By: Maria Shamkalian
Aleksandra Svetlichnaya is a local Pennsylvania actor, writer and director. She created the “DINNERVERSE” short film series and founded SVET Studios, a female-run production company based in the Philadelphia area. Films in this series have screened at San Diego Comic Con, Wizard World Philadelphia and ScareLA in Los Angeles. They have had press write-ups from Dread Central, PhillyVoice and Philadelphia Daily News.
1) What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
In June I was invited to be a part of “Women in Indie Film” panel at Wizard World Philadelphia. It was very cool to get to showcase one of my short films and speak about women in the film industry on a panel with other very talented women.
2) How did you get started in the film industry?
I first started in the Costume department, working on a variety of independent films. From there I transitioned into acting. But I quickly found that I wasn’t happy simply being on one side of the camera or the other, or just in one department – I wanted to do it all! That was when I decided to form my own production company, so that I didn’t have to feel limited or play by anyone else’s rules.
3) Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
I love working in PA because it has been my home since immigrating to the US as a child. But even more than that, I think we have a lot of talent here and a lot of untapped potential. And PA has so many options! We have so many amazing locations, historic architecture, landscapes, etc. Within an hour or two you could be in the city or in the mountains. And if you really need a beach, we’re right near the NJ shore. There aren’t many states that can offer that much variety!
Plus you can’t beat the community aspect. In my experience PA communities are very filmmaker friendly. Most of them are so welcoming and happy to allow filming or even lend a hand. That doesn’t happen everywhere!
4) What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
I’ve had the privilege of shooting in Ontario St. Comics in Philadelphia on several occasions. It’s an amazing location! M. Night Shyamalan also filmed there for “Unbreakable” and “Glass”.
I’m also obsessed with Eastern State Penitentiary. I hope I have the chance to shoot there someday!
5) What do you love the most about your job?
I love being able to be creative in so many different ways. But more than anything, I love that I have the opportunity to inspire other women. If I’ve inspired just one young woman, whether it’s in film or in any other way, then I’ve done my job.
6) What are some of the challenges of being a female filmmaker?
The challenges of being a female filmmaker are the same as the challenges of being a female, period. It’s the same tropes and stereotypes that women face in daily life in all fields. You are frequently underestimated or not taken seriously. At events, it’s almost always an assumption that you’re strictly an actor, or worse -- that you’re just someone’s date. It can be more difficult to have your voice heard. But that’s why it’s up to us to speak louder, be more persistent and make sure that it’s easier for the next generation of women in film.
7) What is your advice for other women in film?
Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t play by anyone else’s rules. Don’t let anyone tell you that “this is how things are” and “this is how it works” and that you need to abide by that. Don’t settle. Don’t stop. And don’t ever let anyone try and keep your voice from being heard – no matter what it takes.
8) Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
Always! I am currently in production on the next short film in my DINNERVERSE series, which is based in and shot in Pennsylvania. Several others are also in various stages of pre-production.
9) PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
The film industry brings so many jobs to local businesses and individuals that it should really be a no-brainer to increase the film tax credit budget. It allows local creative professionals to stay in their hometown, or at least home state, and have high quality jobs available to them. If this isn’t the case, those professionals will have to either make lengthy commutes for work or simply move out of state. If there aren’t enough film tax credits to go around, there won’t be enough jobs in PA for experienced professionals to stay. This also goes for the next generation. Philadelphia, for example, has multiple colleges with great creative programs perfectly suited for the film industry. If there are film industry jobs available locally, the students from those programs will have a reason to stick around after graduation and contribute to the local economy. If not, they’ll just take what they learned here and bring their talents to other states.
10) What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
I would focus on making connections with local professionals, versus taking time and money to travel to New York or other areas. Unless you’re planning on moving, local connections will be the ones that ultimately lead to more work. Even if it seems like “smaller” opportunities, they will be more consistent and will ultimately lead to “bigger” gigs too.
11) What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
I firmly believe in the power of using social media professionally. I’ve booked amazing jobs off of Facebook for example and I’ve found cast & crew for my own projects on there as well. The key is using it PROFESSIONALLY and not just randomly direct messaging people you don’t actually know and trying to get them to give you a job. That doesn’t work and that’s not what “networking” is. Showcase your work. Try and make genuine connections. Treat it like a marathon not a sprint.
12) What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
Filmmaking is a team sport. Find people that you connect and work well with, and create things with those people. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
13) What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
Other than my own? J Obviously the “Rocky/Creed” franchise is a classic. And I also like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” and the “Unbreakable” trilogy.
14) What is your favorite project that you worked on?
Other than my own projects, it was very cool getting to work as an actor on “Creed”. I’m a huge action movie fan, so getting to see how the boxing scenes were choreographed and filmed was amazing. Plus nothing beats seeing Sly in action!
15) What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
I don’t particularly care about awards. For me, the greatest “award” would be a full panel in Hall H at San Diego Comic Con. For those unfamiliar, that is the biggest panel space in the biggest comic con there is. That’s where all the big movies, like Marvel and DC, and all the popular TV shows hold their panels. For me, it doesn’t get bigger than that!
16) What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
If I am in pre-production, or production, on a project there are always local calls for cast and crew. However, I’m always keeping my eyes open for new talent to collaborate with and social media is a great way to connect with me.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org