Rising Star Alex Burunova: “They say it takes 10 years in this industry to first see the fruits of your labor; be prepared to achieve your dreams with time”

Know that it’s a long game. A marathon — not a sprint. They say it takes 10 years in this industry to first see the fruits of your labor. And if you are a diversity storyteller, you might add a few more. Just be prepared to achieve your dreams with time. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing […]

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Know that it’s a long game. A marathon — not a sprint. They say it takes 10 years in this industry to first see the fruits of your labor. And if you are a diversity storyteller, you might add a few more. Just be prepared to achieve your dreams with time.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alex Burunova. An international traveler whose solo journey was highlighted in Conde Nast Traveler and exposed in her award-winning short LONELY PLANET, Alex is described by industry insiders as “one to watch” in the growing world of female directors. Alex Burunova’s short films have been showcased at over 60 festivals worldwide. Her one-hour pilot MEASUREMENTS for A&E’s new digital channel became the most watched series on the channel. Her latest film ENTER THE ANIME, shot and produced in Japan, just released on Netflix this month. Her mother Tatiana Burunova, a famous saxophone player from her native Belarus, traveled worldwide with a young Alex in tow. As a result, Alex’s unconventional upbringing and global perspective of people and places helped define her ability to tell incredible stories and connect with people through a unique lens and voice.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Alex! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I had an interesting childhood. I grew up on the road. My mother was a saxophone player in a band in the USSR and they toured constantly — so I was always traveling with her, and now I kind of can’t stop. I think it’s an addiction.

When my mother passed away when I was 17, I had to leave Belarus and have been traveling ever since. I love meeting new people from interesting cultures, trying new things, and trying to figure out what it would feel like to live there.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

You know, when I was 5, I started telling people that when I grow up, I’ll be making cartoons. Which later turned into “making films.” I have no idea where that came from. After getting into USC School of Cinematic Arts and spending 10 years in the industry — from doing ‘blacksmith apprenticeships’ and assisting different film and TV directors to directing commercials and branded content — I finally had a career breakthrough with my short film LONELY PLANET, which went on to win awards at many festivals.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That’s a hard one. I once worked on one of Nick Jonas’ first feature films, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. I did a little bit of everything working with the film’s director and my mentor — so the producers offered me ANY credit, which is pretty unusual. It couldn’t be a Union credit so we had a vote on set, and it was between “Creative Commodore” and “Conceptual Supervisor.” We picked the latter, although neither is a real set job.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I am developing my next feature film in Greece. It’s a psychological drama following two lovers shattered by shame, who embark on a love affair with another woman in order to salvage their relationship. It takes place on a Greek island off-season and it’s pretty twisted.

Another project I have in the works takes place in India and is the polar opposite. It’s a Buddhist Dramedy.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

One: I think the purpose of art — especially film, theater, and literature — is to allow the audience to walk in someone else’s shoes. To experience someone else’s story, creating empathy, compassion, and tolerance. It is imperative to have access to all kinds of stories from all kinds of different storytellers for this experience to be as rich and profound as possible. If it’s a story about a little boy in Africa who learns how to power his village with electricity and water, then you get to experience what that might feel like for two hours. And that’s priceless for understanding the world around us and widening our perspective.

Two: having those diverse second-hand experiences helps us understand our own culture and how we live.

Three: it is extremely important for people to see themselves represented on-screen. Not only to be able to connect to those characters and stories on a deeper level, but to feel seen and accepted.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

-Yes, absolutely. Hire more diverse storytellers. They will tell more diverse stories. It’s that simple. Writers, directors, producers.

-Support diverse stories by seeing them in theaters and spreading the word.

-Diversity riders.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Make friends — don’t network. Nobody likes to be “networked.” Create genuine connections with people you want to work with. Talk about common interests. I learned this by attending dozens of film festivals. The only people I am still in touch with are the ones I had a real human connection with, not the ones I told the most about my projects.
  • Accept that you’re an Artist. What does that mean? Take risks! Create what truly feels good. The way only you would do it. In the beginning, we try to see how other filmmakers work, what style they use, how they shoot. But derivative work won’t turn any heads and won’t feel satisfying to make. I used to go to art school and paint. So when I started thinking of directing the way I think of painting — it clicked. How do I want to paint this picture? What colors do I want to use? It’s all subjective and all up to me, so why not do something that is inspired and feels organic to me.
  • Work hard, but also rest well. It’s all about the balance. The harder you work — the more you have to let yourself rest. In directing, we have to pull a lot of long hours, even all-nighters. Without letting your body rest, you wouldn’t be able to keep going. I wish somebody told me this in the beginning when I used to work myself to the bone.
  • Find ways to practice your craft. When I had less directing and more producing work, I started going to a directing workshop to keep my head in the game. Until more directing work swallowed all my time. It’s important to keep your mental focus on your craft, even if you don’t get to practice it as much in the beginning.
  • Be grateful. Be grateful for where you are in your life, and that positivity will attract more great things.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Know that it’s a long game. A marathon — not a sprint. They say it takes 10 years in this industry to first see the fruits of your labor. And if you are a diversity storyteller, you might add a few more. Just be prepared to achieve your dreams with time.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would encourage people to consider limiting or minimizing the amount of meat in their diet. It would help both the environment and their health.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people that really helped and guided me along the way. But the one who’s invested the most is probably director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum. She was first my directing professor at USC, and is a mentor and a friend. She once told me to never take “no” for an answer. Ever. I live by that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Fall down 7 times, get up 8. It’s a Chinese proverb I like. I had a pretty tough life. This is the only way to always keep moving forward.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Probably Jason Reitman. Love his filmmaking and would love to pick his brain.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on instagram @alexburunova.

I don’t usually use Twitter but the handle is the same.


This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you!

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