We had the good fortune of connecting with Ethan Kogan and Jessica Silvetti and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ethan and Jessica, how do you think about risk?
ETHAN: To me, risk is an essential part of doing anything creative (…and other non-creative endeavors, for that matter). The way I see it, if you don’t take a chance on your own work then who else is going to? You need to be willing to fail by putting your work out there and have nobody like it. Worst case scenario, you learn from the mistake and do something better the next time. But you will not know where you stand unless you take a risk by putting yourself and your work out there. Risk taking leads to growth which leads to success. You just need to read the signs along the way and make the appropriate adjustments. I, admittedly, am very cautious by nature. I think a lot. I just do. And sometimes that slows me down. But there comes a time when my ambition overcomes my rational nature and I risk everything. Like betting it all on red in a game of roulette. Is it crazy? Hell, yes. Am I all the better for it? Without a doubt.
JESSICA: Risks can be scary but also exciting. When it comes to going after your career dreams, what do you have to lose? There’s an expression in Spanish that says “You already have the no, search for they yes.” That’s what I think of when putting myself out there and going after the ingredients I need to make a project come to fruition. If I don’t ask and reach out to others then it’s definitely not going to happen so I search for the yes. Every time you take a step forward that is aligned with what you want to achieve, it gives you a little more courage and confidence. Of course there are the moments where you feel stuck or unsure, but you have to be willing to keep moving forward and not let the nay sayers sway you from your goal. There’s also a lot of clarity that can come from risk taking, you can really learn a lot along the way and figure out what are the things that work and don’t work as you move forward on your career path. Being a filmmaker, one who writes and directs, has its challenges especially when it comes to funding… but I feel keeping creative and always searching for the yes in order to make things happen is like being addicted to running a marathon. You get in a zone and keep on going until you reach the finish line.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
ETHAN: I’m a writer, I’m an editor, I’m a director. I’ve bounced around in the industry quite a bit: started as an actor with some success, partnered with my wife to make our own film, built a computer to edit said film, got bored with acting and to support a writing/directing career got a job as an assistant editor, then as an editor. Needless to say, it hasn’t been an easy road. But in doing so, I’ve had several writing/directing projects accepted into multiple international film festivals, winning several awards. Now, I’m currently focused on getting several written screenplays up and running. I’m most excited about bringing my recently completed Jewish horror feature script to fruition. It’s kind of crazy and I love it! Having the opportunity to mine the stories, the myths and the history of my Jewish heritage is what drives me. And, I think, is what sets me apart. My Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, the harrowing and often sorrowful stories of my Lithuanian family fleeing the Holocaust and the positive outlook instilled in me by the Jewish community is, I think, what makes my viewpoint unique. Let’s be honest, nothing in life is easy. And success in the entertainment industry is damn near impossible. But, I think having a very strong understanding of your voice and who you are frees you up to put those views, unabashedly, into your work.
JESSICA: I’m a filmmaker, a bilingual writer and director who started as an actor. I emigrated to the US as a kid, from Mexico City. I grew up within a non-traditional family with a single mom and was fortunate to have massive support from my grandparents. My multicultural upbringing informs my point of view. I’m still a work in progress, still learning, still growing. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to write and direct my own work on several occasions. Experiencing the whole journey from having an idea, putting it down on the page, gathering a team of people to film it, then watching it all come together as it’s edited, and finally putting it out into the world — that is an absolute joy and I’m addicted. Every time I have the opportunity to do that it’s a reminder that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. With each chance I get to create and put my work out to the public I gauge what stories I’ve told and what stories I need to tell and want to tell. I think, as an artist, your voice develops as you do more work. When you’re in the thick of it, it may be difficult to figure out and state what your brand is. Nowadays one should know their brand, but I feel as an artist and storyteller it can be a distraction to focus on your brand instead of focusing on the story and the work itself. It’s challenging to be the artist and the businessperson at the same time. If you’re lucky and/or established enough to afford a team around you whose focus it is to brand you and bring attention to your work, then that’s a huge help. For independent filmmakers and storytellers, it’s a balancing act. Sometimes I have to solely focus on the project as an artist and then when it’s birthed, switch gears to how best to share it. I’m proud of all the projects I’ve made thus far, some are much better than others, but even the weaker ones were a stepping stone and a learning experience for me to grow as an artist. Each project has helped me become a better writer, a better director, and there is a sense of accomplishment with each piece that is completed.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
JESSICA: We’re so lucky that LA has such a variety of restaurants. These are some of my favorite spots: Mizlala in West Adams, Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo, Merkato in Little Ethiopia, Yuko’s Kitchen in Mid-Wilshire. For places to visit: Griffith Park to hike and the observatory (especially when they have their night viewings on the rooftop telescope). Of course, the beach. Walk along the boardwalk and/or ride a bike. I love the sound of the ocean so I’d take a visitor to walk along the beach. Also, downtown LA: The Last Bookstore is an amazing place and they have little artist galleries on the second floor, walk around the downtown arts district there, maybe eat at Wurstkuche or Grand Central Market. Check out some theatre, especially at our old stomping grounds The Actors’ Gang in Culver City (always great and poignant theatre). LA has so much to offer, I could go on… but these are a few of the highlights on my itinerary!
ETHAN: I’ll make mine short and sweet. To echo Jessica, The Last Bookstore in Downtown. Just go. It’s a wonderland in there. And yes, The Actors’ Gang in Culver City will expose you to the most thought provoking theater in the city. If you don’t check out The Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo, just don’t talk to me again. It’s such an amazing show every time and I love that it’s located in a strip mall! And to eat, try Rossoblu Italian eatery in Downtown. It think, to date, it’s the best meal we’ve had in LA. Other than that, you just need to get out to the neighborhoods. On the weekends, go to the Melrose Trading Post swap meet at Fairfax High School. Such cool shopping and good food. The Venice Canals are a really cool neighborhood to walk around and then you can hop over to Abbott Kinney on the first Friday of the month to sample a whole slew of food trucks that come out to serve people. It’s a blast.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
JESSICA: There are a lot of people that have helped me navigate the rough waters of being an artist. Firstly, my family, they have been my anchor since I first mentioned that I wanted to go into entertainment when I was a kid. I’ve been lucky to have their support, which then paved the way for me to attend Tisch School of the Arts, where I tapped into a community of other artists with whom I’m still friends with today and have also had the chance to collaborate with professionally. My husband, Ethan, who is also my creative partner and co-founder of Light and Shadow Pictures. I think he and I have grown a lot together and we’ve challenged one another in positive ways when working on projects as a team or individually. As of late, I’ve also become involved with some organizations who nurture women filmmakers, such as the Alliance of Women Directors, Film Fatales and my writing group League of Women Writers. Having that community of women has also been very rewarding.
ETHAN: First off, I wouldn’t be able to advance at all without the support of Jessica, my wife and creative partner. Being there as a confidant to me as well as a creative muse is something that I think is irreplaceable, priceless, one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ sort of things. Second, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my parents, Robert and Sherri Kogan, who never shied away from me when I said I wanted to go to theater school, when I wanted to use my own money to make a movie or when I was a crazy, hormonal, raging teenager living in their house. Without them, I never would have found my way into the entertainment industry and to be able to write and direct my own film projects. Lastly, discovering the works of Jack Kerouac was a turning point for me. Discovering books like “On the Road”, “The Dharma Bums”, and “Dr. Sax” in college lifted the veil on creative writing and expression for me like nothing else. It lit a fire inside that sent me on the path I’m currently on.