Tribeca Film Festival – LEYLAK Director Dennis Latos “Getting into Tribeca was a surreal moment for me”

We caught up with Director Dennis Latos to talk about his film LEYLAK and it’s selection at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.

LEYLAK was directed by Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, and was filmed during the pandemic. The film shares the struggles that frontline workers were going through at that time. This live action short film has been selected to world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

In present day Queens, New York, a Turkish gravedigger is unable to face a shattering truth, and risks losing the dearest connection left in his life. 

Just three days after the New York Times prepared a powerful front page marking a somber and surreal milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, the directors were sent the first draft of Leylak. Out of those 100,000 deaths, nearly 25% were derived from New York, the epicenter of the crisis. No cemeteries were available when the movie was shot. To catch the zeitgeist of our time, they found an empty field at Upstate, New York and personally dug the 61 holes to create our own cemetery. 

Scott Aharoni & Dennis Latos are a directing duo based out of New York. The DUO have produced a diversified slate of ad campaigns for international brands and have produced several award winning films that have garnered international success under their budding production company, DUO Entertainment. Scott & Dennis were also recently featured on New York’s CBS News Small Business Spotlight to discuss the growth of their production company, and their upcoming projects and goals in the industry. 

What was it like filming during the pandemic?

Filming during the pandemic was extremely challenging. In order to keep our set as safe as possible we conducted temperature checks before we started the day by a registered nurse. Everyone had to wear masks and sanitize regularly. Shooting in confined spaces was also super challenging and we had to make sure everyone practiced social distancing.  In order to keep our set as safe as possible we conducted temperature checks before we started the day by a registered nurse.

In order to keep our set as safe as possible we conducted temperature checks before we started the day by a registered nurse.

What inspired you to create Leylak?

Leylak was inspired in multiple ways. First and foremost the film is really about loss. Everyone has lost someone important to them so instantly Scott and I knew this would resonate with everyone. Secondly, the entire pandemic swept New York heavily which was the epicenter of the crisis. We wanted to portray a struggling New Yorker who had to come to terms with his wife’s death and struggles to tell his daughter that her mother has passed away.  

How would you describe the film to someone who hasn’t seen it before?

In simple terms, I would describe the film as someone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one in the height of the global pandemic in NYC. 


You dug most of the graves in the film, how long did it take you?

The graves we’re done over the course of two days. It was extremely challenging as we had to go through different types of excavators and bulldozers in order to first take the land that was filled with weeds, flatten it out, and then dig each hole and space each hole properly to mimic a cemetery during the pandemic. 


Congratulations on getting into Tribeca, this is such a wonderful festival. What does it mean to you having your premiere in your home town?

Getting into Tribeca was a surreal moment for me and a huge defining moment in my career as a filmmaker but more so in the dynamic partnership I have with my friend Scott Aharoni. 


Scott and I started collaborating many years ago and I remember when we first met one of our first conversations was that we had the same goals of becoming film directors. We set a goal for ourselves that one day we would have our film in the Tribeca Film Festival which is New York’s most prestigious and sought after independent film festivals that is known for launching filmmakers careers. Through many ups and downs in our journey together, coupled with hard work, passion, and dedication to our craft, we set a goal and we achieved that goal. This is a testament that anything that you put your mind to, you can achieve. Persistence  and resilience wins.

Getting into Tribeca was a surreal moment for me and a huge defining moment in my career as a filmmaker but more so in the dynamic partnership I have with my friend Scott Aharoni. 


How do you collaborate with directing?

Our directing partnership is a very unique one. Scott and I have the same appetite for storytelling so when it comes to every production, how we direct comes just comes about naturally in the symbiotic visual style we have. To put it in simple terms, I understand Scott and he understands me. 


When we’re on set, everything falls into place. Everything has already been ironed out down in the pre-production process and we know how we want to block the actors, what emotions we need our of them, and how we want to methodically shoot each scene so it cuts together nicely in the edit room. 

Our directing partnership is a very unique one.


Do you personally know any frontline workers who suffered during the height of the pandemic?

I personally know a nurse manager who was at the height of the pandemic. Her name is Rosie Mcname and she is my brother’s fiancé. Rosie has a huge responsibility at Northwell Hospital in Lake Success. 


During the pandemic, she was inundated with treating patients in the ER. She would come home many days and cry to my brother from losing people. There were days where she didn’t think she would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel because the cases kept climbing day after day and nothing seemed to be putting this virus to rest. The pandemic definitely affected her physical, emotional, and mental state. 


Rosie additionally served as our nurse on set who would take the cast and crew’s temperature every morning prior to heading to the hospital for her shift. She is a true champion and definitely helped to save many lives. 

She would come home many days and cry to my brother from losing people.


What was it like living in NY during the pandemic? 

Living in New York during the pandemic was definitely a nightmare. New York City looked like a zombie apocalypse was taking over. The streets were empty. Restaurants were closed. Movie theaters were as if they never existed. Everywhere was a dead zone. In the beginning it was terrifying because we did not know what we were dealing with. Nobody knew the severity of this virus. Getting essential supplies was difficult and having to stay locked indoors for 3 months definitely affected me mentally and emotionally. New York was a terrible place to be.

New York City looked like a zombie apocalypse was taking over.


What advice would you give to filmmakers just starting out? 

My advice for filmmakers is to never give up no matter how impossible it may seem. This business is notoriously difficult to break into to any many people give up simply because it does not pay the bills in the early stages. Some people say you have a better chance at the lotto. I think otherwise! 


There are definitely a lot of highs and lows and a lot more lows than than highs for sure. No matter how hard things get, just stay optimistic and keep creating. Scott and I are firm believers of quality over quantity when it comes to filmmaking. Don’t just go make anything just to make something without having a plan of where it will go. 


Spend time creating a great story because at the of the day that’s all that matters. Story. Story. Story. I cannot stress enough that if the script is weak and not where it needs to be, the film will suffer no matter how good it looks and no matter how good it sounds. 


Lastly, you need to have a plan of where you want your film to go. Apply to the big film festivals when you feel confident you have something strong to show off. Even if you get rejected, just keep applying with your next film. Challenge yourself to make better, unique stories and I promise you, festivals will remember who you are. Your growth as a story teller, will shine and you will eventually land your film in a top tier festival.  

My advice for filmmakers is to never give up no matter how impossible it may seem.


How do we keep in touch with your work? 

All of our upcoming work is always listed on IMDb and our website at duoent.com. Everything that we have done so far streaming on Amazon Prime Video. You can also watch our work on DUO Entertainment’s Vimeo page. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s