Every so often, we’ll be spotlighting alumni and what they are up to these days. These Q&A sessions will give you a bit of insight into where the world has taken them since graduation.
This week, the spotlight is on Ela Alyamac (MFA/FTP ’00) who co-directed her new feature film Lost Birds. Lost Birds is about an Armenian Village in 1915. Redo and Maryam return from their secret dovecote only to find an empty house and a ghost village. The children embark on a journey to search for their mother, along with their bird Bacik.
Dodge: What was the process like to land your first industry job?
Ela: After I graduated from Chapman University I came back to Turkey and there wasn’t an industry at all. Back then only twelve films a year were being produced independently. I always had the dream of making my own film. On the first day of editing class our professor Harry Cheney had gone around the room and asked why each of us was in film school. I remember he liked my answer very much because I had replied “Film is my passion’’ He had said that ‘’well if it is not your passion then you will have a very hard time trying to survive in this business.’’ Harry Cheney was right, it is very hard to survive in film business and I tried to survive as an independent filmmaker in Turkey.
I wrote and directed my first film Fairy Dust which was released in Turkey in 2008. Fairy Dust was a coming of age romantic drama.
Dodge: Share your career path with us – how did you get where you are now?
Ela: I started working on Lost Birds . With my co-director Aren Perdeci we basically worked on every aspect of the film. It took five years of hard work and perseverance and because of the delicate subject matter we had many road blocks.
We went around the world to co-production meetings and every producer we met told us that they loved the story but that it was impossible to make a film about the 1915 Armenian tragedy in Turkey. The more people said it was impossible the more determined we became. In the end we succeeded in making a film that we are very proud of and that has touched the hearts of the audience.
Lost Birds was featured in American Cinematographer Magazine and the screenplay was selected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Library’s core collection. It has been screened in film festivals and won several awards.
Dodge: What is the best advice you have received?
Ela: In Lost Birds I learned that the key to success is not to give up.
Lost Birds was not send to the Academy Awards as Turkey’s contender due to political reasons. We were heartbroken, but we didn’t want politics determining the course of our journey anymore. We bought our plane tickets and we flew to LA. We entered the film to the Golden Globes and did a theatrical run for two weeks in order to qualify for the Academy Awards from the U.S.. We knew we couldn’t qualify in the foreign film category but we could qualify in other fields and we did. We did all of this while we were broke, but people along the way helped us out because they were very touched by our story.
My advice is to work hard and be persistent and don’t compare your success with others. Everyone has a different path, a different story, a different journey. We only see the success part of people’s journeys; we never know what it took to get where they are.
Dodge: What is your favorite memory from your time at Chapman and how did that impact you?
Ela: My favorite memories are from when we worked on our friends’ films. There was a great sense of camaraderie. I miss that very much. Also it is a great learning experience working on different positions and understanding how to approach things.
Dodge: what classes or programs did you find most useful for your career path?
Ela: Joe Slowensky’s screenwriting class had taught me all the ground rules. Harry Cheney’s editing class was very helpful in understanding the choices we make as filmmakers. Harry used to show us good examples and bad examples of both camera placements and editing. I think discussing why they were bad choices was also very important. Film aesthetics and film history classes all helped shape my vision as a filmmaker.
Also Leonard Schrader was full of wisdom. Leonard had great experience in how to approach a problem whether it be in storytelling or in production.
Dodge: Any parting thoughts?
Ela: I cherish all my memories at Chapman and feel lucky to have had that great experience. Lost Birds is on Amazon Prime right now and hopefully it will have a couple of theatrical screenings around L.A soon.
Thank you for sharing, Ela.