The interview: Samuel Goldberg, co-founder of Blood Orange Pictures and Producer of SILO
Samuel Goldberg is a film, television, theatre and live events producer based in New York City. He began his career as an actor and moved into writing and creative producing while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Samuel has produced multiple award-winning documentaries including Web and Silo: Edge of the Real World and has worked with renowned artists Jon Batiste, Shaina Taub and Louis Cato, to name a few.
Most recently he produced the feature film SILO about a grain entrapment accident and rescue in a small American farm town. Samuel believes in the power of stories to produce empathy and alongside his amazing wife loves telling tales to their infant daughter, Taal.
What inspired you to produce a film about the dangers of grain entrapment?
Five years ago mutual friends introduced me to a film director from Tennessee. He pitched me the idea of a film about grain entrapment, a subject I had never heard of before. As a born and bred New Yorker (from Manhattan) I knew very little about agriculture.
But Marshall, the director, pitched more than just a unique film plot about a grain entrapment rescue. He pitched me on the idea of depicting rural America and farmers in an authentic way that highlighted their devotion to community and to fuelling our planet. I was drawn to that subject given the divisiveness in American culture and the lack of knowledge I personally had about the subject of agriculture. From there, the creative process began.
What valuable information about the milling/farming industry did you discover whilst producing Silo?
Frankly, everything that I discovered was new to me, so I developed a profound appreciation for a profession that is crucial to human survival. As I dug into our research and development process, I was surprised at how dangerous a profession this can be. I don't think people quite appreciate the safety, logistical, technological and financial complexities of agriculture. I was blown away by that, which made me even more inspired to produce SILO.
Did Sukup approach you or did you approach Sukup, regarding featuring their silo within your film?
We approached Sukup after seeing their grain bins on a beautiful farm in Kentucky. We called their office and two weeks later I was on a plane to Sheffield, Iowa to meet with the family. Their dedication to farm safety and community service is incredible and they jumped right in with both feet.
The scenes of grain entrapment within the film were very realistic. How did you ensure the safety of the actors whilst recreating these entrapment scenes?
We worked with two great stunt men, Bill Scharpf and Jeff Constine. They were on-set to ensure that all stunt scenes looked realistic, but without putting any one in danger. Furthermore, we had an EMT and/or firefighter on site every single day of our film's production. They kept us safe and also gave us advice on how to film things, so that they didn't come off as 'phony Hollywood.'
What other safety measures did you have to take when filming in and around a grain silo?
Heights. Always about heights. It's dangerous to have a cast and crew climbing ladders all the time, so we had a lot of harnessing to do throughout production. We also made sure that corn dust, which is very combustible, was kept at a minimum near our very hot production lights.
What do you see as a possible challenge that the food industry may face over the next five years and how do we solve this?
Like many industries it seems that people are being forced to 'grow or die.' That is a very tough precedent to set. Not every farmer wants to be a huge business. This is often a family legacy passed down generations that is a point of pride for the producer and his/her community. I worry that our globalised society is forcing people to take financial risks that put them in harm's way physically and emotionally.
How do you think grain production companies can work together to help create a sustainable food future for the world?
I am not an expert in this space, but I will answer as best I can. I think no matter the profession one must engage in thoughtful dialogue with people different than themselves, to avoid getting stuck 'in a bubble.'
In agriculture, I think it is important to connect with the producer and the consumer to see where there are pain points in their experiences with food. Once you have a practical sense of how people are producing and consuming food then you can start to work backwards from there to create a sustainable model to provide what's needed.
Anything that will be sustainable - meaning will sustain itself for a long period - must not be done in a hurry for a profit motive. One can do well while also doing good in this world.
How did you gather your research about grain entrapment and the dangers of working in a silo?
We first approached professors of agriculture, starting with Dr. Bill Field at Purdue University in Indiana who is an expert in the space. He helped educate us and opened a lot of doors at American universities. Once we felt the educational perspective was covered, we spent a lot of time with farmers and fire rescue workers to hear about their experiences. Then we just did as much listening as we possibly could.
Is the farming/milling industry something you would like to explore again in the future in your career?
Absolutely. We are already working on another film that approaches this subject from another angle. We feel that rural areas are seldom depicted in film and television and we hope that as a company we can continue to bring a thoughtful artistic perspective to seldom-covered stories.