By: Stephanie Bousley ’10 (MFA, Kanbar, Film)
Melanie Schiele ’10 (MFA, Kanbar, Film) discusses her return to the U.S. and how industry leaders are responding to her education in Asia.
Steph: Melanie, you were born and raised in New York City. Why did you decide to attend graduate film school [at Tisch Asia] in Singapore?
Melanie: I felt it was important for me to push myself out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment. I think it’s helpful when artists experience that from time to time- it provides you with a worldlier perspective. I had previously earned my BFA in Screenwriting at Tisch- NY which I had greatly enjoyed, but I wanted to attend graduate school in a unique setting that would challenge me even further and spark new ideas. I was excited by the prospect of the new Singapore campus. Being a pioneering member of such a large-scale endeavor is something I’ll always wear as a badge of honor.
Steph: The first directing project in the NYU Film Program goes into production six weeks into the first semester. How did you feel about moving to a country you’d never been to and having to write and direct films there?
Melanie: Naturally, I had the normal jitters of settling into a new place without knowing anyone prior to starting the program. However, in many ways, I think that propelled me to work extra hard in learning my craft and allowing myself to make mistakes along the way. In the context of making a film, there’s usually a moment when things go slightly awry – how you handle these hiccups and hold on to your vision is what shapes and ultimately defines you as a director. Your crew members look to you as the person who will set the tone for your shoot and you have to be assertive in taking the reins.
Steph: Your second year film, Delilah, Before, was shot in Singapore and saw screenings at Tribeca, Palm Springs, and other festivals. How did you use the success of this project to bolster resources for your thesis project?
Melanie: Production support came from a variety of sources. NYU had provided me with an allotment towards my thesis. I had also won a cash prize for Delilah, Before at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and had received an online distribution deal via their YouTube Screening Room platform.
For the remaining funds, I dove into the world of crowd-sourcing for the first time using Kickstarter and other social media outlets. I was astounded by the outpouring of support, both from Tisch Asia colleagues, as well as from strangers whom were simply responding to the material. Tribeca invited me to be a contributor for their “Future of Film Blog” in which I spoke about making the film “with a little help from my friends.” http://bit.ly/frry5E
Outside of the social media universe, I secured discounts and donations from equipment rental houses and post-production facilities as well as free wardrobe and locations. I also had a lot of invaluable behind-the-scenes help from friends and family. I’m indebted to all of those individuals who made this film possible.
Steph: Your thesis narrative short film is called Rockaway. What’s it about?
Melanie: It’s titled after the beachside community in Queens. The story is about a teenager’s questionable behavior to free herself from an abusive past that causes her to relive the pain of it and let go of the only safe haven she’s ever known. We shot on the Arriflex 416 HS camera with film stock generously donated by Kodak. We shot for six days in New York at the peak of autumn, which was stunning, and it will be about 17 minutes long when completed.
Steph: So even though you had achieved success with your previous short, shot in Singapore, you decided to shoot your thesis in the U.S. Why?
Melanie: Having lived and made films in Singapore for three years, I felt it was time to take my newfound knowledge back to my roots. I had never filmed in NY other than for a documentary and I wanted to educate myself about the process and conquer any challenges along the way. I was also itching to dip into the wonderful acting pool that’s here.
Steph: Unlike most NYU students, who use their classmates as free crew, you were unable to do this because it would have involved flying people from all over the globe. How did you overcome this?
Melanie: I wore the hat of producer in addition to Writer/Director. I chose only to fly out my DP and fill the remaining positions with local professionals I hired through word-of-mouth. One of these people ended up being production manager Paul Hamill who had worked on New York, I Love You, which featured the work of directors Joshua Marston and Shekhar Kapur, whom I’d met in Singapore when they came out as visiting professors. Working with new people can be a bit of a risk, but I chose to see it as a trial run for the professional and post-grad-school life. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly our crew became a well-oiled machine and a tight-knit family. Finding the right crew is akin to casting your actors; it all comes down to chemistry.
Also, having the opportunity to work with my brother (and Tisch Asia colleague) Jordan as my DP was incredibly gratifying and comforting in my approach with the sensitive material of this film. We innately understand and trust each other. I’m proud of the work we’ve achieved together, and I look forward to future collaborations.
Steph: So, Rockaway is currently in post?
Melanie: Yes. I’m overseeing edits and doing a final sound mix. I look forward to premiering the film on the festival circuit early next year. I hope that my supportive relationships stemming from the success of Delilah, Before will help pave the road ahead for the festival life of Rockaway.
Steph: Aside from the edit of Rockaway, what else are you up to these days?
Melanie: I’m working as a script consultant for a group of foreign clients who buy and sell movies at four major film markets; specifically Cannes, American Film Market, Toronto, and Berlin. So essentially, I’m evaluating scripts for films with international distribution rights that are available for purchase. It’s extremely educational to see what films are currently occupying the marketplace and garnering the most attention. I am also finishing two of my own feature film scripts.
Steph: And after spending three years in Singapore, what factors led to your decision to move back to New York?
Melanie: I ultimately wanted to move back to the US, specifically New York, to get involved with the multitude of organizations that champion young independent filmmakers such as the Tribeca Film Institute, IFP, and NYWIFT. Attending screenings and networking events has become a regular part of my routine. The industry thrives on relationships and I try to stay active within the community and attuned to the fast-paced market trends and successful indie models. The fact that I went to Tisch Asia also seems to be a great conversation starter. The industry is curious about our work overseas and how it will translate on an international level.
Steph: Ok, Mel, last question. As a New Yorker who went to Tisch Asia and then moved back to New York, do you feel that living and making films abroad for three years helped give you an edge when you returned to the US?
Melanie: Tisch Asia gave me the tools to move forward with confidence. Besides providing me with the prerequisite technical training, I was taught by my professors and classmates to be persistent in my work ethic and creative vision. I made life-long friendships and connected with people from all over the world that I would never have otherwise met. As I continue on my career path, it’s this strong foundation that will undoubtedly help steer me wherever I’d like to go.
For more information on Melanie Schiele, including future Rockaway screenings and press, visit:
Twitter: @RockawaytheFilm and @MelanieSchiele