Santa Barbara International Film Festival: 10-10-10 Filmmaker Returns

Julia Kupiec’s Road from Student to Director

Former 10-10-10 student and Tisch School grad Julia Kupiec (pictured) returns with a short, Not for Sale, in this year’s film festival. | Credit: Paul Wellman

I got involved as a director in 10-10-10 as a kind of experiment in high school. I had acted in 10-10-10 shorts for the past two years and I thought, why not flip to the other side of the camera? Just see how it feels. I was a latecomer to the MAD academy at SBHS and had just taken my first film class. I was absolutely in love with it, but I had no experience directing an actual narrative short. I had made one music video when I applied as a director in 2015 to 10-10-10.

My experience directing that year in 10-10-10 is probably the reason I’m a filmmaker now. I realized that everything I had ever been sort of good at came to play in directing a film. For the first time, it felt like I was using every side of my brain, every ounce of my capability in order to accomplish something. It was the first time in my life that I would sit down at a table to work and lift my head to realize eight hours had passed, I’d only consumed caffeine, and my left hand was shaking. I was totally in the flow and I was completely in love.

I didn’t win 10-10-10 that year; a capable director friend of mine, Patrick Hall, did. But I did end up with a short film that I included in my NYU film school application, and Guy Smith, the director of the program, wrote one of my college recommendation letters. It is safe to say that 10-10-10 is a big reason I was accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

It was shocking to me how much the skills I learned in 10-10-10 aided in my progression to NYU, and now, the first year after my graduation, to an independent filmmaker. The expectation in Tisch (and in film in general) is that you just have to do it. Making a film of any kind is a weirdly impossible task. No one who has ever made a film will tell you, “That was totally easy; everything just fell into place!” That doesn’t happen, especially on a get-your-hands-dirty, the-camera-just-blew-up-and-we-don’t-have-money for-a-new-one low-budget level. (Cameras do not blow up; please still hire me. Side note: I did see a battery blow up once. Not on my set, obviously.)

10-10-10 prepared me for the Nike slogan mindset of “Just do it.” At age 18, I directed a 10-minute short film with literally no budget. I learned how to get creative and make it work anyway. Sometimes, better ideas are gleaned from having to simplify. I still use that mindset today.

This year, I’m back at SBIFF for the first time since 10-10-10 with my short film Not for Sale. It’s a story initially inspired by a Raymond Carver short story about a young couple who stumbles upon a very strange yard sale. I wrote the script as a way of trying to capture something I was experiencing at the time: a feeling of being very young and looking down the tunnel of the rest of my life — all I’d yet to experience but inevitably would one day. A sort of melancholy and/or nostalgia for things I hadn’t even lived through yet. I suppose it was a feeling of being slightly overwhelmed at it all.

I highly doubt all of this comes through in the 10 minutes that is Not for Sale, but the process of creating this film was certainly cathartic for me. I got to take an abstract and create something new; it’s an experience that I look for in every single piece of work I make now. I also got to make the film with some of my best friends (a byproduct of NYU — my work life and my social life are one and the same). It’s amazing to surround myself with people who are so talented and intelligent and interesting.

I suppose that’s the main reason I love film. It takes an army of artists to create one final end product. As a director, I’m just there to make sure everyone is on the same page, on the right track. It’s really this communal talent of everyone else that shines through in the end. I get to stand in the middle of it and be so proud of this great creative effort — a precious experience of people coming together to create something bigger than themselves.

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