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Interview with Filmmaker Yoni Azulay

Interview by Dlisah Lapidus

What do you do?

So I am a director, filmmaker. And I also run a business, I have my own production company called Blue Stone Pictures. Primarily though, at heart, I'm a film director and a storyteller. I have always been a storyteller, ever since I was little. And then it just turned into filmmaking, when I found out that that's the best way to convey these stories.

When did storytelling turn to film?

Probably when I was seven. I started telling stories as soon as I could talk, just to anyone who would listen. Well I would just lie. And I would tell my friends that my house had an escalator, or whatever I could come up with to create intrigue. I eventually started writing stories, but I was getting really frustrated. I wanted to write these action-packed stories, but I didn't have the vocabulary yet. I just really want to see it. So when I was seven years old, my dad showed me the matrix, and I thought it was the coolest thing I've ever seen. That was probably the first time I really paid attention to movies, because I noticed all of the effects. I wanted to know how they did everything, so we watched the behind the scenes together. I was in awe, like, “I can't believe this exists, I need to do this.

So I guess it started from this desire to do something magical. I would use my dad’s camera and MacBook; iMovie had a section in it where you can make trailers. So I was like, “holy crap is epic.” I made my first ever trailer, and I called it Yoni Has a Test, because it was my test film, but my parents gave me the idea to make the “test” the villain of the story, and I was so inspired by that idea that I made my first film. I made Yoni Has a Test when I was about 8 or 9. It was filmed entirely on my macbook, starring me and my sister. The story was that I got home from school one day and had to take a take-home test for homework, and the test started attacking me, turning into a monster. Every time I tried to throw it out, it kept coming back, and eventually my sister helped me to destroy it.

Have you experienced growing pains while growing up behind the camera?

The hardest thing about growing up doing this was the resistance from my friends. All my friends would go to overnight camp, and I would spend the summers making movies. They would come back from camp and ask, “ What did you do? Kiss the camera?”

In the beginning, I definitely wasn't a good filmmaker. But I was shameless. I would post my films, whatever I was making, I would advertise. I would post on my Instagram telling everybody to watch it. And people would watch it, even if just to make fun of me when I was younger.

I branded myself early. I didn't know that I was doing it, but I would just call myself a filmmaker, which made me different from everybody else. There were definitely some kids around me who were jealous and looking for weak points. I guess the growing pain that I felt was from myself out there and sometimes getting slammed.

And it continued as I grew up, probably the last time I can remember was around ninth grade when I was going to these summer programs called New York Film Academy. The program was basically training, they give gear and you can make your own movie in the two week workshop. I made a lot of movies at this program, and one of them was actually good. It was called Again, and it had actors, and a real storyline. I created this Groundhog Day kind of story where there is this guy, who wakes up and thinks he's seeing his dead girlfriend. He keeps trying to chase after her, and whenever she gets out of his sight, he wakes up again. I ended up submitting this film to a bunch of festivals, and I actually got into a lot of them, and it was doing pretty well. But that also meant that my friends knew it was going well, and their parents were talking about it; I was winning school awards in my state, I was in the newspaper. All of a sudden it was legit, and people around me believed I could make a career out of it.

Eventually I switched schools and ended up going to public school, and everything was so different. Suddenly, if you were doing something that's unique, it was actually pretty dope, because there's so many kids that you had to stand out in some way. The cool thing about growing up is that one second being passionate about something makes you a loser, the next you are interesting, for knowing what you want to do with your life.

Tell me about your upcoming film, Beyond Closed Doors?

The film is about two roommates who get stuck on the wrong side of a magical teleporting door that shows up in their apartment.They see that sand is coming from the door, and they open it up to see a beach. Thematically, I really like this film, because it revolves around friendship and isolation. There is a strong sense of wonder in this story, which I am most focused on. The story involves fantasy and the idea of escapism, but it offers a take on the wonder and fragility of life. The protagonists fail to recognize the magic of what they are experiencing, because they are too caught up in their little lives. I think about that all the time, living in such a beautiful city, New York, and sometimes all I see is trash. I don’t always remember how insane it is to be living here, that I can walk three feet and get a pizza. Throughout the process of making this film, I was very focused on the theme, which helped me learn to appreciate the surprises in magic in my own life.

How did you come up with your ideas for this film?

The secret behind my ideas is just asking, “What is the coolest thing I could think of happening?” Then I work from there. For Beyond Closed Doors, I was just looking at my closet, and I thought, wouldn’t it be crazy if there was just grass growing from under the door, and I opened it to see a huge field. From there, we thought, “well who’s day would get ruined by a portal opening in their apartment?”

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