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Meet Alysha Nunez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alysha Nunez.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
There is always some sort of restriction growing up when it came to extracurricular activities. “That costs too much” was the general response my parents gave. Or “who’s going to take you?” When it came to my interest in Aikido classes or, “no, you’re too small for the ocean” when I wanted to take a field trip in my scuba diving class in high school. I listened, believing in their reasoning.

That was until the heaps of excuses my parents spoke went up until I was 18, and I found myself atop a kingdom of hollow wishes and empty promises without a personality I could proudly attach to my name.

Maybe my self-consciousness realized it, but the restrictions gradually formed into a chokehold. It’s terrifying to self-reflect only to find yourself at a completely blank slate devoid of colorful experiences that are the defining essences of life that shapes you into a person. My life up until a certain point was like that of a ghost: always spoken about after the fact and forced to wander here and there without truly belonging to anything or anywhere.

Thankfully, no matter where you are, a sheet of paper paired with either pencil or pen can be found at any place. In a restaurant where crayons are supplied for children, in a waiting room that you’ve been sitting in well over two hours, or in the office of a nurse where you dread the injection that she’s about to bring.

And with paper and pencil in hand, I realized ideas were cost-free. Not a cent in my way to draw what I wanted or needed at the time.

The only limit is my imagination.

So I drew. I drew when I was lonely. I drew when I was bored. I drew for fun, I drew for necessity. I drew for my friends. I drew for myself. I drew for school, and I drew for the fantasies in my head.

At age 4, my father engaged me with his recreation of a clownfish painting.

In Pre-K, my teachers would be stunned at my dedication to draw and redraw and scrap attempts at drawing the Prince from Barbie’s Nutcracker until I felt I got it right.

By 2nd grade, my teachers mentioned to my parents how I paid attention to details and drew my classmate’s portrait assignment fairly accurately than most.

4th grade rolled around, and the comics I drew on index cards nearly every day compiled into a thick stack and could be considered my first book.

In 5th grade, I grew to love drawing realistically. Bolstered by being forced to draw the Christ Jesus every year in Catholic school, no doubt.

In 7th grade, I was tasked to draw our school’s patron Saint David for a banner adorning our Church only to find it still hanging somewhere three years later.

I drew and drew and drew because it was all I could really do and call my own. The act of drawings even follows me into my dreams. Only for me to wake up and lament that the work never really existed.

Before I knew it, the habit of drawing had accompanied me at that kingdom of neglect and liberated me from walls built from sorrow when my family crumbled apart. It’s too early to say at the time of this writing… But if I can’t find any other way, my hopes are I can sketch up something strong within myself that can fill the deep void left by familial apathy.

It’s better than indulging in vices because of the pain.

Still, while it has been my faithful companion of an activity I did have to face the challenge of figuring out if indulging in an artistic route is worth the effort, time, and lack of financial stability.

In high school, I found myself still doodling but had to confront whether or not I wished to commit to it. At first, majoring in the sciences and English literature came to entice me more than the artistic field. I didn’t think of my art too seriously, so when I joined my school’s Animation Class it was really just to fulfill my school’s Visual Performance Art and Computer prerequisites than anything else.

The class was fun for me, and I really started to look forward to the class when the time came.

But what challenged my way of thinking was our final assignment. Only because I was, albeit unwillingly, shoved into a director’s role out of circumstance.

We were a mixed group in a mixed class; me being a high school junior at the time. The seniors wished to focus on their SAT or ACT studies and the freshman and sophomore students in our group needed someone to look up to. It even went so far as someone from the group saying to my face, “Alysha, YOU have to take charge.”

At the time, I was miffed. But I wasn’t about to let our whole group fail the class because of a single, weighty assignment. So I took it upon myself to drive the responsibility with only one mental rule for me to follow:

Don’t let your ego get in the way of the project’s completion.

What followed was a hell of a time trying to finish, but the looming danger of flunking a class was a hell of a motivator. Along the way, my teacher mentioned getting it in time for a local film festival. Not knowing what a film festival even was at the time, I just nodded my head and it was on its way to submission even though it was ugly as sin.

Then our group collectively forgot all about the assignment and we moved on to focus on finals.

About a month later, our teacher declared out film made it as a finalist entry at the festival. “What film?” we chimed.

Then came the festival where I was charmed and moved by the film workshops provided before the screening. It was then that I got a sweet taste of the fascinating logistics behind the world of film. Listening to a professional’s experience and personal journeys put me at the edge of my seat just as much as watching a fictional, narrative film. I was just happy to be there, and my mind never thought about the actual competition.

Until our film was declared to have been the winner in the animated film category.

We were in disbelief.

Yet, the most miraculous thing that occurred was when my group pushed for me to be the one to offer a speech at the podium when accepting the award. I suppose, deep down, they all felt I was the one who worked the hardest for the project and felt deserved the limelight. I didn’t feel too much of that myself.

But that gesture of humility from my group was what made the win a cherished moment. The limelight was a little too blinding, but the camaraderie was what warmed my heart the most.

Ever since the motivation of recapturing that warmth as much as possible is a personal goal that led me into the world of animation.

And that’s why I am dedicated to animation today.

Has it been a smooth road?
The root of all artistic struggles are all mental and circumstantial trials that continue without an end in sight.

Even after the fleeting event in the limelight, the novelty wore off quickly. And the biggest challenge was the struggle of staying relevant and appreciated even after a big personal hurdle.

During my senior year in high school, I was in AP English Literature class among other students far more book smart than I ever was at 18. As a student with a newfound dedication to the arts, the pressure of the high school social hierarchy in the middle of a class full of fledgling doctors, nurses, and engineers wrecked my self-confidence something awful.

So I worked hard while keeping my mouth shut and my head down low with my voice deafened.

Graduation came quickly, and it was at that time my no-nonsense teacher spoke to all of us and professed that:

“We do not need a world completely filled to the brim with only doctors and nurses and engineers. All the students that come into my class are gunning to major as one of those and 90% of you all are doing it only because your parents want you to. Now, I can’t force you to do anything, but let it be known that we need the janitors in the world. We need to honor the artists and the McDonald’s workers and the fisherman. These people also help the world turn. And we need them”

Most of my classmate’s faces dropped in devastation, while I perked up in elation. I even heard a classmate lament under their breath, “… “I’m only here because my parents told me to…”

That was the first time I ever heard career validation from a mentor figure.

But what stuck with me to this day was when this teacher asked me what I wanted to major in the future. In an ill-conceived panic, I sputtered that I wanted to major in English.

She looked at me with daggers in her eyes and said:

“If you don’t do something with that art of yours, I will personally hunt you down and kick your ass.”

So while struggle within my decided field is notwithstanding, I am far more scared of being assassinated and letting down the people that vouch for people like me, thank you very much.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m currently working on an R-rated animated feature film completely animated solo right now due to my broke college status ahaha. But also because I’m the only one who is bull-headed enough to do it, even when my professors completely shut me down; it’s going to take a lot more to damage the stubbornness of an Aries born on the year of the Ox.

Jokes aside, the film I’m writing, directing, and animating is titled “Sow Don’t Sing.” The [updated] logline goes as follows:

“18-year-old Luca Russo joins the military to find belonging only to gain the love he craves at an unexpected source — the mob.”

The screenplay by itself has earned recognition on its own and has even snagged a few laurels at the time of this article. I have also been interviewed about the screenplay in the past that can be read here: https://matthewtoffolo.com/2019/05/28/interview-with-screenwriter-alysha-nunez-sow-dont-sing/

Last year, I was happy to make it to the quarterfinals of TheScriptLab’s free screenplay contest. It was a shocker. https://thescriptlab.com/contests-2/13462-announcing-the-2019-tsl-free-screenplay-contest-quarterfinalists/

Just this gives me high hopes that it’s worth pursuing. Especially for my first attempt at screenwriting as a student.

This is not a vanity project by any means, so I was stunned by the recognition it’s continuing to earn. “Sow Don’t Sing” (or “Project-SDS” as I like to dub it) was conceived through a pure stroke of inspiration while I was mulling over personal growing pains and the pain of the state of the world today. What manifested, at least, what has been told to me, is a hauntingly painful story yet it feels necessary and beautiful to experience by the end of it.

Pure passion is what has led me to pen and draw this project, and in doing so has landed me my own staff. The greatest honor is working with them to bring the project to life, and collaborating with their talents is the highlight in working on this project for me.

I am proud of this project, as it helps me feel proud of my staff as well as proud myself. Accomplishment is a feeling I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to figure out how to feel. I just hope I can continue to feel happy by connecting with others with this project as my through-line.

That’s the goal, anyway: to connect. Any kind of accolades that this project might land in my lap is inconsequential for me.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think the best advice I could give to anyone who is starting out at art or even in the thick of it is: “Do you see yourself as a consumer? Or as a creator?”

Asking yourself this question can clear up a lot of the fog of uncertainty in your own path to success. If you realize that in your free time, you’d rather indulge in media after a long day then you may lean towards consumers.

But if during your free time you can only single-mindedly think about what you can make creatively despite the long day, then you may be a creator.

Just understanding the difference between the two and figuring out where you may stand can ease a significant amount of anxiety.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?

Following in the shoes of my no-nonsense teacher, I’ve tried to be no-nonsense myself. 

I came to school to WORK. Not have FUN. 

Especially after taking a sabbatical from school to try out in the retail workforce to gauge if I truly hated school or if I was just anxious over the fact I never had a “real job.” It was the latter, for sure. 

As sad as it may be, due to my lack of personal self-esteem, I don’t let my ego get in the way of what needs to be done, so my pride as a deterrent is practically non-existent during high stress in projects. 

I also recently had a classmate say to me that, “you are the most open-minded person I’ve ever met.” I don’t know what the heck that was about, since at the time, this was only the second time I’ve ever spoken to this person face-to-face.

But the college I’m currently attending (California State University Long Beach) has a track record for having students earn internships at Pixar. The person who said this to me was a Pixar intern at that given time, and we were close in proximity to the studio. I felt their impression of me at the moment was significant, considering the climate they were in.

I also tend to be violently hyper-fixated on a single subject for long periods of time that spans years. So having this fixation focus on my own work has definitely become the perfect storm in staying dedicated to my projects.

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Image Credit:
For the AEF logo: ASIAFA-Hollywood https://www.asifa-hollywood.org/

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