Little Neck filmmaker taps her own life for feature movie

Hallie York, (r.) the star of the film, gets her makeup done by on-set artist Barry Berger (l.) as Marcus Slabine looks on. Photo courtesy Mike Gong
By Anna Gustafson

When Little Neck resident Elana Mugdan graduated from college in 2009 and returned to New York to follow her dreams of being a filmmaker, things did not begin so well.

Mugdan, 22, had graduated from the University of Maine and was working at a “dead end internship” and often wondered where her life was going, especially at those moments when she was “getting coffee for people who didn’t know my name.”

But from that internship came the inspiration for a feature-length film she wrote, produced, directed and edited. The movie, “Director’s Cut,” about a college dropout who tries to make a film with a group of ragtag friends, has been drawing critical acclaim from people around the country and recently premiered in the movie world’s mecca: Hollywood.

The film was shown at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival in December and is expected to come to the tri-state area at the Litchfield Hills Film Festival in New Milford, Conn.

“A lot of people are receiving the film very well,” said Mugdan, whose film company, Shivnath Productions, is based in Little Neck, where she grew up. “The founders at the festivals at which we’ve screened were gracious and generous and said they loved it,” said Mugdan, who studied film while creating her own major at the University of Maine.

Mugdan has submitted her movie, which is about an hour and 48 minutes long and was filmed almost entirely in northeast Queens, to approximately 20 other film festivals, including Tribeca, the Phoenix International Film Festival and the Beverly Hills International Film Festival.

The Little Neck native and a cast and crew of about 30 people began filming the movie in Queens last February and did most of the work in May. The entire production cost about $20,000 — small change Mugdan noted when it comes to movie making.

A number of other Queens residents worked on the film, including a Baysider who was the director of photography and two Little Neck residents who provided the special effects and composed the music.

“It’s definitely a comedy, but it errs on the dark side,” Mugdan said of “Director’s Cut.” “The protagonist is struggling with a lot of personal issues, self-esteem issues.”

The film, shot in Little Neck, Douglaston and Bayside, chronicles the adventures of Cassie Thompson, the dropout who, along with a group of oddball friends, decides to try to turn her life around and make a fantasy film.

Mugdan, whose favorite movies are the “Lord of the Rings” films, said she hopes to make fantasy and science-fiction films in her career.

“I like the idea of dreaming and magic,” Mugdan said. “It’s unbelievable the universe you’re thrown into, but it becomes tangible and you can reach out to it through this medium.”

The Little Neck filmmaker is hard at work on her next movie, “Amygdala,” a shorter, more subdued film in which Mugdan said the characters will deal with the issues of personal loss and suicide.

For more information about the film, visit wix.com/shivnathproductions/shivnathproductions.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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