May 31, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Dustin Kahia

NFFTY has grown into a wonderful community of over 2,500 filmmakers from around the world. Alumni have experienced successes in many areas of the media industry. To celebrate these achievements, we are highlighting NFFTY alumni here!

Second in our series comes Dustin Kahia, a NFFTY ‘12 alumni whose film VALEDICTION won his very first filmmaking award. Now 28-years-old, Dustin has since written, directed, and produced his first feature film, CALL OF THE VOID, which debuted to a sold-out crowd at the 2016 Newport Beach Film Festival. It was featured in the LA Times and MovieMaker Magazine and is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. In addition, one of his feature screenplays PROJECT GUILE placed as a "Finalist" at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival.




NFFTY: Where did the story inspiration come from for your debut feature CALL OF THE VOID?

DUSTIN: My inspiration for CALL OF THE VOID came from my love of the old classics. I wanted to pay homage to the "Golden Age of Cinema." Films by award-winning directors like Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles all served as major influences in helping me showcase this nostalgia in some form — I wanted to show a glimpse into an American way of life that has since vanished. 

NFFTY: Making a feature film is no easy task, what were some of the major challenges you faced through the process of making this film?

DUSTIN:  There were many challenges. Our first was money. The prospect of begging people for money didn’t sound very appealing and our goal of $59,000 was a lofty one, but we didn’t have a choice. We launched a 30-day campaign in August of 2014. 

Promoting the Kickstarter proved to be another challenge. Most people didn’t care about the campaign. Donations came in painfully slow. Friends and acquaintances that I thought would surely donate didn’t even bother with a single dollar (which was an option). It was disheartening to say the least. By some miracle, in the end, we were funded for $66,000. 

Our next challenge was trying to make this film with very little money, especially with it being a period piece; it was the absolute bare minimum required to shoot this film in only four days—a tight four days. We knew how crazy it sounded: “A 54-minute feature in four days? No way! Impossible.” We quickly realized that with our pizza budget and four-day shooting schedule, it would be nearly impossible to film everything "on-location." For one, we would have too many company moves and two, we understood that most places in Los Angeles no longer resembled anything remotely 1940s. 

Ultimately, we shot one day on location and three on a soundstage. Finding a soundstage in our price range was extremely difficult and tiresome. Eventually, after many grueling hours of phone calls and driving around L.A., we found our spot. The soundstage was small, but it sufficed.

Our toughest challenges came in early December, when principal photography was set to begin. Day One was our “on-location” day. We had three company moves in and around L.A., so there was no room for error, but, of course, Murphy’s Law will always find its way. The late delivery of our 1940s phone booth set us back nearly two hours and, as a result, the time we lost continued to roll over to each filming location. Everyone was feeling the pressure, including myself, which caused morale to sink a bit.



Day Three was arguably our most challenging day of filming, because the schedule called for us to shoot 21 pages! To make matters worse, our production designer had put us behind nearly two hours on that day. Again, by some miracle, we accomplished what very few on our team thought would be possible: the full 21 pages. How? Some would say dumb luck; I’d argue that it was perseverance and determination. During those two hours when our production designer put us behind schedule, I went to my shot designs and utilized that time to rethink all our upcoming scenes. I made them more efficient and economical without sacrificing my artistic vision.

In the end, everyone left principal photography with a feeling of relief and accomplishment; we had climbed our Mount Everest, we had defeated our Goliath.

NFFTY: You mentioned that NFFTY will hold a special place in your heart. Why was that experience so important to you?

DUSTIN: Simply put, NFFTY was where I won my first award. It was a place where I felt accepted and appreciated. It was a place that encouraged me to never give up on my dreams. Prior to receiving the award, I was on the verge of giving up. I felt discouraged and defeated. I felt like I wasn't cutout for filmmaking. When I received the award, I was stunned because I certainly hadn't seen it coming. It was an Audience Choice Award, which made it all the more special.

NFFTY: You screened VALEDICTION at NFFTY when you were around 22-years-old — looking back now what advice would you give your younger self?

DUSTIN: Hmmmm. I would tell my younger self to attend film school at USC, and then pursue my Masters. You see, life hasn't always been easier for me. I lost my father to cancer at the age of 14, which altered my whole life. After my father's passing, it was only me, my mother, and sister. I began to work at a young age to help support our family. I would wake-up, go to school, go to work, finish homework, then do it all over again for as long as I can remember. After high school, I ran into countless hurdles that prevented me from going to college and pursuing my degree. However, I know it's never too late.  

NFFTY: You’re also a screenwriter and photographer, how to balance all of your interests when you’re building a career path?

DUSTIN: Great question. I won't sugar-coat anything. It's tough, but I try to see them as all leading me to the same place. Ultimately, I want to be a full-time director, but I realize that becoming a director won't happen overnight. Nowadays, in order to become a director, you need to be a good screenwriter. It's hard to find someone, let alone a production company or studio, that will allow you to direct your first feature if you didn't write it. Thus, I practice screenwriting on a regular basis. Likewise, photography is a way for me stay creative and further develop my eye. Photography isn't so different from cinematography. Both require a camera, lens, and overall understanding of what makes up good composition. By dabbling in photography, I am able to keep my eye for good cinematography sharp — it forces me to look at composition from multiple perspectives.

NFFTY: What’s next for you? 

DUSTIN: Well, I'm taking the advice I would have given to my younger self and applying it today. I'm going back to school in the fall with plans to transfer to the USC School of Cinematic Arts by the fall of 2020. My goal is complete my bachelors in Film and Television Production, then pursue my Masters.

Additionally, I'm currently writing a historical drama called THE GOLDEN CITY, which I plan to be my next directorial project. 

Good luck, Dustin!