Last week we spoke with writer and director Sasha Lebedeva about her journey as a creative. Learn more about how she’s broken into the film industry, how’s she’s been navigating building her career and, the advice she’s got for you.
Q: Give us a brief introduction of yourself and what you do?
A: I am Sasha Lebedeva, a writer-director based in LA. I’m originally from Moscow but came to California at 18 to attend college and, you know, make it in Hollywood. My latest project is a short film called Hex & Rage, starring Clara McGregor and Riel Macklem and executive produced by Emmy-nominated Alyson Feltes. It’s a dark comedy about two stoner witches who avenge their stripper-friend by hexing the man who assaulted her. I strive to create absurdist dark comedies with surreal elevated visual style.
Q: How did you initially get into film?
A: From a young age, I was obsessed with cinema and wanted to get on professional sets. Back then, the only opportunity to do so was to become a child actor. So, I auditioned for years, finally getting some roles in Russian films and TV as a teenager, but I ultimately became disappointed with the industry there was funding stolen by the producers, directors didn’t care about the final product, characters were one-dimensional, the dialogue was forced, etc. Shortly after, I didn’t get into any theater schools, which meant my acting career was pretty much over. So really, the only way to get involved with the kind of cinema I wanted to be a part of was to create it myself.
Image: BTS from Hex&Rage by Sabrina Miller
Q: What’s your process as you begin and navigate a project?
A: It always starts with a small but very particular thing, usually an image that pops in my head (but it might be a location or a character). Then I become obsessed with turning it into something bigger and making the image make sense in the context of a narrative project. For writing, research plays a huge part. This is where I find a lot of inspiration and ideas. Research leads me to think about things I wouldn’t have thought about on my own.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Cinema, photographs, other people, relationships, being frustrated. I do get frustrated a lot, and I think creativity is the best way to release it. Also, other people’s success is honestly a pretty good source of motivation/inspiration. I want their success so much, but I also want it to be uniquely mine, you know? This is what helps me get enough discipline to get myself to create art things.
Q: How would you like people to feel while consuming your art?
A: In my work, I aim to question societal norms. I like to ask questions instead of giving answers, exploring more controversial subjects and gray areas. Making people laugh is also a benefit.
Image: Sasha by Sabrina Miller
Q: Of all the work you've created, which project would you describe as your favourite?
A: For me, every latest project is the favorite. Right now, it’s definitely my short film Hex & Rage. It’s had the biggest budget and crew I’ve worked with. And I really loved everyone on the team. All my collaborators were awesome and really brought the project to the next level.
Also, I’m incredibly proud of my feature screenplay The Red Roommates. It’s set in Russia right after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and follows an idle aristocratic family that is forced to share their beloved Moscow apartment with a working-class communist family. It placed among the Top 15% in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship last year. The thought that I will make it one day makes me so happy. But the screenplay itself functions as a sample and has already gotten me writing already which is incredibly exciting.
Q: What do you love most about film?
A: Pretty much everything. I love stories, visuals, characters, atmosphere, the feeling that cinema evokes, behind-the-scenes facts. If we’re talking about filmmaking, I most of all value relationships that the process allows to build. I think the best friendships come out of collaborations and the best way to build a friendship is to collaborate.
Q: What's been the greatest challenge to your creativity? How have you overcome this?
A: The key to having a career is producing work and, as a director, one inevitably has to fund a lot of work. This is where economic barriers come into play. I can’t make as many narrative films as I’d like to due to being unable to afford it financially. I can’t say I’ve overcome this struggle yet. Recently I was PAing on a music video and the director was younger than me which made me feel like I’m late to the game and an overall failure. What helped me was thinking about Claire Denis, a French director who I met and photographed at the American Cinematheque. This encounter actually changed my life. Denis spent decades working as an assistant director and casting director for acclaimed French filmmakers and only got a chance to make her feature debut at the age of 41. Chocolat (1988) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received critical acclaim. I watched it at the Aero after her Q&A—it’s such an intimate and powerful film! Denis went through so many challenges to get to be a director. And thinking of her somehow made me feel OK and that I’ll get to do my movies and tell my stories. So, I’ll be patient and I’ll wait
Image: Sasha by Sabrina Miller
Q: Who are some creatives you are in love with right now?
A: Eric Rohmer! I’m so in love with him right now. Since the beginning of the summer, I’ve been doing a little retrospective on him, and his films just make me feel so good. Next, I’m going to watch the filmographies of Wim Wenders, Ingmar Bergman, Lina Wertmüller, and Krzysztof Kieślowski.
Q: What advice would you give to another young creative?
A: Honestly to just do it. Start creating something now. It is the nature of existence that our taste develops faster and earlier than our skill. So, most likely, most of your early work is going to suck. But the faster you get through this phase the faster you get to the point when you like your work and can even be proud of it. As an artist, you can envision something brilliant in your head, but the lack of technical skills, money, experience, and crew can prevent you from achieving that. And it’s completely fine. You have to start somewhere, and you might as well start now. Also, studying people’s work that has been made in the medium is important. But try not to drown in it because sometimes it’s just a means for procrastination.