A few months after Queens native Elana Mugdan graduated one year early from the University of Maine with an interdisciplinary studies degree in film, she found herself with a dilemma common to many independent filmmakers: a burning desire to tell a story, with limited financial resources to do so.
As she saw it, her fourth year’s tuition had already been set aside, so she approached her father with what she saw as a fair proposition.
“Give me that money and I’ll give you a feature film,” she said to her new executive producer.
He may not have agreed had he thought his daughter could not pull it off, but Mugdan had been making movies since she was a teenager, including a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy she shot in and around her Douglaston neighborhood.
But those movies featured latex puppets and friends as actors and Mugdan was aspiring to be a professional, even if she did not fully understand how the business works.
The leafy northeast Queens enclave Mugdan lives in often serves as the backdrop for major productions such as “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Sopranos,” as well as a number of feature films. The Community Church of Douglaston often rents itself out as a staging point for these productions, and in the summer of 2009 it was home to the Nicole Kidman film “Rabbit Hole.”
“They contacted me and asked if I wanted to open the doors at whatever ungodly hour,” she recalled, but admitted the prospect was infinitely better than the low-level internship she had at the time.
Mugdan worked as a sound intern, mostly shuffling slates between the sound and cinematography departments, but she loved it — that is, until one day she made what she called an “artistic suggestion” that got her in a bit of trouble.
One of the film’s stars, Aaron Eckhardt, was running down a rickety staircase, but the stairs were making so much noise the microphone was having trouble picking up his dialogue. Mugdan suggested they redirect the boom to better hear him.
“Let the record show I was right,” she said with a laugh.
Mugdan said she received a severe tongue-lashing that shook her faith in herself, but one that ultimately compelled her to focus her energy on a script for “Director’s Cut.”
The film’s protagonist, Cassie Thompson, like Mugdan, is struggling through young adulthood when she decides to make a campy, B-rated sci-fi movie and finds she has the constitution to see her project through, even in the face of adversity.
Mugdan started out with an initial projected budget of $10,000 — a number that would ultimately double by the end of production — and a list of professionals willing to work for the standard indie rate: food and transportation.
“I was inexperienced so I just started doing things”, she said. “Once I told people I was doing it, it all kind of took off.”
Mugdan and her crew shot the film mostly during a three-week period in May 2010. She said post-production did not take too long because each night she would edit the day’s shoots in order to clear up space.
It was becoming clear, though, that the shoot was going to run over budget.
“I had already invested so much time and money. I was in too deep without even realizing it,” she said.
So it came time to find some investors. Mugdan started a campaign on the fund-raising site kickstarter.com and was able to raise more than $2,500. With her new executive producer — her dad — on board, she completed her movie and even started submitting it to film festivals.
Last month, she previewed “Director’s Cut” at the Community Church of Douglaston, and now she has her own production company and is trying to break into the next level. She is even offering practical advice to young filmmakers.
“This is not going to happen unless you get your act together and shape up,” she tells them. “I, Elana Mugdan, am telling people to be more realistic? It’s irony at its best!”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@
©2011 Community News Group
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