Renfield hits digital platforms today, and to celebrate our favorite assistant coming home, we chatted with Chris McKay's producing partner Samantha Nisenboim. McKay and Nisenboim have been working together for years now, the partnership's inception beginning when Nisenboim was an assistant at Warner Bros., witnessing big regime changes and realizing that she wanted out of the assistant racket. She was seeking something more hands-on and decided to transition into producing. But where to start? She needed to find a filmmaker willing to take a chance on a 27-year-old assistant. Armed with a short list (including McKay's name), and a whole lot of knocking on doors, Nisenboim secured a meeting with McKay… who was looking for an assistant. Once in the room, she sold him on her plan. The two shared a background hailing from the 'burbs of Chicago and a matched energy. Several projects later, their producing partnership is still going strong.
"I kind of created the job out of thin air, but I think he is so ambitious and appreciates ambition and saw that in me. It's so hard to advocate for yourself, it's kind of mortifying, but that was what happened." After working together on the likes of The Tomorrow War and a series of Lego movies, Niesenboim has come to learn the types of projects McKay will gravitate towards. "How do I identify the projects that he wants to do, because that's the thing, it's not really about what I want to do. We always have a great discussion. But when I read Renfield, I said, 'This is McKay's next movie.' I could not imagine a more perfect script for this guy to go off and do next."
McKay had been looking to do a Universal Monster movie, and Niesenboim saw Renfield as the gateway into the Monsters universe. "I would hand him another script and say, 'I like this script. I love Renfield a lot more.'" The rest is history. While Nisenboim is a self-proclaimed scaredy cat, only watching horror movies during daylight hours and at home, she does have an affinity for Hitchcock, in particular. "Hitchcock was someone I had heard of, but I had never watched an Alfred Hitchcock movie until film school. What was intimidating about that was I was with all these boys who had heard of all these incredible filmmakers and had seen whatever it was 99 times, and I hadn't. I was a little bit embarrassed and shy in the early days of my career because I felt like I wasn't niche enough. I just didn't have the knowledge that it felt like other people had around me. It was just like, 'Well, go watch stuff. You can figure this out. Keep going, build the library, become a cinephile.'"
Being the only woman in a room can be intimidating, but Nisenboim's film school experience was already preparing her for often being the minority in the room and priming her for how to navigate that terrain. "I'm not afraid to ask questions anymore, and I'm not afraid to admit what I don't know because I think people are naturally inclined to want to help and excited to educate others. They're all in their little world and talk about everything together, so to have this kind of newcomer, they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't wait to show Samantha this.' And so that's been very warm and inviting."
"It's definitely hard. I look around the room many times, and I'm the only chick on board, but I am also competent and good at my job. I try not ever to differentiate myself that way. I am really steadfast in what I believe in."
When it comes to embracing the parts that differentiate her from the rest of the room, Nisenboim happily embraces those aspects. "I'm happy to be a woman and to embrace my nurturing and caretaker elements because I think the cast and crew really feel that from me. It's important to me that people are being flown away from their friends, away from their families, I want to make sure that they have a good experience. If I'm the leader, I have to ensure I've got you covered. I'll cry on set and get emotional. I don't care. That's who I am. And they're tears of joy. You kind of just have to be who you are. I think people respect you so much more if you just own who you are versus trying to pretend that you're one of the boys or something."
That message of staying true to yourself resonates throughout Renfield (amidst the wildly fun set pieces of bodies piled up and limbs being torn off.) "It's a lot like Renfield. You have to look inside, embrace yourself, and find a way to grow to full power. We all have it inside of ourselves, and we should be less afraid to embrace that. The more you own it, that's when you find the real connections."
You can watch Renfield on digital platforms today and check out our interview with director Chris McKay right here.