Film - Sisters

Premiere

Good evening!

In my last post I promised to tell you all about my new film, the premiere and the lives we lead at NYU Tisch Grad Film.

Over the past few months most of the content on my blog has revolved around my film “Sisters” — the film that was a beast to shoot because of all kinds of challenges, and a beast to finish because I lost my apartment and traveled to South Dakota to guest speak in the middle of the post-production.

However, all long nights and endless days aside, I crossed the finish line just in time. But before we get to that, let me tell you about the glamour of film school.


Screenshot from “Sisters”: Cinematography by Kai Torres.

I used to take pride in never pulling all-nighters in college. In fact, a good chunk of my honor was anchored in my ability to finish my homework before 7 PM most nights and to keep Saturdays completely off. I was that girl who always showed up to class wide awake and rested after eight hours of sleep and a six-mile run before breakfast.

That, however, has not been the case this semester. Or this past year, for that matter.

Inside the NYU Grad film classrooms you’ll frequently hear professors, students and alumni compare the program to Medical school, the Army and training for the Olympics. If you’ve read the blog for a while, you know that I’m not exaggerating — it’s not uncommon for us to spend 14-16 hours at school every day. We don’t get weekends, spring break or fall break, but in turn we get to do what we love all day, every day. I think it’s a good deal.

Screenshot from “Sisters”: Cinematography by Kai Torres. Starring the talented Willow Eve (left) and Lily Brooks O’Briant (right).

Those past couple weeks before our short films (aka Spring Narratives) were due, I was in the editing lab until 6 AM night after night. You’d think that’s the behavior of eccentric lone wolves, but the strangest part is that I was surrounded by my classmates the whole time.

Some left the lab in tears, but came back determined to stick it through only a few moments later. Others left with stomachs growling so loudly it could be heard through people’s headphones (me), and returned with some low-quality food from a vending-machine to keep them going (also me).

We were all in this together.


In the editing lab: Baseball caps are great when you don’t have time to take care of your hair… Photo: Kai Torres.

The thrill of seeing what began as an idea in your head come to life, mixed with the nauseating feeling of discovering that you missed an essential shot, and that your whole film will likely suck because of your complete incompetence is just one part of the editing experience. When hours of frantic editing, mixing, tricking and cheating pays off in the form of something that at least resembles what you had in mind, you’re no longer questioning your decision to become a filmmaker, and you start to get excited about the premiere that happens to be three weeks earlier than you’d like. You may have a somewhat coherent film to show on the screen that day, after all. It may even be decently good, who knows?

Then you pack your things and call it a day … or night, depending on which timezone you’ve chosen to identify with. You walk through the relatively empty streets of Manhattan and realize you haven’t had dinner yet. It’s 6:15 AM, and it’s too early for breakfast, and quite frankly, you don’t have enough money for dinner anyway, so breakfast it is.

The next morning you go back, exchange a few encouraging words with your classmates, plug in your hard-drive and do it all over again; until the premiere is so close you can feel it in your veins.


Screenshot from “Sisters”: Cinematography by Kai Torres.

The day is there and together with a full auditorium, you get to see what all your classmates have worked on since January. Their powerful voices expressed through stunning visuals on the screen, the pulsating reactions from the audience, and the nerve-wracking, yet exhilarating feeling of suddenly seeing your own film on that same screen. Up there, with all these talented humans you’re lucky enough to call your friends.

It was a success.


Screenshot from “Sisters”: Cinematography by Kai Torres. With the star, Lily Brooks O’Briant.

Even if I’m not 100% happy with my film, I’m a 100% happy with what I learned and the relations I gained during the process. My two movie stars, Lily Brooks and Willow did an amazing job, and I could not be happier with their work. Watch out for their names; they both have very bright futures ahead of them.

I’m still deciding on what will happen with this film next. I might want to apply to a few festivals, but we’ll see what my budget permits.


Screenshot from “Sisters”: Cinematography by Kai Torres.

I was going to tell you about the experience that almost turned me into a real New Yorker; it’s honestly so ridiculous that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to tell you, but I like to keep promises, so stay tuned for my next post. Like I said, you don’t want to miss it.

Blessings,
Maria

U-Hauling Away

Dearest readers,

I used to be rather unforgiving when my favorite bloggers went MIA for more than a week — it would be pretentious to assume that my blog is anyone’s favorite, I know — but instead of apologizing for my five-week absence I’ll welcome y’all back — Welcome back! 🙂

After my last post, one could think I got so comfortable on the prairie that I simply chose to stay, but before I tell you about that glorious piece of adventure, let me create some context for you.

You all know that I struggled hardcore with my housing situation earlier this spring. So, long story short: After days with phone calls across the country and meetings with brokers, my roommate and I lost our new apartment (deposit included). So, the day before I flew to Sioux Falls I didn’t know if I’d have a place to live when I returned. The irony of the situation was that the film that got me into NYU in the first place was about homelessness . . . Add this on top of the fact that I’d be out of town for four out of the 14 already-too-few days I had to edit my film, and you have a world-class stressload.

You can only imagine the relief of boarding the plane knowing that I could just fly away from all my troubles for a little while.

As a result, the whole trip to Sioux Falls became a safe haven where I didn’t have to worry about a thing. My dear Alma Mater, Augustana University (arranged by Dr. Mike Nitz) had taken care of everything; the flights, the schedule and most importantly — the HOUSING. I had a whole apartment for myself — a rare luxury for a poor student in NYC.

I did four guest speaking events on campus, and the audiences ranged from freshmen to a large group where the median age was closer to 80.

In between these more serious commitments, I looked like I was devouring a microphone, I had several other meetings lined up about a film I may shoot in Dakota next year. I also had some time to catch up with my dear friends who still live in the area.

Like these two amazing humans, Dr. Jeffrey Miller & Dr. Janet Blank-Libra (who besides being legendary journalism professors, also put in their fair share of effort into making film school become a reality for me).

And dear Ana who throughout my years at Augie always made sure I ate well in the cafeteria, and who taught me some new Spanish words every morning

And these folks here, who mostly distracted me from my homework. Or maybe it was the other way around … Anyway, you know I love you.

And my lovely Brittany! (Who gave me the best reason to come back next year — she’s getting married to her prince, Michael!)

And shortly after, my fellow Norwegian Augie-Viking announced that she’s getting married next year as well! I’m counting days!!

All in all I could not have asked for a better weekend at my old stomping ground. It was kinda strange being back, walking around campus like I used to, but this time without the burden of final exams. It was also weird being there without my full house of friends, but in turn, it was truly heartwarming to run into former floor-mates, professors, staff and other acquaintances. Too bad I didn’t have time to catch up with everybody. (Thinking of ya #StagecraftFam).

I left the Midwest feeling rested and recharged for the last stretch of the semester, and God knew I’d need it.

Back in NYC

Thankfully I got permission to stay in my apartment for one extra week, but my roommate Alejandro had to move out the day I returned. And as the relatively naïve person I am, I offered to drive the moving truck: a 17-foot beast all across Manhattan to Brooklyn.

As if narrow streets, heavy traffic and raging drivers didn’t exist.

Due to the lack of parking space outside our building, I had the rather immature idea of entering via a sidewalk … which happened to be a liiiittle more narrow than we thought. At one point there was only about three inches clearance on each side, but Alejandro is a champ and guided me through: not sure if he feared more for his life or the health of the truck, but a couple of close calls later we made it without having gotten sued nor fined. #EverydayMiracles

(This was after we almost got stuck)

Six hours later he had successfully moved into his new place. I, on the other hand, found myself in the situation of not knowing if I’d even find a new place to stay … again. As a foreigner in a city where you need a US guarantor to get approved for almost any apartment on Manhattan, I once again had to lift my eyes to God in faith (and desperation) for a solution.

To be continued.

In my next post I’ll tell you all about my new film, the premiere, my thoughts about having completed my first year as a grad film student at NYU Tisch. I may even share the experience that took me a giant step closer to being a real New Yorker — a story you don’t want to miss. Stay tuned!

Blessings,
Maria

It’s a wrap!

Good evening, dear readers!

I know it may have seemed like I just disappeared from the world for a while: my social media accounts have remained untouched for almost a month, and I don’t even want to think about all the birthdays and events I’ve missed, the dozen Skype-calls I’ve promised to make and the postcards I haven’t responded to. I used to take pride in replying to texts within 10 minutes, but life in film school has forced me to take pride in other things instead — there’s simply not enough hours in a day to be on top of everything. Thankfully I have friends who understand.

Since last time, I’ve spent nearly a month out and about on film sets, crewing on my classmates’ films and–just now–shooting my very own short film. Read more HERE.

Behind the scenes: Here with the talented Lily Brooks O’Briant and Willow Eve. (Lily Brooks just won the award for Best Actress at the First Run Film Festival, and landed a recurring role in Amazon’s new big series THE TICK. Remember the name) Photo: Cinematographer Kai Torres.

As I may have told you already: Our class of 36 was split into groups of six and during the course of a month we’ll all direct the film we wrote and produced earlier this year. Each of us get a maximum of three days to shoot our films.

So far we’ve done two shoots in the lovely neighborhood of Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, one shoot in Upstate New York, another one in Staten Island, a 3-day overnight shoot in Lynbrook, and before we wrap up this year’s production period we’ll shoot one on Manhattan.

I’ve already told you about the preparations for my film; the intense location scouting in crazy traffic and the never-ending rounds of auditions, but I now have the tremendous pleasure of telling you that the production part is done!

Behind the scenes: Here with Willow Eve, who impressed everyone with her unflinching stamina in the tough conditions. This girl has a bright future on the screen. Photo: Kai Torres.

Director Kathryn Bigelow once said that “there’s nothing easy about shooting” … and I must say that I agree.

The fact that I got knocked out by a fever two days before didn’t help, or that half my crew felt sick on the first day of my shoot, or that 75% of all my background actors never showed up because they “had a death in the family”, or that it was so cold on set that I at one point actually thought we’d have to cancel the whole thing … None of that made it any less hard.


Photo: Kai Torres.

But, thanks to God’s grace, the amazing effort of my hardcore crew, the resilient and extremely talented actors and the steadfast discipline from the assistant director, Joe, we were able to complete the shoot — a full day earlier than planned.


Behind the scenes: Here with AD Joe, DP Kai, Sound Narine and parts of the cast. Photo: Mate Vincze.

We actually ended up getting two days worth of shots during that last day, so I’m more than happy and impressed by everybody’s work.

Behind the scenes: Willow Eve, Lily Brooks O’Briant, AC Mate Vincze and DP Kai Torres.

The rush of working under this kind of pressure, and seeing that things start to flow, and your vision comes to life — beautifully — must be one of the most satisfying things a human can experience. I had so much fun that I’m already looking forward to next time. I just now realized I might need to write a separate post about “directing as an experience” … because that’s what it is; an experience.

End of day 1: When you’re tired, have a cold and you’re struggling to breathe because the location is normally a cat-ghetto and you have a severe case of allergies towards those furry creatures, but you’re very happy things went well. Here with cinematographer Kai Torres and the amazing Melanie Little!

A sunburned, windburned and happy trio. We did it!

A very special thanks to the cast:
Lily Brooks O’Briant as ELIZABETH.
Willow Eve as CHRISTINE.
Melanie Little as MOM.
Chynna Holder as BRIANNA.
Ava Lattimore as SOCCER PLAYER.
Ellen Zheng as SOCCER PLAYER.
Sofia Espinal as SOCCER PLAYER.
Alex Wright as CLASSMATE.
Madeline Hettrick as CLASSMATE.
Arielle Nickerson as CLASSMATE.
All the parents, Hope O’Briant & Alison Humphries.

And the crew:
Co-producer and cinematographer — Kai Torres.
1st Assistant director — Joseph Longo.
2nd Assistand director, set dresser and gaffer — Drake Burnette.
Assistant Camera — Mate Vincze.
Sound mixer — Narine Sargsyan.

+ the NYU Tisch Faculty.

Now awaits a month of post-production editing. I do not expect things to get any less busy, but it’s funny how working on set for weeks makes you hungry for the calm of the editing room. I’ll do my very best to keep you posted along the way.

Here’s a screenshot for ya:

Have a blessed evening,
Maria

 

 

They said it would be fun

If you read my previous post, you probably remember how I explained a day at the park as if it was the happening of the year: Two fresh-air-deprived film students who hadn’t seen daylight for weeks + a violently cold day + wet shoes + hours or location scouting in an abandoned park in Brooklyn = FUN!

You see, our complete lack of freetime forces us to find joy and relaxation in things that most people probably wouldn’t even find to be worthy of the three letters “F-U-N” — and that’s how these stories of park-exscursions and other expeditions come to life.

Don’t get me wrong, the most fun thing we do is called filmmaking, and we do it all the time — 17 hours a day, to be exact. It’s just that even film nerds need a moment to breathe sometimes.

Since Kai and I are producing each others’ films and neither of us seem to have the ability to write easy stories, we’ve both been on a desperate location-hunt for weeks. As a final resort, we decided to devote one more Saturday to scouting.

Since it’s highly discouraged to drive in New York City — especially for foreigners and out-of-towners — we decided to rent a car and drive until we found the locations we needed. The fact that I’m a foreigner and she’s from Florida didn’t get to have a say in that decision.

Nevermind our distorted smiles. Surveillance mirrors tend to make your face that way.

But it actually went so well that I didn’t mind spending the entire 12 hours in the driver’s seat. Yes, you heard right; we were on the road for 12 full hours, and must have visited every corner of New York State.

We drove so far upstate that things started to look like Canada, so deep into Brooklyn that we found a Target that looked like a Midwestern one, and spent so much time on Staten Island that we decided we’d never want to move there. Ever.

I looked at it, and it turns out that we could’ve made it to Chicago in that time. Or Indianapolis. Or Charleston in South-Carolina. Or Montreal and back.

As the sun set behind the Manhattan skyline, we headed home and returned the car with one less thing to be stressed about.

Now awaits heaps of paperwork, permit applications, meetings with park managers, acting rehearsals, logistics, budgeting and never-ending stream of problem-solving.

This is filmmaking.

They said it would be fun.

And it is.

Even if it doesn’t sound like it.

It is.

🙂

Breathing Tisch

Good evening!

I just wanted to stop by for a second before I allow myself the two-hour “weekend” I’ve been longing for since my last post, where I plan on watching something silly on TV and go to bed early. Yup, you heard right; I used to be a vocal opponent of TV-shows, but now that I spend every breathing moment thinking about film, I have started to appreciate the low-quality sitcoms that allow me to turn off my filmmaking brain for an episode or two.

These past few weeks have mostly consisted of class, more class, shooting directing exercises, editing directing exercises, thinking about directing exercises, script-writing and pre-production work for my upcoming short film “Sisters,” which is–by far–my biggest project yet. I can’t wait to tell you more about it!


I have made time for some relaxing too — in the form of running my heart out at the track, ahh.

Like I’ve mentioned before, one of the first things we were told at Tisch was to avoid working with animals and children for our early projects, because of the extra challenges it has caused for student-directors in the past.

So, what did I do? Well, as you know, my first NYU-film was about a pigeon — and now I’ve somehow managed to write a script with three kids under 11 years old as the main characters for my spring project. But I’m SO EXCITED about it!


Where the inspiration came from? This. When my sister and I were young enough to rock the 2001-fashion.

Kai and I spent the entire weekend auditioning young actors, which turned into a great learning-experience. The fact that 136 actors submitted applications to be in MY film is just unbelievable. I’m not used to being able to observe, judge and pick actors from a pool this big, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. There are so many talented little kids and parents working hard to succeed in the industry, and I wish I could just cast them all.

Auditions – Day 3🎬

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Yesterday we went location scouting. Again, I could’ve made it easy for myself by setting the action inside one room, but since you know me pretty well by now, it should come as no surprise that I wrote a film that requires no less than three very different suburban locations. Good Lord. I’m praying I’ll find the right spots in time.

Anyway, as two tired grad film students who have lived inside the Tisch building for weeks with no days off, Kai and I found great excitement in traveling into the depths of Brooklyn on an ice-cold, windy and gloomy Sunday afternoon as we walked through miles and miles of marshy park-paths in wet sneakers.

The fact that our conversations started revolving around hypothermia and about how we couldn’t feel our faces did not significantly hamper our enthusiasm for this moment of fresh air.

Blessings,
Maria

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