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NYFA Filmmaking Alum Kane Senes directs "Sissy"

Update: After premiering at SXSW in March, Sissy has had an extremely successful festival run. Sissy won the ‘Audience Award’ at Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) in Korea and Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans and screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival. The film boasts an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and is scheduled to screen at several festivals this Fall. Stay tuned for more!

NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum Kane Senes is an award-winning filmmaker from Sydney, Australia. Since graduating, Senes has been writing, directing and producing critically-acclaimed films in varying genres. This year, his horror venture, Sissy, is premiering at South by Southwest (SXSW) tomorrow, March 11th at the Alamo Lamar Theater in Austin, Texas.

Since graduating, Kane has been writing, directing and producing critically-acclaimed films in varying genres. Kane followed his first feature, Echoes of War, starring James Badge Dale, Ethan Embry and William Forsythe with another award-winning independent feature, For Now. The film was nominated for best picture at multiple film festivals and was acquired by Amazon Prime. Sissy is Kanes third feature which he wrote, produced and directed with his partner Hannah Barlow at their shared production company, Dog Park Pictures.

Kane spoke with the New York Film Academy about what it takes to shoot a micro-budget feature, the inspiration behind Sissy and what he learned at NYFA.

New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Kane Senes (KS): I grew up in Sydney, Australia, a first generation Australian to European parents. I was always into movies. My parents would debate who's taking me to the video store as I would be in there for hours, reading the backs of every VHS box, renting the same movies over and over again: Tim Burton's Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Home Alone. It wasn't until my first year at college that I took a film studies course and realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was always into the arts in school - drawing, painting, acting, writing, photography - and I made this realization that filmmaking was this ultimate artform that combined them all. I made my first short films at university, began watching movies from a different perspective, re-organised my DVD collection by director and enrolled in film school as soon as I could. I wanted to go straight to LA, surround myself with Hollywood history and start making movies as soon as possible. NYFA provided that and I never looked back.

NYFA: What projects have you worked on since graduating? Have you won any awards or been showcased in any festivals or competitions?

KS: Shortly after graduating, I got a job as an assistant to one of the producers of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, which was shooting in Sydney. I got to see, from a front row seat, how a big studio movie is put together and I learned a lot. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of movie I could make with their catering budget alone. So, at night and on weekends, I started writing my first feature, adapting my NYFA thesis film A Relative Stranger, which I would go on to shoot in Austin, Texas, soon after finishing on Gatsby. The film starred James Badge Dale, Maika Monroe and Ethan Embry and won a special jury prize at the Dallas International Film Festival before coming out in AMC Theaters and on the Showtime network in 2015 under the new title Echoes of War. It was during post on Echoes that I met my fiancée Hannah Barlow, an Australian actor who had just moved to LA, and we quickly started dating and working together, creatively, culminating in the micro-budget comedy feature For Now, financed entirely on Kickstarter and shot guerilla style on a 7-day road trip through California. We both acted in it and our crew consisted of one cameraman, one sound guy and a friend who came along as a PA. We traveled the film to festivals for a good year before releasing it via Amazon Prime in 2019. I realized how much I loved co-directing with Hannah and our creative partnership was cemented.

NYFA: Tell us more about your latest project & how you got involved in the project?

KS: Sissy came as a result of Hannah and I moving back to Australia after the release of For Now and wanting to write something in the horror genre. The most horrific thing we were observing in society at the time was the prolific rise of social media and how becoming an 'influencer' was the number one profession that kids were interested in. Who put these influencers in such positions of power and influence? What messaging and subliminal brainwashing is going into the minds of our youth? Anxiety, depression, suicide are all on the rise, and it's intrinsically linked to social media. Everyone's hooked on the drug, the dopamine hit, and yet we're not calling it a drug epidemic, because it's become the norm. That's scary. So we made a movie about that.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

KS: I learned most of what I know about filmmaking at NYFA. My directing teacher, Adam Nimoy, was a huge influence on me. I remember, on one of my short films, re-writing a certain scene over and over and over again. I shot the film and showed Adam a rough cut, and the first scene he said to cut was that one. I realized very early on that there's the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit. He taught us how to watch a movie on mute, and with the best films, you can still follow the story, because it's a visual medium, first and foremost. You can have great dialogue, but it never surpasses clarity of visual storytelling: the way the shots are designed to cut together, the look in an actor's eyes, the pieces you leave on the cutting room floor so that what remains is tighter, more focused, enhanced. My writing teacher, Mike Connors, taught me how to break a story down using cue cards on a wall, a process I start with everytime I write a script. Eric Conner, my producing teacher, taught me the importance of a director understanding a budget, and how to adapt your vision to fit the resources you have. He is also a wonderful human. I feel very lucky to have had the teachers that I had. Most of all, they taught me that being a student of film never ends, and I try to be a better filmmaker each time out the gate.

The New York Film Academy congratulates Kane Senes on the success of his previous feature films and the premiere of Sissy at SXSW!

Please note: NYFA does not represent that these are typical or guaranteed career outcomes. The success of our graduates in any chosen professional pathway depends on multiple factors, and the achievements of NYFA alumni are the result of their hard work, perseverance, talent and circumstances.

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