NYFA veteran alum Alister Conway has found success with his first independently-produced feature film. The Doll takes the familiar horror trope of a haunted doll coming to violent life to new extremes, with this particular “doll” portrayed by Valeria Lukyanova. This is the screen debut for the model and viral internet sensation, known as the “The Human Barbie.” As The Los Angeles Times observes of this casting choice, “Turning a beauty into an inhuman monster is actually a clever premise.”
Conway took the time to share some insights from his experience bringing The Doll to life with the NYFA Blog.
NYFA: How did your project The Doll come about? What inspired the idea?
AC: Through my many networking trails, one night I attended an event at the Soho House. I met an incredible psychologist, Susannah O’Brien, who shared many similar ideas and feelings on the rapidly changing climate of the film industry.
At the time I had no idea she was also a director organizing a new team to produce a collection of scripts that she written … one of the scripts was The Doll project. It was wild how she had the entire project laid out in her mind with clear bold strokes, these crazy details that blew my mind, with the Human Barbie Doll starring in it all.
… Long story short, by the end of the conversation she asked if I’d be willing to shoot the project. I can’t remember my exact response. But it was something along the lines of “Oh **** yes! I’d love to.”
NYFA: For our students, can you tell us a little bit about your role as the cinematographer and co-producer? How did you juggle those responsibilities, and what surprised you the most?
AC: Coming from a stern military background combined with the hustle mentality of a Brooklyn New Yorker, I’ve always motivated my mind to multitask at the drop of a dime. Originally, I was brought on as the cinematographer, a privilege I still can’t thank Sahara Vision Productions enough for. Then I approached the production team to bring me on as a producer to help manage the overall day-to-day process of pre-production.
They were reluctant at first until they noticed a $8,000 deficit that wasn’t in the original budgeting. I moved around a few numbers, brought on a few associates at lower rate, made a few deals with equipment lenders, etc. and they were very impressed with what I accomplished. So they tried me out as a co-producer.
Surprises? After two years overseas in Iraq, not too many things surprise me these days. I’ve learned to play along in the mindset: “Hope for the best. Plan for the worst. Live in the moment.”
NYFA: Congratulations on your distribution for The Doll with Amazon Prime! Can you tell us a little bit about how you went about securing this deal?
AC: Thank you. After talks with many distribution companies, we were fortunate to solidify a deal with Gravitas Ventures. We went with them because of their extensive media catalog and reputation of doing what they say they’re going to do — not easy to find distribution companies today with those standards: packaging the deliverables, going through media Q&C, press and social media handling. Gravitas was great throughout the process.
NYFA: Anything we missed that you’d like to share with the NYFA community?
AC: Prior to my move to LA from New York, my sole focus was shooting and editing projects for the best possible look. I never focused my attention on the business aspects of the world of content sales and producing. There was a rush that I never expected. It opened me up to a completely different mindset of the filmmaking process.
Don’t be afraid to try something new on set. Pay close attention to the business mechanics of the world of creating contenting. There are so many avenues within this realm that not only help me keep my sanity during the harsh process of filmmaking but helped build a greater appreciation for the long term financial benefits and my personal growth.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Alister Conway for sharing a part of his story with the NYFA Blog. The Doll is available to stream on Amazon Prime and iTunes.