Today we’d like to introduce you to Ethan Kogan and Jessica Silvetti.
Ethan and Jessica, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
ETHAN: Well, a long time ago, in a previous life, I was an actor. I studied at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor as well as the British American Drama Academy and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. Coming back to my hometown of LA, I got some work in primetime television and indie films. For the better part of a decade I soothed my theatrical oats as a member of The Actors’ Gang Theater company in Culver City (in which part of my soul will always reside…so very dramatic!) But after quite a while of the actor’s daily grind and stereotypically horrific slog through temp work and spilling sodas on patrons while waiting tables, I had had enough. I found myself at a commercial audition, literally waiting in an hour-long line to be seen and feeling like a farm animal. I turned to look at the artwork on the wall and behold! A giant canvas simply covered in sheep’s wool. Ironic? A message from the beyond?
After that moment, a new driving force took over. I turned to my creative partner, Jessica Silvetti (now my wife, but girlfriend at that time) and we started to hash out plans to film our own project, one that would empower us as creatives. That small idea ended up becoming the feature film, PROBLEM OF EVIL. It was my first experience as a writer/director and it began my shift in focus from a performer to a filmmaker. Because of that project, I had to teach myself film editing in order to make it a reality (thank you Lynda.com!). That skill led me to work as an editor/assistant editor on several studio films, indie films and major television shows. Currently, I’m working on the final season for Empire on FOX. It’s a valuable skill that I’m thankful for learning.
But while editing pays the bills and definitely makes me a better writer and director, I’m constantly writing and developing other projects. My love of this work has led to making several projects with Jessica under our production banner Light and Shadow Pictures. I don’t really miss acting. I’m more excited about all the stories waiting to be discovered and brought to the world in inspiring ways. And I’m always on the lookout for the right producer to collaborate with on our television and film scripts. These are stories that I’m super passionate about and can’t wait for them to make it to the screen.
JESSICA: I fell in love with acting as a kid. I was super shy and it helped me find confidence and my voice. This led me to attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where I received a BFA in Theatre. I also had a passion for writing, but it wasn’t until my time at NYU that I decided to take on some formal writing courses. After graduating, I decided to relocate to Los Angeles. In LA, I continued acting and writing. Along the way, I met my now husband and creative partner, Ethan Kogan. We met at an audition at the LATC in downtown LA. Shortly after, I produced my first short film, which I had written and was starring in – naturally I cast Ethan as my co-lead. This project was when I first realized my interest in filmmaking. Fast forward to December of 2010, when frustrated at the lack of control one has as an actor, Ethan and I embarked on writing, directing and producing our first feature film, Problem of Evil. That was our real crash course into filmmaking. From concept and development, all the way through self-distribution, we learned every step of the way. That experience solidified our choice to turn our focus onto filmmaking, especially writing and directing. That’s around the time we began Light and Shadow Pictures. Since then, we have collaborated as a team on several short films and our most recent success, IN ABSENTIA, an anthology web series that has screened at festivals worldwide and has accumulated a multitude of awards and nominations, including Dennis Zanatta’s Best Cinematography win.
We continue creating and developing various projects for film and television. Right now, we have a couple of TV shows that are in different stages of development. Personally, I have a feature that I wrote, which has advanced in a few notable screenplay competitions, and I’m looking for funding to direct it. Ethan and I have an agreement that even when we venture off into directing our own projects, we’d like to involve each other in a producorial capacity. We feel our work benefits from our collaboration in one form or another.
Has it been a smooth road?
JESSICA: The road has not been particularly smooth, but I can’t complain since it hasn’t been horribly bumpy. There have been hurdles as is normal in life and especially in this industry. The main thing is that I know this is my purpose in life, being a storyteller, and I have no choice but to figure out a way to make it work. So, I’m very stubborn and keep going. With any closed door I encounter, I try to find the open window. Every no, I try to figure out the yes. Every bump along the way, I try to look over the horizon and find another opportunity. It’s a practice in patience, discipline, optimism and maybe a bit of insanity… but it keeps life interesting. There are many rejections, which never get any easier, but it makes the success along the way much sweeter. My grandfather was a successful musician and composer and I try to follow his philosophy and the advice he always gave me – you must be like a horse with blinders and keep looking in front of you in the direction of what you’re after. I saw him go through ups and downs and the one thing that always remained constant was his optimism and faith in himself. Even though he’s no longer with us, I have his voice in my head whenever I come up against a hurdle, I know I just have to keep on going – even when I fall, I just have to get back up again.
The biggest struggle for up and coming artists is finding balance between your creative work and paying the bills until one can finally make a living from their creative work. That can be a huge stressor and you can feel pulled in multiple directions. A few years ago, I was listening to Denzel Washington in an interview and he said, I’m paraphrasing here, you do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do… and that really stuck with me. So that’s what you do and that’s where I think the patience, discipline and faith in yourself comes in. You figure it out as you go. Along the way, you can experience a lot of crazy jobs and things you may have never imagined, but that life experience only gives you more to pull from when you’re creating. It adds fuel to your fire.
ETHAN: It’s been an exciting road, an interesting road and an absolutely exhausting road, but it has never felt smooth to me. No. As a creative in the entertainment industry, you want to be resonant, entertaining and you absolutely want to feel that you are doing good work. But time and time again, I’m finding that all these are secondary to whether or not you can sell that work as a product and how much excitement you can drum up towards it. Sometimes that’s based on whether it matches up with what’s the hot topic of the day and sometimes it’s just pure luck. Regardless, it’s never a sure thing. For me, the hardest part of maturing in this industry is coming to that realization time and time again. We sent our first film out to countless film festivals, spending way too much money before we got accepted into one. It was a great learning experience but I came away feeling dismayed and not really sure we made any sort of mark. Even after our last project played in numerous international festivals and won a few awards, it was a struggle to get eyeballs on it. In this day and age with so much content at everyone’s fingertips it’s hard enough to get your own family to watch your stuff (actually my parents are extremely supportive…count me one of the lucky ones)! I’m still learning to navigate. But the old adage holds true for me: “it’s who you know.” And by that, I mean, keep being social. Meet up with friends in the same line of work. Make new friends in that line of work. And always keep making stuff. No one’s going to venture into a black hole and come out discovering your work. You need to make your own opportunities. And that’s what I’m trying to do every day.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Light and Shadow Pictures story. Tell us more about the business.
ETHAN: Working with Jessica, we tend to lean towards creating stories that contain an element of heightened realism. It probably stems from our theatrical backgrounds. We explore worlds that are mysterious, fascinating. Sometimes there are macabre elements involved but there is always a feeling of intense discovery and of magnificent epiphany… for better or worse. I think that is probably due to how we constantly feel in reality. I never presume to know everything and I’m always discovering something new. Whether the discovery is for our benefit or not is part of the journey and what ends up making that story a comedy or tragedy. The medium that these stories are targeted towards is irrelevant. The nature of the project really determines whether it’s for film, television or the web. Case in point, our five part short film series, IN ABSENTIA, came to us as five separate stories. And over time, the connections in each story were revealed to us and we molded them into a fifty-minute web series. It played in over a dozen international film festivals, garnering over 20 awards/nominations and had its world premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London where it was a Grand Jury Nominee for Best Writing.
Needless to say, it’s a lot of work making a film. It takes a lot of time. What I’m most proud of is the fact that I was able to teach myself the basics without having gone to any type of film school. I’m self-taught by way of research and then putting a whole lot of debt on credit cards to learn by doing (and with a lot of help from articles and behind the scenes featurettes on a plethora of Criterion DVDs). Did I maybe spend as much going this route as attending a cheap film school? Possibly. But the value of getting my hands dirty and only being able to make progress by constantly failing at first, to me, is priceless.
JESSICA: We write and direct and produce out of necessity to get our own projects off the ground. We don’t produce other people’s projects, at this time, we’re focused on developing and creating our own material. As a team, I think we’re best known for our series IN ABSENTIA, it’s the project that has had the most success up until now. I think what sets me apart is being a bilingual, Latina filmmaker. I work in the English and Spanish language space as both writer and director. My background inspires me towards the kinds of characters and stories I focus on and want to explore. What sets us apart as a team is that we’re a husband and wife creative team that has been collaborating for over a decade. Most people are surprised by that.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
ETHAN: Aside from the several projects that Jessica and I are developing together (A f***ed up fairytale, a “mature” apocalyptic adventure comedy – to hint at a few), I’ve been focusing on stories involving my Jewish culture and heritage in unconventional yet commercial ways. When writing and creating by myself, my focus is strongly influenced by my Lithuanian-Jewish roots. I have a fascination with my own cultural mysticism, and the stories I am writing are geared towards bringing the rich Judaic tradition and history into the mainstream by way of horror, science fiction and historical epics. Think dystopian sci-fi/political horror and highly choreographed/action-packed sports drama set in the 1700s (Any wealthy producers in the house?). One of these scripts is already done and I’ll be working on accessing some grant money and shopping it around in the near future. Fingers crossed. As for the work Jessica and I do together, we’ve been actively pitching a television series (super excited about this one) and are in the early stages of developing an indie film with some bankable talent.
JESSICA: I’m currently in rehearsals for a play I wrote and I’m directing, which will have three performances at the Santa Monica Playhouse as part of their benefit series in January of 2020. Also, the indie feature Ethan mentioned is a primary focus of ours, since we have some talent signed on. Other plans include finding funding for another feature I wrote and will direct, as well as funding for a separate feature that Ethan wrote and will direct. So we have a handful of projects that we’re very excited about, especially the F’d up fairytale TV series. It’s dark, fun and twisted — and still has a message. We believe this will be a tremendous project and are looking to connect with the right person to bring it to life. That’s the plan, continuing to create and being able to bring these projects to fruition for the world to see and enjoy.
- Website: http://lightandshadow.pictures/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
E Kogan and J Silvetti IAWTV Awards photo by: Erik Urtz