As we all know, networking is an essential element in becoming a success in the entertainment business. But how do you begin networking when you have no connections or resources to begin with? That’s often where the New York Film Academy comes into play. Many of our students come from locations all around the world and end up establishing and maintaining lifelong relationships, both personally and professionally. Juan (JMR) Luna and Kane Senes met in their MFA Filmmaking program in 2008 and became very close friends. They began supporting each other’s writing and producing each other’s directorial works. Since graduating less than five years ago they have earned immense success. Their latest feature film, Echoes of War, starring Ethan Embry, William Forsythe, James Badge Dale and Maika Monroe will be released May 15, 2015. Their future is limitless.
We had a chat with these two graduates about their film, and how they have successfully navigated the industry thus far.
Can you tell me what Echoes of War is about?
Kane: Echoes of War is about a soldier returning from the Civil War to his family in the remote Texan countryside. There he discovers that the neighbors have been stealing from his family while he’s been gone and so he takes matters in to his own hands, sparking another senseless and tragic war. It’s a film about loss, really.
Where did the idea for Echoes of War come from?
Kane: My thesis short film at NYFA in 2010 was called A Relative Stranger. Juan was the cinematographer and co-producer. Echoes of War began as a feature adaptation of that short and grew into something else. The short came from my own relationship to my family, coming home every now and then from living in the States and feeling like things have changed while I’ve been gone. Obviously coming home from war is a whole other matter that I have never experienced and would never pretend to understand, but we spoke to as many veterans as we could and tried to ground it in a universal, human story that we can all understand and relate to — no matter our experiences.
When did you two first start collaborating, and ultimately begin writing the script for Echoes of War?
Kane: Our directing instructor was Adam Nimoy, who taught me everything I know. Juan directed some of his own stuff but gravitated towards cinematography, so he began shooting most of my projects, starting with my Year One Film and then my thesis. From there, we worked on each other’s films throughout school.
The script I began writing with my writing and producing partner John Chriss, who produced my thesis. He didn’t go to NYFA but he was basically an honorary student as he worked on a lot of our films. I graduated NYFA at the end of 2010, and we were writing by mid-2011. A year later the script was done and Juan came onboard to help produce.
Juan: My relationship with Kane can’t just be contained on Echoes of War. We have been friends all throughout, and we support each other constantly. When I was directing my movie Kane was there helping out too — emotionally and giving me notes and helping out with whatever he could.
Can you tell me a little bit of how this film came together? Raising funds, attaching talent, etc.
Kane: Juan and I were going door to door in Australia, meeting with film investors I knew there and trying to raise funds. It didn’t go as well as we were hoping, and Juan brought in some producers he knew from LA who graduated from AFI the same year we graduated NYFA. They had a connection to Emily Schweber, a wonderful casting director. A few weeks later, I was flying back to LA and meeting with actors every day for six months. We were fortunate enough to put together a great cast, which Juan was able to use to land the rest of the money we needed, and we shot the movie.
JMR Luna and Kane Senes
Would you say your training and education at NYFA was useful in terms of writing / directing / producing this film?
Kane: 100%. People often ask whether or not to go to film school. I always say the same thing: for me, I needed to know I could do this and school gave me the confidence by encouraging me to make films and seeing that they worked. They started bad and got better and I could see the pieces coming together. I could see I was improving and that was a direct result of film school: being in that environment, with good teachers and a great class room of participating students.
Juan: I always felt that film school is what you want to make out of it. I feel being in class with Kane defined our careers. We both realize very early on that we had similar objectives, and the same passion for movies. I believe we always had a healthy competition going on. And it has been very stimulating and we both challenged and encouraged each other. We are better filmmakers because we both grew together. I feel film school gave us that safe environment and working structure to achieve it.
Are you currently working together on another project?
Kane: We’re always throwing ideas around but nothing is in place just yet. Maybe Juan thinks I’m one of those crazy directors he doesn’t want to work with again. You should ask him!
Juan: I am working on different things right now. The Runaround, which will star Emile Hirsch and J.K. Simmons (two former NYFA Guest Speakers) was announced yesterday on The Hollywood Reporter, and it’s my next movie.
We are currently working on THE SAME film together, as we have to distribute it still. People think that after you shoot the movie, you are done with it. But we are still working daily on it. The moment we are both done, I would love to find something else we could do together. I feel we both have grown a lot in the last three years, and our friendship has changed and evolved. So this movie would surely be very different from the first one and hopefully much better!
JMR and Kane will be hosting a special “How to Make it in Hollywood” lecture at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles on May 14, 2015.