This is part one of my interview with Desi Ivanova. If you’d like to skip to part tw, please click Libya to LaLaLand Part 2.
Desi Ivanova personifies strong women – and inspirational women – in the entertainment industry. She is a multitalented actress, writer, and producer, with a BA in Theatre from the University of Tasmania, and a MFA in Acting for Film from the New York Film Academy in Universal City, California. Her journey to Hollywood starts from multi-cultural beginnings in Eastern Europe, via Libya, Dubai, and Australia – where she received the Rising Star Award in South Australia for best emerging actress. Along her journey, the different environments, cultures, and people she’s met and gotten to know all have their place in her work as an actress, writer, and producer. They have also taught her to keep a positive outlook, collaborate rather than fight with others, and find the common human thread that connects otherwise vastly different stories together.
DESI:I was passionate about reading since I was five and that encouraged my passion for writing. My first memory of writing was when I was eight. My father gave me a math assignment and I came back with a poem. When I was 10, I started writing a book influenced by Pippi Longstocking. I only completed four chapters.
I discovered plays much later, during my undergraduate studies. I took a playwriting class my fourth year and wrote my first one act play, which actually was actually a top three finalist in a playwriting competition. The prize was a public reading. I got to hear my play out loud and was given constructive criticism by some seasoned Australian playwrights, which was fantastic.
While doing my Masters in LA, I took creative writing, screenwriting, and sketch comedy classes, where we had to write sketches for stage and screen. However, I didn’t really showcase any of my work until my thesis short film, which was the first film I wrote and shot. I feel I really started growing as a writer after I graduated and created the Miserable Brilliance Ensemble.
DESI:After working with some small theatre companies in LA, I realized the theatre community here has their cliques and it’s difficult to penetrate and earn their trust. I didn’t feel encouraged to be creative or grow as an actor. I wanted to work with strong women who weren’t afraid of something new.
To me, an theatre ensemble is a group of artists – of inspirational women and men – who share similar creative ideas and have a harmonious synchronicity. This creates a positive environment with no judgments where artists can be brave and have the freedom to experiment, get naked (metaphorically and literally perhaps), make mistakes, and fail for the greater good.
So I thought instead of trying to fit in, why don’t I create a group with people I trust, admire, and love – both as friends and artists? I discussed it with my fellow actors from school and former acting teacher and we decided to meet, religiously, every tuesday night for 3 hours and bring in ideas, original scripts and themes.
DESI:Oh boy, now that was an experience. It was my thesis. The writing process and discovering the character were the fun parts. I had a few weeks with my teacher and fellow classmates to discuss the story and characters. Then I started looking for a cast and crew. My immediate crew and director were quite easy to hire. The director was a good friend of mine and was very excited about the project. I promised the co-star to my friend so I didn’t bother casting for that one – BIG MISTAKE. I could never get my friend to rehearse with me. Then, four days before my shoot, she dropped out. Lesson number one: always have a backup and don’t ever rely on anyone 100% ‘cause shit happens.
So the stress began. I didn’t have a producer so I had to do everything myself. I had great friends who helped me, but I hate asking for favors so I (stupidly) tried to do the majority myself. Luckily, one of my teachers recommended an actress who was another student. We met two days before my shoot and rehearsed the scenes. She wasn’t the right age, which kind of changed the essence of the character relationship, but I had to go with it because she was talented and we really connected… and I only had two days left before my shoot. She was one of those inspirational women who don’t have an ego, come in and deliver. Lesson number two: you have to compromise and trust that it’s always going to work out for the best.
Being my own producer, I learned so much about every piece of the puzzle that is filmmaking. I had to go along with every crew member and rent out the necessary equipment. I learned about lights, lenses, cameras, location scouting, set design, and prices. And of course catering, which is very important. You have to feed your cast and crew well to have a happy set.
They were many more difficulties that arose throughout the shoot because it was so new to me. For example, we shot in the desert and got lost getting there. Therefore, we only had two hours to shoot before sunset, which meant we had to squeeze all the remaining desert scenes in the next day. We got up at five am and started shooting at sunrise. I had to compromise with certain shots and sometimes I only had one or two takes.
We also didn’t have the proper permit to shoot at that location, so I had to play the naive, unaware student when the ranger showed up. Luckily, I got away with it and he actually recommended some better spots around.
It was demanding being a producer and the lead actor on set because everyone turned to me for help. I had to keep my cool and diligently answer everyone’s questions and concerns. I had my best friend assist me with catering, make-up, and small PA errands, though.
Once the director yelled action, I had to jump right back into character. I thought it would be more challenging, especially with emotional scenes, but I discovered it was actually easier. I didn’t have time to over-think how I felt and be a self-conscious actor. I knew that I had to give it my all because we were running out of time and it was all coming out of my own pocket. In that moment, acting was my relief from all the stress on set, and it actually taught me how to disconnect from all the hustle and bustle on set for future projects.
DESI:In terms of producing, I discovered how much I dislike it. The most important lesson I learned is that you have to get things done NOW. Nothing can wait. Just pick up the phone and ask for whatever you need ASAP so you can move along and speed things up. Time is money!
DESI:I produced it because I had a story I wanted to tell. I strongly believe in making my own films, because I’m giving myself an opportunity to act and it’s a story with a message that I am passionate about. I want to play strong women, passionate women, inspirational women. The acting game is tough and waiting for the right role frustrates me, so in the meantime, I want to do it myself and create my own content.
DESI:I don’t necessarily love producing but I don’t have the money to hire someone who would do it for me. I realized that when people do it for free they are never 100% invested in it.
DESI:“Paris Was A Woman” is actually the title of a lovely documentary I came across on Netflix. That’s when I learned about the inspirational women of the Lost Generation: the likes of Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney and many more.
The documentary inspired me immensely because these were courageous, gutsy, and strong women who left their homes to make art, be free, and live the life they truly wanted. These were strong women who were not afraid to live life on their terms, and I found them to be very inspirational women. All that. during an era where it was incredibly difficult to be an independent woman. They went through so many obstacles and humiliation. Yet they took a huge leap of faith, left their American homes and moved to Paris.
I was also very surprised to have never heard of these women. I mean, we all know about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and T.S. Elliot, yet we know little about the talented female artists who were part of that same generation, and were all friends.
I researched these talented and inspirational women and how their art influenced the world. As a woman, I’ve always rooted for all female artists and for strong women who weren’t afraid to speak their mind. One, because they are “my kind” and essentially represent me and two, because the female perspective is different from the male; it tells different stories, has a different voice, and a different essence. The female voice is not any better than the male, but unfortunately it has remained unheard and silenced for generations. Which is why I have this yearning to shine light on it whenever I discover gems like “Paris was a Woman.”
Of course, it was due to the patriarchal society that creative and strong women have been pushed aside and not taken seriously. Due to this same patriarchal society which held extreme moral judgements, these women couldn’t express who they were not only creatively, but also sexually. Many of the ladies on the Left Bank were bisexual or lesbian. Paris was where they found refuge and could exist openly.
My script “Paris Was A Woman” (which was originally put up as a play with Miserable Brilliance) captures a moment in that era on the Left Bank. It’s about two strong women who have a brief encounter in Paris. It shows the world seen through their eyes – the eyes of the suppressed housewife/wannabe poet and the liberated, nonchalant female artist. It illuminates the desire for creative and sexual freedom, which one of them will never attain due to her inhibitions and moral constraints.
DESI:The message I want to convey is for all female artists – for all women in general – to never limit themselves due to societal norms and demands. Aspire to be like those strong women. Don’t let people belittle or victimize you. Be who you want to be. Trust that your voice is important and make a change wherever you feel it’s needed. People will love and connect to everything that comes from the heart. Don’t be afraid to be strong and to inspire, just as you’ve been influenced by strong women before you.
DESI:It was all inspired by FRIENDS actually. My roommate Svetlana Islamova and I were (and still are) in love with the show and we would watch the re-runs every night. We kept saying how awesome it would be to act in a show like that. So one night after watching yet another episode we got inspired to do our own version. We sat down and wrote the premise of IT’S TEMPORARY. When we were done it was 4am. The next day we shared the idea with our filmmaker friends and our buddy Sebastiano Olla (a talented italian director) was all for it. We got together with him and our potential crew and discussed the plan of action. We decided to write 10 episodes and have 3 writers (to speed things up). We assigned 3 episodes per writer (I had the first 3 and a bit of the pilot) and we gave ourselves a deadline. Svetlana offered to do most of the SAG paperwork. We wanted it to be SAG, so us the actors, could become SAG eligible.
This project was so much easier and went much smoother than my short. One, because I already knew a lot more about producing and making films and two, because we had a dedicated, hardworking team. Everyone was doing it out of love for the project!
Once all 10 episodes were ready and our paperwork was intact, we started casting it. We cast our friends in the principal roles and we auditioned some of the guest stars. Unfortunately, right after we had filmed the pilot, our friend, who originally played Dan, had to quit last minute due to a better opportunity. So we had to re-cast and re-shoot the pilot. Because of it, the project was delayed by about a month. But we didn’t give up. We managed to find our new Dan fairly quickly after the auditions. The talented Tony Evangelista was a blessing.
That incident was our only hiccup. Afterwards, the filming itself was smooth sailing. We had just the one location – our apartment, so that made it easy. We managed to work with everyone’s schedules and filmed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a month. Everyone was always on time and nothing went wrong. It was a breeze. And of course we had so much fun on set. I honestly could have done this forever! It was all team work, really. We would have never been able to make it if it wasn’t for everyone’s generosity, faith, and support. Both cast and crew were amazing and extremely helpful.
Click here for part two of my interview with Desi Ivanova: Libya to LaLaLand Part 2.