SDSU grads finding success in Hollywood

by Jamie Ballard

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For those in the creative arts, it can be daunting knowing that industries like film are tediously difficult to break into and that job security is merely a nice daydream. But some San Diego State graduates  Leal Naim and Riley Dufurrena are taking the plunge. Both are watching it pay off as their careers gain momentum.

Naim graduated from SDSU last year, and is already making a name for himself in the film industry. Naim and fellow SDSU graduate Dufurrena are two up-and-coming Hollywood writers to watch out for. The pair have one film already being distributed, and two films waiting in the wings.

The road to the silver screen isn’t an easy one for most, and it’s certainly one that requires some risk-taking and hard work, Naim, who studied film production at SDSU explained.

“I moved to L.A. last June on a whim, with no idea what to expect. I learned the reality pretty quickly once I started applying for jobs. I mean, I was applying everywhere I could and wasn’t hearing back, despite my good GPA and some impressive internships. Hollywood is really all about connections, and once I started making those, then I was able to kind of break into the industry,” Naim said.

As SDSU students, Naim and Dufurrena collaborated on several film projects. Their Kickstarter-funded short film “Corollary” was produced and released last year. Right now, they’re dedicating much of their time to two new projects, “Drunk in Love,” and “Sudden Fall.”

“Drunk in Love,” is a screenplay that draws inspiration from the films “Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” and “(500) Days of Summer.” It’s also largely based on Naim’s personal experiences.

“I was in kind of a pit stop in my own relationship, and so this was a way to express myself. I started writing it, and I got about 30 pages done before I showed it to Riley. He really liked it, and we agreed to collaborate. He brought a lot of the comedic aspects to the film,” Naim said.

The film is a coming-of-age story about a college womanizer who finally meets his match, only to have his heart broken.

“I think it’s a relatable story about college relationships. It’s sort of about a bitter relationship—you know, you think you’ve found ‘the one’, and that’s often not the case. But it’s your first love, and when it ends, people get hurt,” Naim said.

Currently, Naim and Dufurrena are shopping around their script to various producers in hopes of getting it represented. It’s also uploaded onto a site called blacklist.com, which allows filmmakers to post their script for an exclusive group of producers to read.

“Right now, ours is one of the top-rated ones on the site, out of 17,000 or so,” Naim said.

Their other project, “Sudden Fall,” has a particularly interesting SDSU tie-in. It’s based on Operation Sudden Fall, the largest drug bust in San Diego county and one that resulted in the suspension or expulsion of several SDSU fraternity chapters. However, it’s important to note that the film is a retelling, and all characters are fictional.

Naim explains that what drew him to write a film based on the events is the fact that it was downplayed in real life.

“It’s this huge thing that wasn’t really blown up at all in the media. It’s seriously this incredible story, this undercover cop who went into the fraternity. They found 50 pounds of pot, 350 pills of Ecstasy, and a ton of other stuff. It’s just crazy,” Naim said. “I also feel like this kind of film is relevant to what’s happening right now, what people are interested in. You look at films like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” or “Neighbors” or “Project X,” and how successful they are, and I think that’s because they somehow speak to members of Generation Y.”

For any young, aspiring filmmakers or writers, Naim has some simple advice.

“All I have to say is bust ass trying to get it out there. Write something, and start interacting with people who can help get it made.”

So far, it seems to be working for Naim and Dufurrena, two young writers who are sure to enjoy much success in the future.

Also read: Veronica Mars has a new mystery to solve

Courtesy of Leal Naim

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