Film and Television Grad Directs First Feature Film

Samiyah Wardlaw, Jane Cammisa and more than a dozen other Drexel grads and students are working together to bring the indie romance "Burn Out" to life.
Director Samiyah Wardlaw

Director Samiyah Wardlaw on set of "Burn Out."

Samiyah Wardlaw may not entirely relate to the main character of her first feature film “Burn Out,” but they both have one big thing in common — a whirlwind summer post-college.

Wardlaw, who graduated as part of the class of 2022 from Drexel University, started writing a script over spring break of her senior year. As a film and television major, she knew she wanted to make a summery film and leaned into the unknown world waiting for her after graduation. The result is “Burn Out,” a coming-of-age film that takes place the summer after the main character’s college graduation. The main character, Frida Coleman-Wood, is juggling a romance with a childhood best friend, taking care of her younger sister and trying to plan the rest of her life. Wardlaw co-wrote the script with Jane Cammisa ‘22. Once they got going, they wrote and rewrote the script about a dozen times.

“I think the things that the character is thinking about and going through were things that we were all starting to think about and go through and knew that they were coming, so it was easier to write it,” Wardlaw said. “But at the same time, I think that the character is very different than me as a person and it's also always interesting writing a character that's different from yourself.”

Wardlaw is the executive producer, co-writer and director of the film and spends her days focusing on actors and managing the crew. Along with Wardlaw and Cammisa, most of the team is composed of Drexel grads and current students, and Wardlaw is glad to have another summer with her people before they go their separate ways. A few team members had already worked together making short films for their own senior projects. Now, they’re making their first feature film together.

Because of the small community of students majoring in film and television at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Wardlaw saw a lot of the same people throughout her undergraduate experience and got to build good friendships and relationships.

“We have so much fun on set and it's because we all know each other so well," Wardlaw said. “Because the days can be long and hard, it’s nice to be doing it with your friends.”

Since the 15-person crew began filming in mid-July, they’ve had four 12–13-hour days of shooting film, with one to go at the time of publication. Once filming wraps, “Burn Out” will go into post-production, where editing, sound mixing and colorizing will happen. Wardlaw estimates the film will be ready in December or January.

Jane Cammisa works the camera

Jane Cammisa works on set of "Burn Out." 

The crew recently wrapped up a round of fundraising through IndieGoGo, and they’re hoping to raise about $20,000 to pay the cast and crew, buy food, pay for equipment and go into post-production. For the most part, initial funds have come from family and friends. Wardlaw is hoping to be able to show potential donors parts of the film by the time the next campaign rolls around, so they know what they’re giving to.

“For a lot of us, it's our first time crowdfunding on such a large level, so it's definitely a learning process,” Wardlaw said. “We’re also looking into other grants and sponsorships and other avenues.”

When “Burn Out” is complete, the crew will enter the film in various festivals to earn exposure, and then it’s on to the next project for everyone involved with the film. Wardlaw, who loves producing, wants her next film to be a thriller.

Throughout her Drexel career, Wardlaw worked on building relationships with the people around her and developed friendships and working relationships. For current film and television students at Drexel, she emphasized the importance of those relationships.

“Build relationships with people you can count on and people you can trust, because especially with this project, I have just had to rely on friends so much,” Wardlaw said. “Filming in a heatwave and seeing the way my crew has come to work when it’s like 100 degrees, they’re doing that because they want to be there. I think a lot of people thought it was kind of crazy that I was going to make a feature my first summer out of college and get all these people behind it and raise money, but we’ve been doing it and it’s been super rewarding.”