We had the good fortune of connecting with Sasha Lebedeva and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sasha, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-takingx
Any growth assumes stepping out of a comfort zone. This means taking risks. I’m a huge risk-taker; big and small, all the time. I have a lot of ambitions and only risks can take me where I want to go. However, I feel like it’s really important to talk about the risks that haven’t paid off. When I was 15, for instance, I decided to graduate from high school one year early so I could audition to study under a particular professor at a famous Russian drama school. I put so much hard work and faith into my chances, but not only did I fail to get into my dream program, I also wasn’t accepted into any university at all. I’m not going to lie by saying I sacrificed proper high school experience in order to take this risk (because I hated school) but it was definitely embarrassing. I put myself out there to accomplish something bold and risky but failed.
Moving to LA a year later with very little money to pursue a directing career was another risk. Being in LA for four years, I met so many failed wanna-be-directors and I’m quite scared of the possibility of finding myself among them ten years down the road. I’ve been working hard to avoid this fate. Although I can’t yet say the risk has fully paid off, I don’t regret anything. I have a lot of faith. And even if this venture doesn’t turn out the way I want it to, it still won’t stop me from taking risks. We never know what could have happened if we don’t at least try. Fortune favors the bold, right? Hope so. Let’s find out.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a writer-director based in LA. I was born and raised in Moscow. I always knew I wanted to work in film but it definitely wasn’t easy to start directing. First of all, nobody is going to let you direct something out of the blue, so you have to create and then finance your own projects. It is the most unfair part of the industry. People from wealthy families can produce more stuff and get ahead, while people like me are dragging behind due to the lack of money. To be honest, I still experience imposter syndrome every time I publicly call myself a director. I recently complained about it to my mom and she said: “It’s okay, even Raskolnikov from “Crime and Punishment”, who killed the old lady, felt like everybody could see him through and know what he’d done.” It was a strange comparison, and at the same time, very Russian of her. But I live in LA, and people here say, “fake it till you make it,” so I still call myself a director.
I am most proud of my recent short film “Hex & Rage,” starring Clara McGregor and Riel Macklem and executive produced by Emmy-nominated Alyson Feltes. It’s about two teen witches who avenge their stripper friend by hexing the man who assaulted her. It is the most ambitious project I’ve directed so far, and it felt surreal to have so many people on my team. I was really lucky to work with talented collaborators who truly believed in the project and supported my vision. It was a lot of work and a huge learning curve for me, but it’s currently in the festival circuit, so hopefully, we get to play at some cool festivals very soon!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Up until recently, I’ve been living in Venice and before the pandemic, I would spend a lot of time (maybe even way too much time) at Intelligentsia coffee shop. I did all my homework and work there, knew all the baristas (sometimes they gave me free coffee), and made friends with other regulars. It was truly an amazing place.
My favorite restaurants in Venice are Superba Food + Bread, The Butcher’s Daughter and NIGHT + MARKET Sahm. Now that I’ve moved to Los Feliz and am exploring East LA, I’ve fallen in love with the coffee shops Maru and Laveta, as well as Beachwood Cafe. Also, if you’re into lattes like I am, you have to try an oat milk Brad Pitt from the Balcony coffee shop. It is smooth but not sweet, and the place itself is very cute.
Also, as always, a huge shoutout to the American Cinematheque, easily my favorite place in LA. It’s heartbreaking to realize that it’s been over a year since I shot a Q&A for them. My last one was with David Mamet, whose book on directing I read just a few months before taking pictures of him at the Aero! Hopefully, we’ll be able to return to in-person events very soon! I miss going to art-house movie theaters, watching older movies on a big screen, and asking the directors questions afterward. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The pandemic has made it harder to keep relationships with many friends and has forced us to choose a small group of friends who can be in our “bubble.” I’ve been spending most of my free time with my two best friends Sarah Casey and Vasilina Mikhaylova (hi guys!). I got so lucky with them, as they are not only my friends, but talented collaborators. It is as fun as it is helpful to have them around as Vasi, an animator, has a very strong visual side and gives me a lot of advice on design. She also made storyboards, created the final credits for my film and helped with the poster (she even taught me photoshop). Sarah, a screenwriter, is of enormous help with anything that involves writing (which, during the age of email, needs to be done a lot), and she is kind enough to proofread my stuff. Since I am both foreign and dyslexic, without her, I would look like a huge fool in my interviews.
photographer Annabelle Sadler