Lights, camera, action: Salisbury native focuses on film after 23-year military career

Published 12:02 am Saturday, February 12, 2022

SALISBURY — Satomi M. Martin discovered her special talent in the Salisbury High School auditorium.

Martin and her classmates had been tasked with writing and directing a play of their own creation. Relying on guidance from her mother and aunt, Martin developed a fresh take on Cinderella by setting the Disney classic against the backdrop of the 1970s.

Martin watched from backstage as actors and actresses brought her vision to life before the entire student body. The reviews were immediate and glowing.

“We did the performance in front of the whole school and they loved it,” Martin said. “From seeing their reaction, I was like, ‘Wow. I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”

She didn’t immediately chase a career in the arts when she graduated high school in 1998, but continued to flex her creative muscles during an Army Reserve career that lasted more than two decades. Now retiring as a major, Martin has big plans for her future in entertainment.

Opening Credits

Martin decided she needed a backup plan, just in case her path to the silver screen didn’t work out.

“I really wanted to pursue the arts, that’s my passion, but I wanted to go do something as a plan B,” Martin said.

She joined the Army, which would end up becoming more of a career than a safety net. She started her military career as a medic, which is why she decided to study laboratory science at Winston-Salem State University. Her laboratory knowledge helped her land a civilian job, first in a lab in Winston-Salem and then at a Charlotte lab. The work was fine, but unfulfilling.

“I was working third shift in the middle of the night at a microbiology lab,” Martin said. “Every part of me wanted to go to film school. I just kept thinking that I wanted to do my passion in life, but I was working in the medical field. I was bursting with creativity. I remember crying in the middle of the night at my job and I prayed to God and said ‘God, I feel like I need to make a move.’ ”

Only a few days after saying that prayer, Martin received a call that she was going to be deployed to Iraq.

“I always tell people to be careful what you pray for,” Martin said. “But, that was my ticket to say, ‘OK, God answered my prayers that I was ready for a change.’ When I got called to go I was nervous, but I knew I was directed to go.”

That didn’t mean she wasn’t a little anxious about deploying to a dangerous, war-torn country across the globe.

Martin worked in finance during her deployment. She was responsible for determining how funds would be used to support military missions and activities. Even during long, stressful days, Martin carved out time for art.

“I learned to live in between the cracks of war,” Martin said.

Martin started hosting events to give soldiers a momentary escape from the realities of war.

This time, she wasn’t entertaining her peers in a high school auditorium. She was putting on performances in the former palace of Saddam Hussein. With marble floors and intricate artwork hanging on the walls, the dictator’s digs turned out to be the perfect place to showcase jazz performances, small skits and poetry slams.

“The soldiers loved it,” Martin said. “They wanted something every month. It was also my outlet.”

Her military friends made her promise that she’d apply to film school to finally pursue her theatrical calling. She kept her word. While in Iraq, she started preparing her application to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts — one of the top film schools in the country with notable alumni such as George Lucas and Ron Howard.

After coming home and transitioning back to the life of an Army reservist, Martin was accepted into USC and enrolled in 2009.

Main act

Martin remembers classes at the prestigious film school being fun, but rigorous.

“It was hectic,” Martin said. “Before you even get accepted, during the interview, they ask you how you plan to pay for grad school because you’re not going to have time to work. That’s how rigorous it was.”

Martin took pointers from director John Singleton, known for movies like “Boyz n the Hood” and “Shaft,” and listened to a guest lecture delivered by Steven Spielberg. Some of her classmates have since become household names in their own right.

“So far, some of my peers have directed the biggest films,” Martin said. “Ryan Coogler, who directed ‘Black Panther,’ I worked with him on a student project.”

Martin collaborated with Coogler on his short “Fig,” which garnered several awards. She also started writing and directing her own projects.

After graduating from film school, Martin moved to Atlanta with her husband. They picked Georgia’s capital because it was closer to their east coast families while also being a hub for the movie and television industry.

Martin continued to serve in the Army Reserve, but switched her career path to public affairs. The new position combined her penchant for storytelling, her educational background in film production and her military service. Martin put what she’d learned at USC into practice, telling personal stories of other Army reservists for recruitment campaigns.

“Having gone to film school and then public affairs, I was able to tell stories in a different, compelling way,” Martin said. “That was always my goal.”

When the pandemic began, Martin was there to document how the Army mobilized. In one video, she captured Maj. Gen. Joe D. Robinson delivering a motivational speech to the Army’s medics as they prepared to assist the country’s medical institutions.

Robinson will be the one to lead Martin’s retirement ceremony in Atlanta on March 6. She’ll leave the military with 23 years under her belt.

The sequel

With the curtain on her military career coming to a close, Martin is flipping the page to focus her efforts entirely on writing and directing.

Having been first assistant director on multiple films, Martin already has several credits to her name. One of her favorite projects was working on the 2020 picture “Miss Juneteenth.” Martin recently participated in a pilot writing fellowship and one of her television episodes is being shopped to studios in Hollywood. She has several other completed screenplays and pilots she’d like to see on the screen.

A mother of two young children, Martin does most of her creative work in the quiet hours of the morning. She typically starts her day around 4 a.m. when she wakes up to meditate, pray, exercise and write.

Although she’s come a long way from the Salisbury High School stage, Rowan County is still home to Martin. She visits her mother, Jocelyn Mack, and the entire “Mack family” whenever she has a chance.

If the opportunity arises, Martin would be interested in filming in Salisbury, which has served as a filming location for several movies in the past few years.

“I would love to film in my hometown,” Martin said. “I love the community of Salisbury and what it produced. My best friends are still in Salisbury. I still have that same group of friends, same community of support.”

Martin’s portfolio of written work can be found online at spark.adobe.com/page/rfsslgaHlFfYA/.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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