We had the good fortune of connecting with Lena Tsodykovskaya and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lena, what role has risk played in your life or career?
My job is all about taking risks. The career risks are very standard – pick the right projects, right collaborators, right team, right moves etc. The creative risks – those are the really tricky ones.
I believe that as a storyteller if you are not taking risks in your subjects, themes, characters, approach… the story is not worth telling. Think about the last book you loved, or the last film/TV show you watched and couldn’t stop thinking about. It made such a huge impact on you because the author explored subjects that you haven’t seen before, or made you fall for new kinds of characters, or maybe they managed to channel your very deep thoughts, ones that you never speak out loud. All of those were risks that the author took when creating the story for you.
And those risks are scary, when you stare at them on paper.
How will it turn out? Is this too uncommon? Will the audience truly connect? What will people think of me as an author if I show them what I really care about?
Throughout my years as a director and storyteller I learned that those fears and risks are very common to all of us, they are not filmmakers’ risks, they are human risks. When a person starts publicly expressing their true opinion it is always a risk of being judged, misunderstood, misinterpreted. It’s just that a person can opt out of taking such a risk, while a filmmaker cannot… if they want to truly engage their audience.
Only strong, bold, often controversial choices are the ones that stand out from the crowd, especially today in the world of oversaturated content. And for us, storytellers, it always means inviting strangers into our wicked minds, making them comfortable and hoping they enjoy the ride.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have to admit, I never gave a lot of thought to where I want to go or what I want to do next. I would get a spark, an idea and it would lead me to “do” and to “go” and to “drive” and to “push” until I got where I wanted to go. It has always been a purely instinctual and figure-out-on-the-go type of thing.
Looking back, I know that if I planned too well or knew too much, I would have probably become overwhelmed with challenges and wouldn’t have reached the place I am right now. I wouldn’t have worked days and nights on television as an assistant; I wouldn’t have applied to an Ivy League University on the opposite side of the world; I wouldn’t have got in and I certainly wouldn’t have slept in my car for nearly a year between day and night shoots when earning the tuition money. While still a student at Columbia, I wouldn’t have moved to unknown Los Angeles from already somewhat familiar New York. I wouldn’t have built a directing career in Russia while living in the US and I wouldn’t have broken into the very competitive US market, set up my first feature and series with amazing teams and got hungry to develop endlessly more.
All of that would not happen if I was thinking too much about what it is going to take. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing, I keep asking myself that question. I don’t have an answer and I never will. This is just who I am and I try not to think about it too much.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I am an introvert, so I probably am the wrong person to ask for hangout advice, or to be a guide. Hell, I sometimes wish I had a guide to show me around… But one of my personal favorite spots in LA is a little park in Silver Lake – Marathon park. Get a to-go meal from Be U, Pine and Crane or Combo A and eat at that park with someone you love chatting with. It is such a small local park – people play ball, do yoga, watch their children play in the sand. Very calming and far from hustle. Or go for a hike to a waterfall in Monrovia Canyon Park (temporarily closed, unfortunately). Or spend a weekday in Hermosa beach where it’s rarely crowded. A good meal, good company and my own private little pocket is my go-to happy place.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Two of my closest friends here in LA, who guide me in my thoughts even when they are not around – Cynthia Jean Hajj and Elena Bawiec. These two powerhouse women and film producers are made of completely different cloths and in my heart they come together to make a perfect balance.
Cynthia is a ray of sunshine, the person that makes me smile every time I think of her. She is warm and powerful, endlessly devoted to those she loves and very selective with those she lets close. She is my spiritual compass and she inspires me to be a better person every day.
Elena has one of the strongest grasp on life. She is one of the most reliable and competent people in work and life that I know. She is a steady and yet unstoppable force that always gets things done the right way. Her way. And that is the way I always rely on when I can’t find the right answer inside my own mind.
I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have these phenomenal women in my life.