Robert Kolodny is a writer, director, and cinematographer based out of Brooklyn, New York. He is the founder and creative director of House of Nod, a bespoke production company that specializes in narrative and documentary film, music videos, stylized commercials and fashion videos. His work has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and he is the recipient of a New York Emmy Award.
SL: What first interested you in film/video?
RK: My childhood was marked with an unconventional interest and subsequent education in film history. By the time I was ten or eleven years old I had seen films like Citizen Kane, The Deer Hunter, Mean Streets and Dog Day Afternoon several times over. This elicited something inside of me and I began making narrative films with my friends and younger brother Adam (who is now one of my most trusted collaborators) in my parent’s backyard on a massive VHS camera. I would then edit the videos using two VCRs, one as playback and one as a master recorder. This was probably sixth or seventh grade, as time went on the storytelling, camerawork and editing became more complex. I made an hour-long Vietnam epic for my eight grade class project, which was deemed far too violent to be shown in class, but which earned me an A+. I began to get more serious as time went on, both in educating myself in foreign and avant-garde films and in writing and editing. At 15, I had my first short film shown publically in a film festival. I was first interested in film because it allowed me to create worlds that I found more interesting and meaningful than the surroundings that I was born into.
SL: How did that affect your college path?
RK: As soon as I found out that such a thing as a film school existed, I made up my mind that I’d go to one. I was so fervent that my poor parents had no choice but to go along with it. They were very supportive and still are. My college decision was also marked by two other important factors. One being that, through high school, I had grown in contempt for my hometown and wanted badly to escape it. The second and more autobiographically meaningful is my love and passion for New York City. Through trips there as a child and through the magic portrayed on cinema screens, the city spoke to me on a deeply meaningful and passionate level.
SL: What was your plan when you graduated from college?
RK: The plan was to make movies. I came out of my thesis year at SVA (School of Visual Arts) having written two films and directing one. Both of those films happened to do really well and each had a long festival life. That was a big motivator for me. Not that either of them were masterpieces, but the fact that they acted as a passport that allowed me to go see other independent peoples films, meet and chat with them, become more exposed to the community. The plan is always to make movies, into perpetuity.
SL: How did you come up with the name “House of Nod?”
RK: I was very active in taking the reigns and making movies in my school. I didn’t have a dollar to my name and was eating a can of tuna fish, an apple and 12 cups of coffee a day to survive. Taking out cameras was free at SVA though; you just had to sign up for it. So, I would take out camera equipment every single day to use on my own. This was not the norm. I also made very odd, off kilter, seemingly high production value work, which I did totally alone or with my roommate Phill. After a while a few other students expressed interest in working with me, most notably Bennett Elliott, who is my producer and partner in crime to this day. We started making movies on a larger scale, amassing crews and casts that sometimes were thirty-plus people deep. One of the films that we made, in our junior year was called Land of Nod. It was a counterculture, queer, coming of age, revolutionary, anti-government, free love kind of jam. It was a beautiful production; we all slept and ate together in my ramshackle apartment in Brooklyn, the whole cast and crew! We were a real family and it is one of my very fondest memories. So, Land of Nod is the genesis of the House of Nod company. It represents the communal aspect of the film industry and how collaboration, understanding, collective hard work and shared passion under one roof can build a film.
SL: Why did you decide to start your own company?
RK: After college, I quickly was offered and accepted a role as associate creative director at a small media and advertising company. I learned a lot there: how to work with people who didn’t have art in the forefront of their mind, how to sell my skills as an asset, but maybe most important, I learned what I did not want, and that was working in an office for other people on projects that I didn’t care about. I spent a year at that job and count it as a great experience. After a year I bought my first HD interchangeable lens camera and quit with the intention of never having a full-time office job again. That was five years ago and I haven’t had an office job since. The idea to start House of Nod was sparked by myself and my producer Bennett Elliott while we were posted for a shoot in a remote and dusty village in post-earthquake Haiti. When we got back to the States, I quickly built a company identity, made the website myself and started to foster our first clients, which were mostly small fashion designers and bands that we were friends with. It was rewarding having creative control over what the execution and presentation of my vision was. The jobs kept getting bigger and we are still operating, now with nicer cameras and more experience under our belt.
SL: What are the best things about working for yourself?
RK: The best thing about working for yourself is the sense of authorship. The model that I like to think House of Nod operates on is this: always have a presence of mind that the goal is to make movies. Pay the rent by doing creative projects for bands, brands or other filmmakers that we trust and genuinely like. Keep a curatorial eyes about what we put our names on. Maintain authorship over what we create and then use the money earned to help finance our own creative projects. Working for yourself also allows you to structure your time and build in writing or pre-production development opportunities for yourself.
SL: What are the most difficult things about working for yourself?
RK: When you are your own boss, you don’t have to answer to anyone (except the clients) and that’s a great thing. That being said, it is only you. Success or failure weigh entirely on you; there isn’t a boss or co-worker or invisible company entity that you can pass the buck to. When you fuck up, that fuck-up is yours alone and that can be a really painful and disheartening blow. The other down side is that there is no distinction between work and your ‘personal life.’ There is no clock-in, clock-out, lunch break, Christmas bonus. You can escape an office, but the when the office is you there is no getting out. There are many nights (full transparency: more often then not) that I stay up until 4 or 5 A.M. grinding out a project for a deadline, refining, crafting, color correcting. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of commitment, certainly not for everyone. However, if this is something you are passionate about and you have the hustle and hunger to make it work, there is nothing better.
SL: What advice would you give to young college students who want to start their own production companies?
RK: Go for it. With the internet and social media in the state that it currently is, you need to represent your personal brand as strongly as you can. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your full-time gig–you can do other things–just put some work into your website, your social media presence and the way you present your work. Make business cards, have a company profile. Most importantly, make your work you. There are a hundred new people picking up a camera or hopping on an editing system every day. This craft has never been more democratized then it is right now and that’s a beautiful thing because it gives way to new voices. Your individuality and vision is what will set you apart. Don’t copy other people’s work; don’t try to verbatim recreate an aesthetic that you have seen. Do what interests you and what you feel passionate about and present that. The jobs that have gotten me the most notice are the ones that I have not gotten paid for. Those are the things that really matter. Take your camera out and experiment, don’t be afraid of getting weird and don’t be embarrassed about what you create. If it doesn’t look like what everyone else’s looks like then you are probably doing something right.
SL: How do you find work opportunities?
RK: At this point, it’s mostly word of mouth. We have a specific brand, which is curatorial and highly tactile. A lot of our work comes from recommendations or people reaching out because they have seen something we did online. We have a few Vimeo staff picks and that gives you a lot of exposure. We had a little exposure bump after we won our two Emmys as well. Social media also helps us, we’ve gotten more then a few clients from Twitter or Instagram outreach.
SL: What makes the New York industry different than other cities?
RK: New York is a unique animal within the production world for a host of reasons, the paramount one being that it’s just a generally fast-paced town that requires quick thinking, hustle and decisive action. There are a lot of jobs, but also a lot of competition and that breeds a really electric, sometimes cut-throat atmosphere. That isn’t for everyone, but it’s the kind of pace that motivates me personally. You have the opportunity to work on your craft and the motivation to not make mistakes, because as soon as you do, you know you’re not getting a call back. For almost as long as there has been film, there has been a film industry in New York City. Narrowing it down more specifically, there is a rich history of independent cinema here and that model is very alive today. Whereas in LA you are more often than not relegated to climbing a studio ladder or working on meaningless fashion new media projects and in the middle of the country there is such a divine lack of industry, New York has opportunity galore.
That being said, it is a far scrappier, ramshackle, bleeding knuckle, kick in the teeth variety. If you are willing to hustle and wade through the cascading horrors, New York can foster you beautiful experiences in film and the potential to realize your own ambitions.