cohen-Vidger, Geraldine Leer, Claudine O'Hayon and Amy Scott play Sebastian, Libby’s mom, the voice of Libby’s agent and the voice of animal control, respectively.
Samuel wanted to cast her own kids – Isabelle, 12, and Oliver, 9, -- but they had prior obligations.
“I wanted to use my own kids but they made the decision to go to sleep away camp,” Samuel said. “My son's friend, Leo Cohen-Vigder, heard I was going to cast and he pitched himself to me and then auditioned for our director, Jeremiah Kipp, who thought he was perfect for the role. We held auditions in the city for the other roles.”
As for Samuel’s husband, he is not a character in the film, a decision Samuel felt was the right one to make in order to get her message across.
“You don't see the husband at all because I wanted to show how even if you are married, it doesn't mean your spouse is on that daily journey with all the little ups and downs and 'craziness' of the parenting balance,” Samuel said.
Even though Samuel’s husband David Samuel is not a part of the film, he supports all that she does in the film industry and has even starred with the whole family in an I Love NY commercial that has been running throughout 2017. Isabelle and Oliver also support their mother’s career and even show excitement for what she does, especially since they also audition for film and TV roles.
"Momtress" is another accomplishment Samuel has to add her list of appearances, which include several indie films, television shows on Discovery ID, Nat Geo and truTV, many commercials and numerous theater productions in New York and New Jersey. Samuel has also hosted web shows, including “The Mommentators” and “What'd You Call My Baby?”
Samuel may be busy, but no matter how hard her schedule gets, her family always finds a way to work it out, she said. The support from her husband, children and the Montclair community are what makes a time-consuming and difficult career something that Samuel finds fulfilling.
“It's hard! But also very fulfilling. I don't think I'd be able to just stay home and take care of the house and kids. I would get really antsy,” Samuel said. “I also think my kids really enjoy that I work as an actress. And I mainly have auditions when they are at school, so it works out pretty well.”
Something else that makes the experience even better for Samuel is being able to have her kids watch her film on the screen they watch other movies on as well.
Even with all the excitement, Samuel admits that she is a little nervous to finally share her film – and her life – with the world.
“It's always hard to put yourself up there and out there in front of an audience,” Samuel said. “Especially an audience that is local and knows you.”
“Momtress” is being shown this Sunday at 2 p.m. at Bellevue Cinema. It is a pilot to a series that Samuel hopes to shoot over the summer. To keep up with Samuel and her project, follow @momtress_series on Instagram and "Momtress" on Facebook.