A desire to find a creative outlet has led one Dobbs Ferry woman to embark on a new career path, one that involved starting her own film production studio.
“I was always a visual artist,” said Natalie Sena, founder of Sena Studios LLC. “I was always creative my whole life, but I always thought that my professional life and my creative life kind of had to be separated.”
Sena, whose professional background is in higher education and administration, relocated to Dobbs Ferry in 2013 after securing a job as an assistant to the chief of staff at Mercy College. Though she enjoyed her time at Mercy, Sena soon began to feel as though something in her life was missing.
“I was having that idea of, I have this really secure job. I have a pension. I have benefits. All of that is awesome,” she recalled. “But I had this feeling like, maybe this isn’t the thing that fulfills me. There really shouldn’t be a divide, like I can’t be an artist until I come home at 5.”
That feeling prompted Sena to sign up for a 16-week boot camp in filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Participants went through each step of creating their own film, from writing and production to ultimately screening their finished work for an audience.
“One of my early jobs out of graduate school” — as assistant director of enrollment management e-communications at Siena College in suburban Albany — “was doing content creation for social media and a lot of that was videos for Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “So I always made videos, I always edited them, but I didn’t think much of it until I had this story I couldn’t tell any other way.”
That story drew on Sena’s own experiences working as a personal assistant.
“Sometimes, being an assistant can be very stressful and you just want to get the job done. I wrote this crazy fantastical story about an assistant who just wants to do a really good job for her boss and is willing to do anything, and one of the things she’s willing to do is dispose of a body, no questions asked.”
Her short film, “A Good Assistant,” follows the main character as she goes through the gruesome task of removing a body from her boss’s office. The film was an official selection at several film festivals, including the Yonkers Film Festival and the Sick Chick Flicks Festival in North Carolina in 2016.
“Some people watch (my film) and they’re like, ‘What is going on in your head, because you’re so nice and look pretty normal and yet you make this dark stuff,’” Sena said.
The experience of creating her own film was both cathartic and life-changing.
“I was able to blend my creative vision with my organizational and logistical skills,” she said of the film’s production. “Being almost 30, I was like, wow, I wish I had learned this about myself earlier in life, but now that I know I’ve found the thing that could fulfill me most, I’ve just got to run with this.’”
Sena formed her production company, Sena Studios, in 2016. The company produced a second short film last year and is raising money to develop its first feature film, a fictional story that follows a prestigious reporter as she travels back to her native South Africa to cover the brutal rape of an 8-year-old girl.
The short films’ budgets range from $1,500 to $3,500, while the budget for the upcoming feature film, which will be the studio’s first movie Sena herself has not written or directed, is around $200,000.
Much of Sena Studios’ filming happens either in the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband or on location. Sena hopes to one day to have a studio of her own.
“I have dreams, I just don’t have cash right now,” she quipped.
Having left her job at Mercy College last fall, Sena now works as an executive assistant with Reconsider, a Dobbs Ferry company that produces documentary films. Though Sena hopes in the future to work for her own production company full-time, for now she’s content with splitting her time between the studio and what she calls her “supporting career.”
“I’m still figuring it out, but I found the thing that makes me excited to get up in the morning,” she said.
Sena is also inspired by the burgeoning film scene in Westchester, citing the recently released “The Girl on the Train” that was partly filmed in Dobbs Ferry.
“I see filmmaking going on all the time. I feel like I’m in Little Hollywood,” she said. “I think Westchester’s (film scene) is just going to continue to grow, because it has the great benefit of being within 25 miles of New York City.”
Sena Studios held its first film festival, movies4movies, at the Dobbs Ferry Public Library in February. The festival screened more than a dozen movies created by both local and global filmmakers and was attended by more than 180 people.
“When I make films, yes I’d love to make money at it, but that’s not my goal,” Sena said. “My goal is for it to be seen, and I wanted to create opportunities for people to fulfill that goal of just having their films seen.”
The quarterly film festival “is something I feel I can offer Dobbs Ferry with my skills and talents and background,” she said. “The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. It makes me feel like a little celebrity. People see me, and they’re like, ‘You’re the film festival girl.’”
The recent changes in her life — which included dyeing her naturally dark hair a shade of green — have inspired her husband, Corey Murray, to undertake a similar soul-searching journey of his own. Murray, a librarian at Dobbs Ferry Public Library and Mercy College and executive producer on Sena’s projects, recently started classes to pursue a long-held dream of his own: becoming a puppeteer.
“It’s nonstop with the puppets now,” Sena said with a laugh.