New Surge Productions: Student filmmakers assemble against industry restrictions

Junior Samantha Ratliff created New Surge Productions last spring to provide a space for aspiring and underrepresented student filmmakers. Photo by Enza Marcy

Fabian Fontanez, Contributing Writer

As a woman in the film industry, junior Samantha Ratliff said she was often told where she belonged, including “in the kitchen.” In response, she started her own filmmaking club and production company: New Surge Productions. 

Established last spring, Ratliff said the club provides a space and voice for aspiring and underrepresented student filmmakers who have faced similar discrimination.

“I knew I wanted to go into filmmaking, but I just thought as a woman, that was not an option,” the mass communications major said. “I just wanted to give the opportunity to work with minorities, and everyone who just felt how I felt — that they really didn’t have a place in the industry.”

Junior Samantha Ratliff. Photo by Enza Marcy

She hopes to generate a sense of “creative freedom” among members from various backgrounds and departments, and create a space that allows ideas –– even ones unpopular in the industry –– to be heard.

“There’s so much red tape,” Ratliff said. “There’s a lot of layers that your ideas have to go through before they can be produced, made, all that.” 

The company currently has a small team of around 20 people, composed of individuals from various industry backgrounds, such as screenwriters and costume designers. Despite the differences, Ratliff doesn’t let job titles restrict idea pitches. 

“Knowing that a makeup artist can pitch a film idea to the screen really just like that,” Ratliff said, “I think that’s what makes us so tight.” 

Ratliff said members of the group appreciate getting swift responses to their ideas, receiving feedback and being able to follow through with their pitches without as many hurdles.  

Before her idea could come to fruition, Ratliff had to assemble a team, even if some members didn’t have as much film experience. This led to her inviting other driven individuals and classmates.

Junior mass communications major Ethan Parker focuses on design and visuals for the group’s website and branding. As the club’s head of experience, Parker’s goal is to build the company’s visual identity and future plans alongside Ratliff.

“She’s a badass and a super good leader,” Parker said. 

He admires Ratliff’s attitude toward her passion project and desire to make a change without being afraid of “pissing people off” along the way. 

Vice President Henry Moore said the name New Surge Productions reflects the drive to make a change in the film industry by pushing traditional boundaries.

“With our films and documentaries … we don’t want to just follow the trend,” the senior mass communications major said. “We want to push boundaries and touch on subjects that people might not agree with.”

With an extensive collection of films, the mass communications major cites Wes Anderson as her favorite director. Photo by Enza Marcy

Ratliff said the team had come together as if they were “already friends for 10 years.” She said they have been able to discourse politely and pitch ideas, creating a welcoming and encouraging environment. 

The company had initial plans of a short film for the fall, but has since delayed the project due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ratliff and Moore are now focusing on the pre-production process — developing pitches for feature length films and ideas for socially distanced activities.

New Surge Productions has plans to hold a “knockout style film festival” for the spring, allowing audience participation and a space for college students to display their work in a non-professional environment. 

Ratliff views college as a time to take risks, especially with access to equipment in VCU’s Cabell Library and cinema department. She urges other filmmakers and those who feel like they don’t belong in the industry to apply for the spring semester. Interested parties can sign up for their email list online

“I always tend to bite off more than I can chew,” Ratliff said. “But this experience has actually paid off because there are so many people who are just as tired as I am and who want to do something about it.”

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