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September 13, 2019

"Enter the Anime"

Alex Burunova ‘09 talks first feature (Netflix’s Enter the Anime) and her creative process

By Ben Del Vecchio

Born in Belarus, Alex Burunova had a traveling childhood. She went wherever her mother, a saxophonist in a touring band, went. Burunova is also nomadic by nature, so she continues cultivating her passion for travel, and for new places, despite having established a home in Los Angeles. “I go out, as much as I can afford, you know, a few weeks or a month trip somewhere new that I haven’t been before. And I write,” she says.

Her most recent project, Beyond the Anime, is a journey into the art form that began in Japan. It is a behind-the-scenes documentary that interviews and investigates the creators behind Netflix’s slew of original anime series like Castlevania, Aggretsuko and Kengan Ashura. It premiered on Netflix in August. 

"We were at a dinner party with some Netflix people, and I kinda floated the idea like “hey what if we take this opportunity of taking Netflix’s access to all this amazing anime creators and make something like a BTS  documentary about all the Netflix original titles,” Burunova explains. “And I don’t know how, but a few months later we’re doing it.”

With Beyond the Anime in the rearview, Burunova is focused on finally getting her first feature done, a film she wrote and is directing, a romance titled Satisfaction.

Not surprisingly, she will shoot in Greece. She says it’s important to her process to get away for a little while, even if it’s just to keep things in perspective. “There’s so much networking in LA. There’s so much business,” she says, “You can get stuck on that business side, promoting yourself, networking with people, meeting producers, meeting financiers –– none of it is art, none of it is writing, none of it is directing. While these are the supportive elements that will make it happen or not make it happen, but it’s important to get away from that environment and go somewhere where you can think about your art.”

Burunova graduated SCA on August 6th, 2009. Ten years on, (August 5th, 2019, precisely) Beyond the Anime debuted on Netflix. She likes to think that her breakout summer was destined. “I don’t remember who said it, but somebody said, ‘it will take ten years to see the fruits of your labor.’ And I said, ‘ten years!?’ But I remember getting mentally prepared for it,” she says. “Granted I’ve done some other things, commercials and a digital pilot that not a lot of people saw, but the first thing that went far and wide, as far as the number of audiences –– to the day: it was ten years.”
 

The last ten years have been filled with steady work in the industry. Before entering SCA, Burunova lived in Dallas, Texas, where she produced her first film: a low budget horror movie, where she  “basically did a little bit of everything.” During her time as an undergraduate student, she found herself vying for a producing role on a graduate student’s 546 thesis film. She remembers saying: “Listen, John Watson, look –– I already produced a feature! Let me produce this grad film.” Due to a shortage of grad student producers she ended up getting the job. “That’s how I was able to sneak in there. I’m not advertising it –– I’m just saying I did it.”

After graduating SCA, Burunova started out as a blacksmith apprenticeship on movie sets. She then graduated to producing and directing commercials and branded content, shooting a one-hour digital pilot for A&E, and directing a pair of narrative shorts.

Burunova says she’s glad the journey to her first feature has been filled with learning experiences. “I’m glad it’s taken me so long, because any movie I made seven or five years ago would be so different,” she says. “Now, I try to be more in tune with my creative voice, I feel myself as a director, as an artist. I get to try new things, I get to try edgy things, and I don’t feel bad about it. It’s a splatter of paint –– see how it lands.”

For Burunova, the travels that began in Belarus continue. And so does her creative journey. She says that as a child she told people she wanted to make cartoons, then as a teenager she started saying she wanted to make films.  “Where that idea came from, I have no idea!,” she adds. “I don’t know what or who planted it in my mind but I kind of always have been on that path.”