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NYU Tisch Young Filmmaker Takes Us on His Journey

August 26th, 2008. Published in FILM by Max Nova.

The Shaman’s Apprentice
By Max Nova

A young filmmaker writes about his journey to share his fascination with shamanism, and reduce the environmental impact of his film.


The Shaman’s Apprentice is a short thriller about the life-changing experience a young anthropology professor experiences while studying with a mysterious shaman. It is my final film as an NYU film student, and my most ambitious project to date. I am bringing a crew of New York-based filmmakers with me to make the film in my hometown, Boulder, Colorado.

I have been fascinated by shamanism for a few years now. My studies of the topic have not only inspired me, but they have also changed the way I think about the world. As a child, I was never spiritual. My study of shamanism has introduced me to the possibility of a spiritual layer to existence and in turn has enriched my life. With this film, I want to share my fascination with the audience and hopefully spark a mind opening thought process.


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Green Filmmaking:

One added challenge to this project was our goal to make The Shaman’s Apprentice a “green” film. I wanted to reduce the environmental impact of my film and to figure out how, I researched green production strategies like the ones implemented in New Zealand.

Here are some of the ways the production team lessened our environmental impact. We carefully managing waste and recycling, used recycled props and set elements, reheated or composted leftovers, carpooled, emailed instead of printing, and provided each crewmember with their own re-useable water bottle. Not one plastic water bottle was thrown away, and thanks to our composting and recycling system, we only generated a single bag of trash over 10 days.

The creation and processing of film stock dumps loads of toxic chemicals into the air and water supply. The Shaman’s Apprentice was shot with the RED ONE camera. The RED ONE represents some of the most cutting edge HD cinema technology. Recording digital info on to a solid state hard drive, the RED camera cuts out the need for film stock or film processing.

The Writer’s Dilemma:

The writing process can be especially difficult for the writer/director because every time one writes a scene, he or she is presenting one’s self with the logistical challenge of actually creating that scene. The best thing to do is to write without thinking about logistics at all until a draft is finished. Once the first draft was complete, then I allowed the producer side of my brain to take over.

The second draft is always the hardest part. I had to fix all of the plot holes that I breezed over in the first draft, tighten up the flow, delete paragraphs of dialogue, and sometimes add or remove entire scenes. Something my professor, Ezra Sacks, told me about writing the second draft: “You have to kill your children!”

When the script made sense, and felt readable, I gave it out to my friends and trusted advisers to read. I nervously bit my nails as they told me what they thought worked, and what didn’t.

I locked the script on my 6th draft (even though subtle changes would certainly be made during pre-production and on set).

Pre-Production Insanity:

The art of filmmaking is a balance of carefully calculated actions, spontaneous ideas, and luck. Any filmmaker will tell you that some of the greatest moments captured are accidental, but it takes a lot of work to put yourself in the right place to receive such blessings.

With less than one month left before shooting began, I was scrambling to put all of the pieces together. Pre-production, in my opinion, is the most important part of the filmmaking process. The more chaos I experience before the shoot, the less I’ll have on set. From convincing crewmembers to volunteer their time and acquiring donations of food, to securing insurance and haggling with rental houses to get a good deal on equipment, every day of my present life was mostly consumed by phone calls and emails. Filmmaking is just as much business as it is creativity.

The production value of a film can be greatly amplified by donations. The Shaman’s Apprentice is sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations to my film made through Fractured Atlas are tax deductible. This sponsorship was extremely crucial in securing craft services. Every meal we ate on set was donated through Fractured Atlas. This saved the production thousands of dollars and provided the food vendors tax relief.

We began production on July 11th, and spent the succeeding 10 days shooting all day, every day. Production is my favorite part of the process because it is the most collaborative. There is something very special about the bond that forms between the people making a movie together.

Production: a Monster

After a year of pre-production, so much momentum built up that by the time the shoot was about to begin, I was overwhelmingly anxious. On the first day, everyone showed up on time, everything went smoothly, and everyone had a great time! We were off to a great start. In fact, the first day of the shoot, despite its challenges, was the least stressful day I had had in months!

Every day, we shot at a new location, and were thus constantly confronted with new challenges. On the first day, we filmed at a bookstore in the middle of downtown Boulder. We had to share the space with the customers and get out of the bookstore by 2:00 in the afternoon. After that, everyone carpooled over to my parents house.  There we grabbed a shot of the interior of the “shaman’s shack,” which my parents and friends had helped me build in the back yard.

On the second day we shot in a classroom at CU Boulder, and on the third day we shot stunt scenes in front of a green screen at the Boulder Circus Center.

The fourth day was our hardest day. There were three different scenes to shoot, all of which took place at night…in the rain. We began setting up for the first shot at sundown. Our first setup was in front of my neighbor Bob’s house. The City of Boulder allowed us to access the fire hydrant and attach 30 ft. rain towers. Jim Milligan from FX West was my special effects supervisor. The rain was gorgeous, but it was scary to have the RED camera in the pouring rain covered with trash bags. By the time we wrapped, we were fighting the morning light by using large blankets to block light from coming into the shaman shack.

The fifth day was very difficult because it was another up-till-dawn shoot. I was getting very delirious at this point. I finally got some sleep the next day before we went up to the Lost Gulch outlook to grab the epic sunset crane-shot. But guess what…overcast. It got dark so quickly that we weren’t even able to finish.

We had to think fast and reschedule the last days of production to include a re-shoot of the scene that we missed at Lost Gulch. It turned out to be a blessing because we ended up shooting that scene again on the last day and the sunset was perfect! It was the most amazing last day I could have asked for.


How do you get a crew of 25 people to work for ten exhausting days…for free?

Well, nothing’s free. My friend Alex Wolf told me he is going to start a facebook group called “Max owes us.” Over 20 people came to set every day. Seven of the crewmembers were young filmmakers that I met at NYU, and the rest of the crew was from Boulder. The Boulder crew consisted of film students, old friends, new friends, and professionals. I feel utterly fortunate to have had so many talented and kind people volunteer their time and resources to this film.

Post Production

The shoot is now over. I couldn’t be happier about how it went. I’m back in New York, and have begun the postproduction process. There is a significant amount of fundraising still to be done in order to get this film out to festivals. I can’t wait to show this film to the world!

For more information, visit


September 4th, 2008 15:21 pm
Posted by Wendy Rochman.
The fifth day of the shoot took place in the Roosevelt National Forest in the Rocky Mountains. We had to haul generators up to 9000 feet, and shoot outdoors at night. The truck almost didn't make it, but it all turned out perfectly, and it was a very memorable night.

Good Job, Max!

September 3rd, 2008 14:51 pm
Posted by David.
You should put a form that will send information to people who would like to get more information about the film when it is released