Seven years ago, Rodrigo Zanforlin (May 2014 MFA Filmmaking) was the head of a successful digital marketing company in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Today, he’s the award-winning writer/director of Jimbo, his MFA thesis short which screened at over 30 festivals, including Beverly Hills Film Festival, Dead Center, New Filmmakers LA, and the Brooklyn Film Festival.
How did he get here? It all started with a road trip.
At 27, Rodrigo lived in his hometown of Sao Paolo, Brazil. On the surface, it seemed he had everything: a great job, a beautiful apartment, a wonderful fiancée. But he was miserable. “I felt stuck, and I was very stressed with all the responsibility of running a company with a lot of employees,” Rodrigo said. “I felt like I was hunting lions every day. One day I had a big epiphany. I needed to rethink my life.” He sold everything he had and went to California with nothing but himself and a suitcase. Rodrigo hit the road, camping, exploring, and meeting people. “I was so inspired by the people and the energy of California,” he said. He realized he wanted to stay.
First, Rodrigo polished his English in San Diego, then he landed at his new home, the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. He chose NYFA over other area film schools because of its hands-on teaching approach and because filmmakers own the films they make. “Also, I’m a multi-cultural guy from a big city in Brazil,” Rodrigo said. “I liked the diversity of NYFA.”
Like most road trips, Rodrigo’s journey into filmmaking was full of amazing discoveries and frustrating wrong turns. He started in the MFA Documentary department because “I was searching for truth,” Rodrigo said. However, it wasn’t long before documentary instructors suggested that he move to narrative filmmaking. “I was too interested in the aesthetic of my film and controlling the environment to be a documentarian.” He switched to the MFA Filmmaking program. The only problem was – he had to start Semester One all over again. However, that turned out be an amazing experience. “The first semester of NYFA’s filmmaking program was one of my favorites,” said Rodrigo. “That’s when you learn how to be a visual filmmaker.”
After writing a dialogue-heavy film for a cinematographer friend that Rodrigo called “the worst film ever”, he started asking the question, “What kind of filmmaker am I?” Realizing that he was more interested in visuals than dialogue, he made a surrealistic year one film that did well at festivals. When it came time to write his thesis, however, he decided he wasn’t ready. He took a break to rethink his thesis idea, and “I decided to prepare myself to be a better director,” Rodrigo said. He started hanging out with actors to learn more about how they work and how they prepare themselves for a role.
Working with actors was a major turning point for Rodrigo. It led to him writing the short script Jimbo, which became his thesis film. Ironically, he cast mostly non-actors in the roles because he felt they could more authentically portray the roles. Rodrigo cited senior directing instructor James Pasternak as a major influence in the thesis process, saying, “Jim really provoked me to explore the characters, to go deeper into the story and the dialogue.”
Regarding the experience, Jim said, “Rodrigo had strong directorial vision of the movie he wanted to make. Like a good director, he was a good collaborator, open to ideas and willing to use them to make the best movie he could — and did.” Clearly, that is the case: Jimbo was an official selection of more than thirty festivals around the globe, landed a variety of awards, won the NYFA/RED competition last summer, and was picked up for representation by Shorts.TV in November.
Today, Rodrigo is shooting and writing as much as he can. He recently directed a short film for Serbian/Swedish musician Alezzandra that premiered on Noisey and has been hailed as a “Lynchian fever dream through LA’s seedy underbelly.” His next big project: expanding Jimbo into a feature. He plans to start shooting in late 2018.
And to think it all started with a road trip!
Writer Crickett Rumley is the Film Festivals Advisor and Liaison at NYFA in Los Angeles. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.