Playing Themselves: How California Immigrants Make a Film on Their Own


A unique project is being implemented these days in Northern California. A group of immigrants undertook their own efforts to shoot a short film. The uniqueness of the idea lies in the fact that the project had neither an allocated budget nor a ready-made script. Moreover, the vast majority of filming participants are amateurs, some of whom have never tried themselves in theater or cinema before. The only thing that unites this team is sincere enthusiasm, love for creativity and hard work.

Playing Themselves: How California Immigrants Make a Movie on Their Own

Actress Irina Brodskaya. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

The Union of Amateurs and Professionals

The plot and even the title of the film are still kept secret. The author of the idea and the producer of the project Dmitry Semakinevasively notes that this is a story about finding yourself. For example, the team devoted one of the shooting days to filming the inner worlds of the characters: their feelings, states, fragments of dreams or hidden dreams.

«We focused on the characters. In the center of the story are several very different people with different problems and destinies. In fact, we wrote the script for a specific team, for our actors”, Dmitry shares.

At the beginning of the work, each of the participants was asked to record a short video about what role he would like to see himself in, and what, in his opinion, is close to him. Then the script team looked through the resulting videos and created a story based on them. By the way, the vision of the director and the actors of their type did not always coincide.

For example, I got the role of a femme fatale, although I don’t think I play it in real life, at least consciously. But in any case, I agreed, because an actor should be able to play any role,” shares Irina Gruminskaya, who acted as both an actress and one of the producers of the film.

At the same time, the authors of the idea emphasize that it is wrong to consider the project participants as “amateurs”.

If they can be called amateurs, then only from the word “love”, because all the members of our team are full of enthusiasm, they are passionate about what they do”, emphasizes Dmitry Semakin.

In addition to amateurs, a number of bright professionals joined the project. In particular, the film was directed by the actress Lana Shcherbakova, and one of the roles in the project was played by the actress Irina Brodskayawho also became the producer of the film. The shooting is carried out by a well-known cameraman and producer, the head of ZEDA films Roman Prudkin, who provided the equipment for this, which is used, among other things, when creating several Netflix series.

«Amazing people came to us and provided us with a great location for filming and very high-quality equipment. And all this is absolutely free, for the very opportunity to participate in the project. We are extremely grateful to them, and this only strengthened our team. It is on this enthusiasm, on this fire that everything moves. All our guys without exception are inspired, and we really act like one family. I myself am surprised at this, I could not even imagine such unanimity, ”admits Dmitry Semakin.

Playing Themselves: How California Immigrants Make a Movie on Their Own

Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

Pain and catharsis

According to Irina Gruminskaya, Lana Shcherbakova was able to “pull out” genuine emotions and reveal the talent of both professional and non-professional actors. Lana herself admits: for the first time she had to participate in such a project.

«When I found out that there would be only two professional actors, it was a definite challenge for me. I treated the project as a creative laboratory: both acting and directing,” says Lana.

When working with the actors, the director applied the author's method, formed by several schools, including the Stanislavsky method, Hollywood methods and the school of the famous independent director Rob Nilsson, who became a kind of American mentor to Lana.

«My method is based, firstly, on deep relaxation. It is necessary that a person turn off the brain a little and allow himself to feel more. It is important that he does not play someone else, but learns to live certain emotions in the frame”, she explains.

Lana Shcherbakova admits that the images were largely chosen for specific actors, but she emphasizes that there are very few “universal” actors in Hollywood who can play any role.

«As a rule, even in Hollywood, the most famous stars are still typical actors who, for the most part, play in some narrow range of characters. However, since we almost did not know the people with whom we had to work, it was extremely difficult to guess who had what type, and what exactly “hurts” each person,” says Lana.

The main problem here was that people sometimes tend to hide their real experiences and fears even from themselves. It was the discovery of true pain and sincere feelings of each actor that Lana Shcherbakova considered her main directorial task.

«Any role is built on pain points. Having found these points in a person, it was already easy for me, by clicking on them, to pull out his feelings on the camera, inviting the person to put himself in certain circumstances. This does not mean that I was pressing on a “sore spot”, on the contrary, I tried to make the actor get a certain psychotherapeutic effect, a feeling of catharsis, in this experience of pain. The main thing is that a person should not be afraid to open up and trust me,” she explains.

According to Lana Shcherbakova, it is the trust in the director and the desire to open up that matters more than the innate acting talent.

«A person should know that if he fails in a double, then he will not be alone. I will share this failure with him, it will be our common failure,” she assures.


Lana Shcherbakova sets up newcomer actor Armen Avanesov to play. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

Playing ourselves

Irina Brodskaya also confirms: each actor plays himself in front of the camera, only in certain circumstances proposed by the director. For example, Irina herself had to depict without words in one of the scenes the transformation and purification of the human soul.

At that moment, I imagined the nature of Hawaii, beautiful views, sunsets, palm trees, the joy of unity with nature. I also tried to express the feelings I have towards my loved ones,” Irina shared.

Elena Mirra is a professional choreographer, and therefore also has some experience in demonstrating feelings through movement and dance.

«Each dance is an emotion, a creation. When I work with women as a choreographer, we try to bring out their femininity and uniqueness, and this is very close to the image of the “dream girl” that I played in the film. But here, apart from that, I felt like a part of a deeper story,” says Elena.

For the leading actor of the film Armen Avanesov this project was the first experience in cinema.

«This is one of the best moments in my life. Amazing, bright people gathered here, and each of us found real friends on the site. Under the conditions of such an intensive work process, the inside out, the true essence of each person, is visible. People open up and manifest themselves both in the game and in interaction with each other, and even in the most everyday, routine things, in the process of mutual assistance, the ability to support and empathize. Everyone here influences the other, and we really have become one family,” Armen is convinced.

The actor assures that his character, even if he does not look perfect, is actually sympathetic, sincere and good a person who is in search of his love. How this search will be crowned, the audience will be able to see at the premiere.

The filming schedule is very busy, literally from morning to evening over three weekends. Sometimes more than ten scenes can be shot in a day. The premiere of the film is expected in the second half of September, but the authors of the idea note that the dates will still be specified closer to the completion of the work. It is possible that there will be several premieres.


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