Interview with “Help Her Live” Filmmaker Frankie Kraft

By Morgan Roberts

Frankie Kraft is an actor, writer, and director originally form New York City. He began performing off-Broadway until he moved to Los Angeles at age 10 with his family. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he attended performing arts schools before moving back to Manhattan to attend Circle in the Square Theatre School to study musical theatre. After his training, Kraft pursed theatre as an actor. During this time, Kraft created an original musical with his younger sister, Sammi Kraft. “Funeral: The Musical,” with book by Frankie and music/lyrics by Sammi, was workshopped in early 2012. The musical is a semi-autobiographical story of a teenage boy in his final year of high school struggling with the death of a close family member. Sammie wrote over 13 original songs for the musical which delved into existential quandaries about death, grief, and the afterlife. Six months after the workshop performance, Sammi passed away in a car accident. After the tragedy, Kraft returned home to Los Angeles where he continues to pursue acting and creating original content. In 2013, Kraft and his older brother created the production company Sammi Girl Productions. That same year, Kraft produced and directed a 12-episode documentary web series, “What I Became: The Story of Funeral: The Musical,” about the journey of the musical and the loss of Sammi.

In 2015, Frankie created BGB Equality which is a collective of LGBTQ+ artists who are working to change the perspective of the industry. The BGB Equality brings together LGBTQ+ actors and industry professional to create new material, discuss their experiences in the business, and provided opportunities to collaborate with their peers. Kraft boasts a dynamic and wide range of work including short films, live theatre productions, LGBTQ+ advocacy, street wear merchandise, and podcast. 

Most recently, his documentary short, “Help Her Live,” has been receiving acclaim and award recognition winning Best Mid-Length Documentary and the Audience Award at DOC LA 2022 along with Award of Merit Special Mention at the Impact DOC Awards in January 2023. “Help Her Live” chronicles Kraft’s journey to meet Yvonne Payne, the woman who received Sammi’s heart. The documentary is a moving portrait about grief, loss, hope, and legacy after an unimaginable tragedy.

“In Their Own League” writer Morgan Roberts sat down with Kraft to talk about “Help Her Live,” his sister Sammi, the struggles and joys of sharing your vulnerabilities with your art, and musicals – lots of musicals. 

Frankie Kraft

Morgan Roberts:So, Frankie again, thank you so much for talking with me. I was wondering if you could first just tell me about your sister Sammi.

Frankie Kraft: My sister Sammi was an artist. She was an athlete. She was a big dreamer, like myself. She was hilarious. She was one of those people who could just  quote movies verbatim with the accent and, like, the facial stuff. She was really talented. She was a carefree, happy person. And she was a great poet. She was able to express herself. And I’m so grateful for this part of what she’s left behind, which is her lyrics and her personal stories and her poetry about her heartbreak and grief and just youth, just capturing that energy. That innocence that really is my happy place, my safe place, my place that I go to for comfort. She’s just a blanket of emotion for me and my family. And I’m so excited to meet new people and them ask me about her. That’s just my makes me so happy. So thank you for asking.

Morgan: Absolutely. And I know that after she passed away, your family made the decision to donate her organs. And your film, “Help Her Live,” which is also based off of one of her song lyrics, you meet, Yvonne Payne, the recipient of Sammi’s heart. And so for you, what was the journey of making the decision to meet Yvonne? And then how did you decide that you wanted to turn that into a documentary film?

Frankie: So, a lot of the music that you see in [“Help Her Live”] is music that I wrote with Sammi, or she wrote with me. I was working on a play at the time. We did this musical together, and she and I were collaborating. Sammi died six months after we had performed that for the first time. We were just on the first stage of working on that show. It was cut off really early because of her death. That was a huge shock to me. I mean, I’m still, to this day, surprised by that part. And so, in the wake of her death, it was really difficult for me to visualize myself working on her material without her. I just didn’t know what to do. I knew I wanted to do something, but I just wasn’t sure. 

And so when I was living in New York, still at the time of her accident, I flew to Los Angeles. That was when I learned that she wasn’t going to make it. Then we have to go to the hospital and learn all those tragic details about that, and also, how this all kind of works. I mean, you don’t really ask too many questions about organ donation unless you’re in that situation, or at least from my experience that was the first time I found myself seeing how this works. My sister was an organ donor, but they still have to go through this procedural thing where they go down a list of organs and they ask you what organs they can donate. 

When it got to my sister’s heart, my dad kind of snapped up. And you see in the movie, he kind of tells a little portion of that story about wanting to designate my sister’s heart to somebody that he knew who needed a heart. And when he said that, like, me, my brother, we all kind of had a reaction of, “what are you doing?” And [the hospital was] like, “That’s really impossible. There’s a long list of people who need a heart. Plus, she has to be a perfect match.” And he was like, “Well, let me try.” So then that sort of miraculously happened. He made that phone call and turned out, she was a perfect match. Which is just, I mean, wrap your mind around that, you know, it’s just kinda like, how is that possible? So then, even just the idea of my sister’s organs getting excavated and placed into someone else’s body was something I just couldn’t accept. It was just too many steps down the grief path that I wasn’t immediately ready to take. So I waited. My parents met with Yvonne and her family many times before this, but in the film is the literal very first time you see me meet her, speak with her.

There was a lot of coordinating behind the scenes of people trying to capture that moment. To make sure it worked out because, it was a small crew of us and I was trying to direct this project. And then you also asked, what made us come up with this? Well, the short answer is that my mom, seven years after my sister died, said, “[Yvonne] would love to meet you.” And I think if there’s anything we’ve learned is that no tomorrow is promised. You never know what’s going to happen. And you can make something of this. I really, really struggled finding resources for just my grief, just looking for sibling loss, anything that I could connect to. There’s a lot of things out there, there’s a lot of great resources, and, documentaries, books, but I wasn’t connecting, like specifically. So I thought, “Okay, I can put my artistic energy into this,” which has been kind of a coping mechanism since she’s passed. 

Being able to take this risk and make this film and show my story and my sister’s story and Yvonne’s story has made me feel like I’m still collaborating with my sister. I’m still doing things with her having my back.

– Frankie Kraft

Morgan: You bring up “Funeral; The Musical,” I watched your series “What I Became” as well. And I found it very interesting, I mean, that was pretty much completed, what, within about a year of Sammi’s death. And so with your film, kind of revisiting that but in a different way. What were some things that you took from processing grief from that project, and brought with you and what were some things that you decided you wanted to leave behind?

Frankie: Thank you for watching. It’s a key to my heart. For people to learn about my sister means so much to me, so thank you. I was 22 when Sammi died and she was 20 years old. And we had filmed what you see in the web series. We filmed what was the workshop. That was us being really precocious young people feeling like, “oh, this is going to be the this is gonna be great footage for our PBS documentary in the future when they’re talking about all the awards we’ve won in our whole lives.” And we have this footage of us as kids. And when she died and it wasn’t the dream anymore, it looks just completely different from the way I envisioned it. I was like, “I have to process this.” Also, since it was so close to that time of that deep collaboration with my sister and closeness with her, it felt unfinished. I felt that I needed to do this for her, not just for me, but for also for her. I couldn’t just let it sit and not be shown to people because I just believed in it so much. I believed in her work. 

Also, I’m a Pisces, so I love an emotional rollercoaster. I love to feel things. I love to express things I love too. One of the joys, I mean, I don’t mean to sound like a sick person here, but one of the joys of having [“Help Her Live”] shown in front of audiences that I’ve just really enjoyed has been the emotional reaction that by the end of the movie, I can hear boohoos, like, audible boohoos and that they were moved. I love to just kind of take that in. I don’t know what they’re crying about, but it’s exciting that people are feeling. So, I mean, back then it was something I needed. I had to finish, had to accomplish, the web series. And I think once it finished, I was like, “okay, I can now begin my next grief process.”

Morgan: One of the things that really struck me in “Help Her Live” was the way in which you used the gathering of people in both times of joy and sorrow. And to me, it felt very much like these are not juxtaposing, polar opposites, but they can simultaneously exist. So what to you was the purpose of including not just your own birthday party, and that gathering that really was kind of bittersweet, but the gathering that you had with Yvonne’s family as well?

Frankie: I think that one of the themes that Sammi and I worked on together, I could go there, which is death and life, and the beginning of life, and what happens when we go. These kind of heavy, existential questions that young people have, that older people have, that middle aged people have, that everyone has. I was doing multiple things in the movie, which was sharing my sister’s life, sharing my life, my life before my sister and my life after my sister, meeting the woman who lives with my sister’s heart. I felt like there was this linear idea of life, death birthday, just playing with that throughout the movie. Also, there were just certain things that I think people need to see which is the difficulty of birthdays when you’ve lost somebody, holidays, in general. Not that it’s very difficult, but I wanted people to see that that is our typical birthday in my family. We just gather together. Also on my sister’s birthday; it’s an event, we do something that day. 

I knew I wanted to meet Yvonne on my sister’s birthday. And we planned this [meeting] kind of fast. So my birthday was coming up, and I’m a month away from [Sammi’s birthday.] So we thought, “Let’s film me and then we’ll film the meeting a month later.” So we spaced out the emotional stuff for us. And I thought that was a really important thing for people to see because, not that I’ve been quietly suffering with my grief. I think I’ve been pretty open and expressive about it. And I think I’ve tried to not push it down. I’ve worked with it. But I also wanted to be honest. That was a risk. It’s scary, but something that I think has paid off so far. And when it comes to sharing my family, my parents, I thought it’s been healing to them, to me. And I want people to see the the real side of what the family goes through. I wanted people to see my dad, who was this, you know, Jewish Tony Soprano type, crying about his daughter who was killed in a car accident. I thought that there’s no stronger way to show and tell this story in this part of it without them. So it kind of organically happen.

Still from “Help Her Live”

Morgan: And so you kind of mentioned, you were wearing multiple hats with this project. One of the things that I was really interested in was, what were the decisions that you were making in the editing? Because you have this really incredible footage of your current journey at the time, in 2019. But then interweaving that with videos from your childhood, from the videos Sammi was making with her music, and so what was the balance for you in trying to weave those three pieces together?

Frankie: Well, luckily, I would say from working on the web series with my cousin, who’s my filmmaking partner, Eric Goodwin. He’s incredibly talented. And he’s really the secret weapon, the magic behind everything. He’s able to synthesize my emotions and feelings based on what our discussions are about the footage. We spent so much time in 2013 just going through all of that footage for the web series. So we had this great knowledge of the bank of material we had to work with going into this project. By the time we were filming this, we knew what we had, and he visually knew. He was able to kind of, I think, intrinsically frame things in that style and theme. It just kind of ended up working that way. 

And after the meeting in 2019, which, it’s the irony of it being before the pandemic, you know, seeing New York before the pandemic, I needed a break. I needed some time to just sit with what just happened. There was so much energy put into filming it, and then it all happened so fast. I’m also a perfectionist, and so I was scared of what it was going to look like and turn into. And it was very emotional. So we took some time. Then, by the time I was ready to do it, it was 2020 and it was the pandemic. But the silver lining there was it allowed us this huge amount of time to really just focus in on what this was, and just keep chiseling away at the film.

And I’m really glad I could share that with people because no one knows what to say. I’m sure we all deal with grief. We all deal with trauma in some sort of way. And yet, we still don’t know the right things to say to each other. We get nervous. We just back away….So to be able to gather has been just so incredible.

– Frankie Kraft

Morgan: And now, post-COVID, you have been able to show the film over the last year or so. I know you mentioned that you love hearing the people go through their own personal emotional rollercoasters. But what else has either been surprising or joyous for you as you’ve been bringing “Help Her Live” to audiences?

Frankie: It’s really easy and difficult. I think beyond making things and to have them received and to have them considered, the beauty of connecting with people and their stories, but there has also been the personal self-esteem aspect that’s gone with it, which has been so difficult. If I’m being honest, as an artist, it’s difficult to wake up if you’re not with 100% purpose and doing something. I went to school for musical theater; I was a theater boy my whole life. And I grew up during that still difficult time for being queer – which I know that sounds like kind of an oxymoron – being gay in theater is difficult. But it was at the time because I didn’t really know where I landed there. 

So when I started to collaborate with my sister and be with her, I really found a new hope within my artistry, my direction. And without her here, I felt really just on a planet of my own. Being able to take this risk and make this film and show my story and my sister’s story and Yvonne’s story has made me feel like I’m still collaborating with my sister. I’m still doing things with her having my back. And this is the right direction. I’m not really making a mistake here. This is only just going to enrich my life experience.

Morgan: Absolutely, I definitely understand the you’re sharing your authenticity and vulnerability, and the face some dismissive comments and takes. And I also want to know what has it been like sharing the film with your family and your friends? Because it is such a personal piece about grief, and living with that.

Frankie: Thank you for asking that because my family means so much to me. And so much has changed within the last 10 years since she’s died. I mean, my brother has gotten married, and he’s had children. And so we’ve had the just absolute dream of having that in our lives now. And it aches my heart to not have my sister here, but I feel excited for them. My niece and nephew at least can see this movie in the future. They’ll see my sister fully alive. Fully just in her coolness. That’s the best way to describe Sammi. She was just really cool. So I’m grateful for that aspect. 

It’s also a family project. My mom was an executive producer when I was growing up. So it was fun to kind of throw her brain into the mix of making this happen. And she really helped us so much with that. My cousin, Tracy Feldman, did the artwork, and she was able to process whatever was going on for her about her grief with Sammi. She was able to channel that in this project. So all of that love and energy and thoughtfulness and tenderness and care came into this project. And that’s what really lifted it up. 

By the time we were premiering in Los Angeles, where we were from basically, we had so many of Sammi’s  people in the audience. People from her high school, her middle school, these people who haven’t gathered since her funeral. And Richard Linklater did a video message in the beginning of that, too, saying that he couldn’t be there, but he wanted to be there. It was so special, and I could just feel everyone’s collective healing. It was a very healing thing. 

And I’m really glad I could share that with people because no one knows what to say. I’m sure we all deal with grief. We all deal with trauma in some sort of way. And yet, we still don’t know the right things to say to each other. We get nervous. We just back away. We sometimes, sadly, stop being connected to each other because we’re scared of confronting grief or loss or whatever it is. So to be able to gather has been just so incredible. I’m going to speak for myself, but it’s been so incredible seeing all of Sammi’s people gather. I mean, 10 years after she died, together in a room. It was a reunion of this magnitude where I got to share this movie for the first time with these people. And they were all seeing it with their eyes for the first time. And it was moving.

Still from “Help Her Live”

Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what your film does. It doesn’t shy away from the grief part. But it also doesn’t make you sit there. You get to see the joy. And so, for you what has been a moment that has brought joy to you on this journey?

Frankie: Meeting Yvonne, honestly. She is incredible. There was so much of her story that we sat and talked about. There’s so much of her story that she still needs to tell and I want to encourage her to do so because she’s just a beaming, bright light in our world. I am just so happy that she exists with us and that she carries my sister’s heart. And not only that, but she carries my sister’s honor like, she’s really been such a beautiful character in my life since meeting her. 

I’m extremely grateful for her being open to us coming to her house and filming. It’s a lot. I mean, yes, we designated Sammi’s heart to her, but she didn’t owe us anything. And I tried to do my due diligence with organ donation, with Donate Life and things like learning about organ donation after this. It’s rare that you as the donor’s family meet the recipient. It usually doesn’t happen. So I wanted to take advantage of that amazing circumstance.

Morgan: Frankie, again, thank you so much. And if you don’t mind, doing a few rapid-ish fire questions to end our interview. Are you cool with a few?

Frankie: Of course.

Morgan: Okay, great. So since you’re a musical theater guy, what is your favorite go-to comfort musical?

Frankie: Wow, pick one? Jeez. “Rent.” “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Morgan: Perfect. Those are great. If you could pick one documentary that you think everyone should see, what’s the documentary that you would put on?

Frankie: Okay, there’s so many. I’m going to musical theater documentaries, because we just were talking about musicals, but I can’t have two musical theater answers back to back. Okay, “Grey Gardens.” 

Morgan: That’s the correct answer.

Frankie: That’s the first one I can really just say is you have to see that movie.

Morgan: And what is a film soundtrack that you love to listen to?

Frankie: That’s fun. “Cabaret.”

Morgan: That’s a great one too!

Frankie: [laughs] I’m telling you, you can’t open the musical theater door for me.

Morgan: I see nothing wrong with this! And last question, who is a person from an underrepresented community in your industry that you would love to work with and why?

Frankie: God, I have a list of them. Let’s see. This one is kind of sticking out to be because it’s the finale of “[RuPaul’s] Drag Race” tonight. Bob the Drag Queen is one of my absolute comfort watches. I think Bob the Drag Queen is a genius, talented across the board. I think they are underutilized and they can do a lot. And I would just love to collaborate with Bob the Drag Queen.

Morgan: I hope that this happens.  

Frankie: Yes, especially because I do a lot more than make documentaries about my grief and my sister.

Morgan: Yes, yes, absolutely.

Frankie: So I would like to continue on after this making all of those other things that I want to do.

Morgan: Wonderful.  And I know I can’t wait for that. 

For information on Kraft’s short film. “Help Her Live,” visit

For information about Kraft’s work, you can visit his website,

April is National Donate Life Month. More than 100,000 people are waiting on lifesaving organ transplants. In 2022, more than 21,300 people brought new life to recipients and their families. To learn more about organ donation and how to register to become an organ donor, please visit


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