Artist interview: filmmakers Kyra Zagorsky and Patrick Sabongui
The short film The Prince debuts this coming weekend at the FirstGlance Film Festival. Thought-provoking, inspiring and provocative are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Prince. Written and directed by Kyra Zagorsky and produced by Patrick Sabongui, the film focuses on a young dancer, Olivia, and her uncle Amir, an actor and their struggles with what it means to be Middle-Eastern Americans following a violent, racially charged confrontation on public transportation.
The story at the heart of The Prince is very personal for you. Why did you choose this moment in time to tell this story?
Kyra – I’ve spent years watching my husband [Patrick Sabongui], who is a brilliant actor, struggle with some hard decisions in this industry regarding when to walk away from a role he feels is villainizing his culture and his race. The film industry must do better and I think it’s time that artists take responsibility for how we represent culture and how our work affects our society. The incidents that happen in the film are based on true events that happened to my family. I wrote it before the 2016 US presidential election. I’m concerned about the world my incredible children are growing up in and I felt a need to tell this story. Now, post-election, the issues surrounding racism, bigotry, sexism and the many forms of prejudice have come to surface in our society in such a way that I believe it’s made the film and the message all the more relevant.
Have you worked on projects that address social issues before?
Kyra – I have. I’m a professional actor and sometimes I will take on passion projects that I feel I want to be a part of because of the social issues being addressed in the story. A couple years ago I performed in the play Disgraced with my husband. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Ayad Akhtar about Islamophobia in America.
What are the themes that you’re exploring in The Prince?
Kyra – Racism, cultural identity and the responsibility of artists.
Before you go into production on a film do you identify a possible audience for it?
Kyra – Yes. I think you have to have an idea of who this movie is for and why.
You have a focus on using stories and the media to educate for positive change. Do you see this happening already in some areas of the media? What are the best examples that you take inspiration from?
Kyra – I do see it happening and it’s wonderful! A lot of it is happening in TV and indie film. The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredible example of taking a terrifying and fictional story that resembles life and hits home for women. The activism that inspired women to dress in the Handmaid’s wardrobe and go out and protest is an incredible example of life imitating art and also became a way to give voice to women who are feeling oppressed in our society. Ava DuVernay, as a filmmaker and activist, has inspired generations young and old to really investigate politics and know who and what they are voting for and to seek the truth of what really goes on in our justice system with 13TH. Even This Is Us, a huge network show, created a story that is for everyone and makes personal the big issues that people are struggling with in America.
Social media creates a bias towards stories that reinforce our, already established, points of view. When you market a story like The Prince do you use techniques to reach beyond the expected demographic to avoid preaching to the choir?
Patrick – I believe the medium itself is the vehicle for reaching beyond “the choir”. Almost everyone loves a good movie – regardless of your politics or beliefs. Granted, the short-film audience is probably more in-line with our views… but the fact that this story is told through the medium of film, hopefully, film fans of every political alignment and belief system will give it a chance. The Prince also has the added benefit of incorporating dance, so by including those images in our marketing and targeting fans of dance, we hope to reach an even more diverse audience.
What does your marketing strategy for The Prince look like?
Patrick – The Prince was made in an eight-day filmmaking event called Crazy8s. It’s a very well-attended event and the whole indie film community of Vancouver, BC comes out to support. Our marketing really began there. Beyond that…well, there’s a lot of “keeping up with the Joneses”… Aside from the conventional tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, I try to keep an eye on what other short films are doing and follow suit. We’re filmmakers and storytellers first… The marketing is a secondary endeavor for us. Obviously, talking to folks in the media, like yourself, is a big part of it. Now, that may be different if this were a moneymaking venture for us. But we didn’t make this film for the commerce of it – we made it because it’s a story that was very close to our hearts and that we wanted to share with the world right now.
How important, from a marketing perspective, is it to you to involve people that are well established in the film and TV industry? Apart from their skills and experience in production, what else do they bring to the project?
Patrick – That’s kind of a tricky question for us… Kyra and I have been acting professionally in the film and TV industry for decades (you can check out our resumes on IMDb), so we brought all of that experience and savvy to the process from the beginning. I guess it helps that we have quite a few social media followers and fans who are willing to support our own creative projects.
These days the work of a filmmaker goes way beyond producing a film and can include graphic design, copywriting, developing strategy, public relations, and marketing. What sort of digital assets have you produced to support The Prince and get it in front of the right people?
Patrick – Luckily for us, The Prince is a visually stunning film and we had Mark Halliday (Moonrider Productions) volunteer to shoot stills and BTS for us. So, I’ve enjoyed going through the images and the film and pulling images to share with the media. I’ll take an image and add titles to it to share on our website and on social media platforms. I’ve found those images to be the most useful. And to be honest… I don’t even have photoshop (my membership expired) so I use whatever word processing software I have to manipulate the images. It’s all very rudimentary, but it does the trick and I genuinely enjoy sharing the images publicly.
I also cut a 30-second trailer, which I think is crucial. I did it in the back of an Uber when I was stuck in traffic on the way to an audition. We had a deadline that no one told us about – and out of necessity, a trailer was born! And Mark Halliday created an awesome behind-the-scenes featurette which you can see on our website. I think those supporting materials are a necessary part of sharing the project… You can talk about it all you want, or show people stills, but until they get a sense of the living, breathing, moving pictures, it’s hard to really communicate the impact of the film.
The poster for The Prince is beautiful and mesmerizing. Did you have several drafts that you went through before you landed on the right image?
Patrick – Thank you! That was one area we felt we needed to recruit a professional. I know a poster is often the only thing people will see when deciding to watch your film – so I didn’t want to leave it to chance, or do a half-assed job using Microsoft Word or something. My sister put me in touch with a designer/messaging expert in NY, Brian Lightbody. He had this amazing process where he wanted to know our specific feelings about the film, the project, the message behind it, the emotions we felt and what we wanted to evoke from our audiences. It took a few weeks of back and forth, but we zeroed in on this concept pretty quickly, then it was just a process of refinement. In the beginning, we had a friend design a poster that was more straightforward, and although that got us through the Crazy8s competition (the festival through which we made the film) we knew it wasn’t evocative enough to be the final poster.
Once The Prince has completed its festival run where will you distribute the film?
Patrick – We’re hoping to find some distribution partners while we’re on the festival circuit.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
Patrick – Kyra has a couple of short scripts we’re thinking about, and she’s also developing some feature-length projects – maybe even a series concept. We’ll shoot whatever is ready next.