Elena Shpak came to the United States many years ago from Russia and brought with her a passion for producing short films. I met Elena after auditioning for two of her commercials: one for Chevy for which I was the lead (http://vimeo.com/35500010) and another for AT&T in which I was one of the principles (http://vimeo.com/39023205).
Being part of a film produced by Elena gave me the opportunity to watch her in action and see what she brings to each one of her productions. Elena is thoughtful as a producer and attempts to bring out the essence of what she wants the camera to bring alive. She starts with a great concept and then builds on that.
Elena’s feeling with everything she does is that it is a group effort. “I want my work to be for everyone,” she commented. “I really enjoy the process of working with people. It is the spirit of making the film. I would be sad if it ever goes the way where one or two people can do the final production.”
My memories of working with Elena are so vivid that they inspired me to write about this energetic producer. When we met again the first thing Elena said to me was, “I am having a new era in my career. I really enjoy producing documentary films. Especially those linked to human rights and social issues. It’s very difficult and stressful but I like it. I feel like I am doing something very important.”
Elena spoke about the documentary she is considering about what life is like for models, especially Russian models.
Her present focus is on another Russian themed documentary called Valentina (it was formerly called Land of Opportunity: http://vimeo.com/13035667). Valentina, a web series will be revised and more up-to-date version of this.
Other documentaries she has worked on include producing a film about Little Spain in NYC.
When talking about her films you can see how focused Elena is about the projects she has been involved with. Another project that never got finished helped her better understand the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite) world.
“The characters just melted away. That wasn’t about the place – it was about the people,” she explained. “It helped me to understand them better. Some adopted kids and I revised my views on that. They are very determined and they have a self pride in a good way. I wish everyone had it that way. And they want to do something good for society. I think because they have so much struggle in their lives they see other people’s struggles more clearly.”
Elena’s abilities to get to the heart of any story have earned her recognition. Some of her films received prizes, others got shortlisted.
Where do the ideas come from?
Elena’s passion has always been narrative short films and many of her ideas just happen wherever she is. “I get some insight from nowhere, from a single sentence or a friend, or a stranger on a subway. My mind can get charged with an idea that it will continue to entertain until it takes shape. I grab it fast and hold it tight as if it were a bird that brings golden eggs, but often it happens in bed when I am relaxed.” she commented in her wonderful Russian accent.
One example happened on Christmas Eve. “I came up with an idea for Grand Marnier that later was changed to a Pepsi ad for an advertising contest in Barcelona. I could not fall asleep and I had this idea about a couple in a 50's or 60's club scene, nicely lit and people were interacting and socializing. Two people were sitting apart and you could see that they liked each other but they didn't know how to start the conversation but Grand Marnier made it happen.”
Elena continued with her vision noting that what she visualized was a waiter approaching the couple but he slipped and fell on the floor but a shy man managed to grab a bottle of Pepsi which then spilled in a heart shape on their table.”
To see that video go to this Vimeo link: http://vimeo.com/11563881.
Those are the types of visions she imagines and then with some editing she brings them to life.
She recalled enjoying the Snuggle commercial with a human inside a bear costume. It’s those short films that she finds to be just “so much fun. It’s a really great experience to work on a short story. You don’t have much time. For spec sometimes you can only do 60 seconds,” she explained.
Elena’s been an agent, a producer and even someone who reviewed other people’s scripts. “I gained experience from that,” she commented. “After ten pages you know if it’s good or not. I learned to communicate with the people from the TV networks better. I learned that you need to have a lot of patience. It’s very different when you do TV work. You need to nail the topic they want you to submit.
“Writers live in a different atmosphere. They are very sensitive artists. Everyone wants to succeed and it is very competitive. I was surprised how many were willing to rework their work,” she added.
Entering the world of documentaries and life after work
As time went on Elena decided she wanted to go back to her roots and do a Russian script. So she got to work and after 6 months of polishing the script they produced a trailer. But then put it on the shelf. This was the documentary about the Russian models which she did attempt to revive but has tabled for now.
“I’m thinking we need to make it more up-to-date but it’s still good. So we may revive it. There is a lot of grotesque stuff in it but I would like to get back to this problem.”
The “problem” Elena is referring to has to do with Russian models.
In fact while Elena is shy to admit it she herself was a model and went from Russia to Japan, where she did most of her modeling. It was after 5 years in Tokyo that she came to the United States. It was her stint in Tokyo where she had exposure to TV and film that inspired that move. “I knew that I would soon leave Tokyo for New York to study film,” she admitted. “I did and I have never regretted it.”
Her time spent in Tokyo gave her a lot of exposure to such things as working with talent agencies, studying Japanese, its culture and cuisine and business plus she did a lot of international traveling to such places as London and Paris.
Life beyond work
We were just about finished with our interview but I was curious about what Elena does beyond her many productions and discovered she is very athletic and jogs, bikes and does yoga.
“I also like interior design. I am always helping my friend to do something inside the space. I like fashion – that is from my childhood. I was born in Russia. I like the beauty, the aesthetic part of the fashion world. When I see the person I can see how they should dress. It helps me a lot because I know what will work on my actors. I like to work with the wardrobe people.”
That part of our conversation brought me back to the Chevy commercial I was the lead in. I was dressed in a leopard suit draped with an American flag scarf. It was a cool outfit that matched the unique outfit of my partner (check out the photo). And it gave me an insight into the vision that sparks within every project Elena undertakes.
Oh and if you are Russian and a model feel free to contact me through my web site at www.dianaderosa.biz or contact Elena directly by checking out her Emelena Media House Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EmelenaMediaHouse.