NYU

A day on set

Good evening!

In my last post I told you that my crew and I had just completed shooting four out of six short films, and I’m happy to announce that we’re now one step closer to the finish line, with Jorge’s “Eyes Up” as the only remaining shoot.

However, I promised to tell you all about my own first experience directing a film as an NYU grad film student, so here we go.

This is my “Director-trying-to-visualize-a-good-frame face.” With Sonya Vai and Lin behind the tree. Photo: Avi Kabir

This project is a so-called MOS film; an exercise used to teach us how to tell stories without any of the normal aids that can help carry a film.

It’s shot on super 16mm film, has to be in black and white, shot outside, with no dialogue or music.

In other words, it’s kind of like trying to bake a cake with only butter and water.

If this doesn’t sound like mission impossible to you yet, I’d like to mention that we only get two rolls of film — unless we buy more on your own (Codeword: EXPENSIVE!) — so every take has to count. I, personally, tried to step into my high jumping-mindset “You only get three attempts (at each scene), but try to clear the bar the first time.” As an adrenalin junkie I found great pleasure in that.

This is my “Director-holding-a-green-folder-while-trying-to-balance-a-cup-of-ice-coffee-on-head face.” With Master Lin. Photo: Avi Kabir. 

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably aware of my financial situation, so I took it upon myself to make this production as cheap as humanly possible, for extra difficulty, you know …

But, you know what?! Thanks to God’s grace, Sonya Vai and my amazing crew it worked! We made a film! (Or at least, I think we did … I still haven’t seen the footage because it’s being developed, but one can always hope we actually did record something that resembles the film I had in mind.)

It takes a village! Just kidding, we were just eight people and one animal on my set, at most. (If you include the “dead cat” microphone in Pepi’s hand, we had two animals, but oh well.) Here with Pepi, Jorge, Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.

Here’s a fun fact for ya: Sonya, who played the lead character, was my AirBnB-host when I first moved to the city, and she was the only New Yorker I knew for a couple of weeks, haha. Besides being an awesome host, she’s also a super talented actress, and I’m so honored to have her in my film. Her co-star, Cleopatra, is a beautiful white pigeon that will get its own shout out later.

The two stars: Sonya Vai and Cleo! Photo: Avi Kabir.

My crew consists of the following rock stars:
Director of Photography – Lin (also known as Master Lin)
Assistant Camera – Jorge
Assistant Director and Grip – Kai
Sound – Pepi
Set photos and everything in-between – Avi

I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. Everyone worked exceptionally hard, and despite the rough weather nobody complained. We actually finished the whole film in less than eight hours spread over two days. Pigeon-Cleo was very well-behaved as well.

Here are some more photos from the shoot:

These two camera guys, Jorge Sistos and Qiying Lin, helped bring my vision to life. Photo: Avi Kabir.

Actress Sonya Vai warming up inside the car between takes. Photo: Avi Kabir.

I haven’t been OUT running, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been running. With Sonya and “Master Lin.” Photo: Avi Kabir.

The rain stayed away for our important shots, thank God! Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.

 

 

Sonya and Cleo’s first introduction. T’was love at first sight! Here with bird handler Eddie who was an absolute trouper/angel. He spent hours outside in the rain and didn’t even want an umbrella. What a hero! Photo: Avi Kabir.

Sonya and Cleo hanging out on location. Photo: Avi Kabir.

Avi did a great job capturing moments like these on set. I was actually so far into the directing bubble that I didn’t even notice that he was running around lika a paparazzo. Photo: Avi Kabir.

Jorge measures the light while Sonya and Cleo are waiting for the camera setup to be done. Photo: Avi Kabir.

With Lin and Jorge. Apparently I was very selfish and kept the umbrella all to myself. Sorry guys! Photo: Avi Kabir.

Also, if it wasn’t clear in any of the earlier photos: filmmaking isn’t glamorous. Here’s proof; I spent a significant amout of time crawling on the ground looking like a drowned weasel.

I’d also like to breifly mention that the tree-location was covered in poop. Human poop. So we had to throw away our shoes. But hey, what don’t we do for the art?

I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who helped us make this film possible! Now a month of editing awaits us before the premiere in December.

Bless you all,
Maria

4 down, 2 to go

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while, so before you continue reading I would highly encourage you to follow me on snapchat (username Maria Lavelle) and instagram (MariaLavelle1 & Lanoet) because that’s where it happens these days.

Like I told you last time, we’re in the midst of a three-week production period where we’ll shoot a total of six short films on super 16 film (aka the old-fashioned way), so my days have mostly consisted of waking up at 4 AM, hustling and bustling on set for as many as 12 hours or more, before taking a shower and going to bed while waiting for the cycle to repeat itself.

On Pepi’s set of “LAM/B” on Staten Island.

A few inches too short for the tripod? No problem; we have pumpkins! Lin, Kai (on pumpkin) and Avi.

So far, we’ve wrapped four films, and as if being on set wasn’t pure bliss in itself, we’ve also had the chance to see a variety of locations, weather conditions and real-life characters at every corner of the city.

We shot in a secluded community garden in East Village for Avi’s film “Scattered,” all over Staten Island for Pepi’s “LAM/B,” in the middle of Times Square for Lin’s “When you’re taking a selfie without your sunglasses,” and in Brooklyn for my very own “TENDER” — which I’ll tell you more about in my next post.

On the set of “TENDER” – with Sonya Vai (leading actress), Lin, me and Kai.

This coming weekend we’ll stay in Brooklyn shooting Kai’s “Mr. Edelman,” followed by Jorge’s “Eyes up” in Central Park.

There’s no other way I’d rather explore the city, and seeing a new place through the lens of a camera is really unlike anything else. Actually, just being on set with the hardest working people I know for hours and days on end is unlike anything else.


On the set of my film “TENDER.” Stay tuned for my next post. Photo: Avi Kabir.

Running from location to location with tons of heavy equipment with a clock ticking makes us look like hardheaded participants in The Amazing Race, while the intensity and quiet of loading the camera mags inside a light-proof changing bag — without being able to see what our hands are doing — makes us feel like surgeons on Grey’s Anatomy. For the remaining time we either feel like actual filmmakers or soldiers in the Army.

The teamspirit, adrenalin, efficiency, pressure and precision it takes to put together these small pieces of art containing our storytelling voices is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever been a part of.

That feeling was only intensified when we — after four days of back-to-back shooting — gathered our belongings from a pumpkin patch on Staten Island, and the warm wind was accompanied by beams of bright orange light that shone upon our tired faces. I don’t know if it was the combination of exhaustion, hunger, sunburned skin and pure satisfaction that made it so magical, but magical it was.

Photo: Avi Kabir.

In my next post I’ll tell you all about my experience of directing my first non-documentary short film in NY.

Bless,
Maria

Q&A Answers

Good afternoon and thank you so much for the questions 🙂

Last year I think some of you had a little too much fun with copying and pasting gigantic questionnaires into the comments section, and I didn’t even get to respond to all of them. Thankfully, I didn’t run into that problem this year; I even had time to add some pictures!

Matt:
Do you have all the money for film school now?
No, I only have the first year covered, so far. Which is a miracle in itself, so we’ll see. I trust God’s plan.

Hei:
Er du fortsatt singel? (English: Are you still single?)
Yes. No news since I wrote THIS post.

K:
Name your favorite bible verse.
Philippians 4:13.

Youknowwho:
1. What’s the most dangerous thing you ever did?
 – Ooh, that’s a tough one. Some things are better left untold. Don’t they say that being alive is pretty dangerous?

2. Biggest pet peeve?
 – Conversations like these:
Random American person: You have an accent. Where are you from?
Me: Norway.
Random American person: Oh, me too!
Me: Cool, where in Norway?
Random American person: I think the town was called Stockholm. You see, my great grandmother’s, uncle’s, third cousin’s, great aunt’s sister was from Norway. Do you eat lutefisk? (Pronounced loodafisk)

3. Where would you want to live?
 – Right now I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but New York City, but maybe in a few years I’ll want to move somewhere else. I love Los Angeles equally much, but who knows. I’ll live where God wants me.

4. Your biggest mice?
 – Whooh, thankfully you didn’t replace that “m” withy a “v”. Or else I’d have to share my biggest vice, and that would’ve been bad. You can read this post and see if you’ll figure it out on your own 😉

5. Is your tattoo real?
 – Yes, they are.

6. What do you like the most and least about blogging?
 – Good question! I like that I get to express myself through writing, and the almost-theraputic effect it has on me. It’s a great outlet, de-stresser and a nice way to keep my friends and family abroad up to date with what I’m doing. I also like that it gives me a voice that reaches a little further than it otherwise would have.

I can’t find too many things I don’t like about it. It can get a little strenuous when I meet people I haven’t seen in half a decade, and they seem to know “everything” about me, and I have to ask 40 questions in a row to keep the conversation going. But that’s entirely my fault; I choose to blog about my life, so that’s a part of the deal.

7. Celebrity crush?
 – Hmm, I can honestly say I’ve never had a legitimate celebrity crush. The walls of my room have always been completely clear of posters, (besides the celebrity-drawings I made, that my mom put on the walls against my will) so this is a tough one, haha. I guess I don’t see celebrities as stars; most of the time they’re just normal people with cool jobs, and I also find it hard to have crushes on people I don’t know on a personal level. BUT, on a superficial note I must say that Chris Hemsworth and Tim Tebow are pretty handsome.

On an even more superficial note; some faces are just exceptionally good for drawing.

This makes me feel like picking up the pencil and start drawing some again.

8. Who could you marry in a heart beat?
The right one.

9. How many kids do you want? If you want kids at all.
Ooh, I feel like I’m making big decisions just answering these questions, hah! But yes, I definitely want kids at one point. How many? I have a feeling my future husband might want to have a say in it, so we’ll see.

10. How tall are you?
Somewhere between 5’7″ and 5’8″.

 

Lexi:
I’m confused, did you study media or film?
 – I majored in journalism and took a minor in theatre at Augustana. I’ll study filmmaking at NYU Tisch this coming fall. Read more HERE.

How did you fund over the bridge?
 – When we started, Sarah and I didn’t intend for Over the Bridge to become anything more than a 4-minute film, so we didn’t do any fundraising beforehand. We did however, have a fundraising campaign to pay for entry fees at film festivals.

Photo: Rachel Johnston.

Did you rent the equipment for the shoot?
 – We shot everything the minimalist-way and used our own equipment for the shoot; two DSLR-cameras, a microphone and a tripod. All-natural lighting.

Two film producers bundled up in seven layers. #SouthDakota. WIth Sarah Kocher.

Are you working on any new projects now?
– Over the Bridge turned out to be a much bigger project than anticipated, so I’ve spent all my freetime outside school on following up that project with film festivals, guest speaking, media-interviews, screenings at other schools and city council meetings etc. There hasn’t been any time for a new project, but I’m very excited to take on new projects at NYU this fall!

Hanna K:
What’s your workout and diet regimen like?
– I try to avoid anything with the word “regimen” in it, because I’ve spent so much of my life trapped inside strict training routines, both as an athlete, fitness enthusiast and “exercise addict.” Nowadays I just do some running and functional strength training. During the school year I hit the gym every morning, and now when I’m in Norway I just exercise after work. I eat pretty much everything. But then again; I’m not exactly in this shape anymore.

Photo: Line Valen 2013.

Hannah K:
What’s your comfort foods?
 – Pizza and ice cream. No doubt.

Hannah K:
Do you make money on blogging?
 – Nope, not a dime, but I get other things for it — which I’ll write more about later 🙂

Thank You

I left you hanging a little longer than I would have wanted after my previous post, but so many small details had to be put into place before I could share the big news. Now, however, it’s time!

I apologize to the few individuals who already know about this but started expecting some other big news after reading my last entry. If I already told you it means you’re a part of my inner circle, so try to see that as something nice.

If you’ve read the blog regularly, you probably know that the three letters N-Y-U have been the source of a lot of excitement—and despair—for me over the past few months. You may remember my post, “So very bittersweet,” about how I got accepted to the graduate film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and about how I was $30,000 short and couldn’t go. I was heartbroken, but I told God that I wanted to walk on His path, with or without NYU. I let it go, right there in that moment and chose to trust His ways, while I started looking at other—and more affordable—ways to fullfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker.

But then, some things happened behind the scenes, and I wrote the follow-up, “Mysterious Ways,” where I shared that I was suddenly just $15,000 short. Changes in the budget and several donations from family, friends and strangers made the whole thing seem a little less impossible — but still not quite within reach.

In the weeks that followed, I was asked to do a number of interviews with the media, and I told all the reporters that “Yes, I’m going to NYU, and I look forward to starting my studies there in the fall.” When I didn’t say anything on the blog, some of you probably thought “oh, she must have found a way to pay for it then.”

At that point I had only told a few people about my secret because I wanted to wait for all the paperwork to to be completed. But now I can finally write the words:

Thanks to God’s amazing grace, my family’s support and the tremendous generosity of Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman, I now have the money I need to attend the first year at NYU!

I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m still blown away, and I realize that this sounds like one of those stories you only see in the movies: “Foreign girl without financial resources gets accepted to prestigious university, and a Hollywood-couple—whom she has never met—watches her zero-budget documentary and decides to give her the help she needs to fulfill her dream.”

This is the short version of the story, but the truth is that most of this happened without me knowing. My family did what they could to help me on my way, but when they couldn’t go any further and had to let it go, some people picked up that near-doused torch before the relay eventually ended up in Los Angeles where Mary and Burt ran the final leg of the race.

God surely works in mysterious ways.

I did not see this coming, and words cannot express how grateful I am. I laid down all my plans of going to NYU that day when I wrote the first post about it, but there was a way there all along. I just couldn’t see it on my own, and I needed help to run the distance. I don’t know how I’ll finance my 2nd and 3rd year in New York, but I believe there’s a way for that too.

I want to thank my family for doing everything in their power to help me make this happen, as well as my friends and the Augustana community for their support and encouraging words.

I want to use my talents to honor God, and I will do my absolute best to make sure these resources are well-spent.

Love,
Maria

Seven days of spring

Thanks for all your love and get-better-messages I’ve received since I told you about my hospital visit last week. You’re truly amazing <3

After a week of laying in bed, eating nothing but bread and baby servings of french fries I now feel much better. Several pounds lighter and a couple of shades paler, but better! Thank God.

It’s been a week of contrasts. When I started to feel sick last weekend, it was snowing and I was—like I mentioned in my previous post—freezing my butt off (mostly because of the fever, but still). And now, as I took on my first day back in the world, I had to deal with sunshine and 28°C (83°F). It felt like I had slept through a whole season! Which I probably did, in South Dakota terms. Spring must’ve been last week.

Just a screen sample from a video I shot to illustrate what snow looks like.

Oh, and before it fades too far into the past, I just want to share something fun! Right before the whole kidney thing I had the pleasure of attending a so-called “friend raiser” event with the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House (the homeless shelter where we shot “Over the Bridge”). I was honored just to be invited, and enjoyed the fact that I could see the gala venue at the Hilton downtown from the inside, but I had no idea what was awaiting me there.

In hindsight I see that I probably should have taken the hint, but oh well. I just remember thinking people were unusually welcoming, “but hey, these people run the biggest homeless shelter in the state — hospitality is their thing,” so I didn’t think twice about the fact that everyone knew my name or wanted to say hi.

Apparently I was “the guest of honor” — something that only became clear to me when I was asked to step onto the stage area in front of a 170 people crowd to receive a “Sincere Appreciation Award.” I did not see that coming, but I can’t express how much that particular award means to me. When Sarah and I started producing “Over the Bridge,” our main goal was to raise the awareness of homelessness, and by receiving this type of recognition from the people who sacrifice blood, sweat and tears to help the people in need in Sioux Falls, it feels like we succeeded.

We have won several awards for the filmmaking aspect of it, but nothing felt quite like receiving a humanitarian award for the work we did. The circle was suddenly completed, and I now know that Over the Bridge has fulfilled its purpose.

To God be the Glory.

Photo: Naras Prameswari.

Maria

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