When filmmakers Laura deNey and Mustafa Bhagat first stepped inside the old house at 42 North Chestnut Street in the village of New Paltz, it was clear the place would need a lot of work if they were going to move their offices there. It was time to think about expanding their production company, Flicker Filmworks, located in a smaller space in New Paltz. But it would take a leap of faith to take on this type of renovation project.
“The building had been in foreclosure and sat vacant for about three years,” says Bhagat. “It was pretty trashed. But there’s opportunity there, too, of course, and it was really the logical step for us to take to grow our business and have a little more visibility. Our previous location was kind of tucked away, so no one really knew we were there.”
Today the offices of Flicker Filmworks are installed on the second floor of the lovingly restored building. Upgrading was done as necessary. Speedy fiber-optics Internet was installed. Plenty of original architectural details left intact. The couple plans to rent out the bottom floor to like-minded people in film, music, visual arts or tech.
The new offices mark the second time the two have taken a chance on relocating. Bhagat and deNey launched Flicker Filmworks in New York City in 2001. They came to New Paltz first as weekenders, but along the way the Hudson Valley grew on them. “It got to the point where we just didn’t want to leave,” says deNey. “So in 2008 we decided, ‘Let’s just not leave!’ and we moved out of Brooklyn and into our little cottage here.”
With their clientele all in the city, they found the first few months were quiet. “We were waiting for them to miss us enough to send work up here,” remembers deNey. “It took a little while, but finally they did, and that ended up being the series we won an Emmy [for PBS’s Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie]. That was the beginning of us not having to go back to the city to work, and being able to make it here.”
Their forte is documentary storytelling. “Real, but not reality,” as Bhagat describes it. He means by that, he explains, not the contrived reality of TV competition shows but real-life situations presented in a manner that makes “the educational entertaining and the entertaining meaningful.”
Working in film and television since 1997, the couple have won several Emmy Awards for editing and were nominated for producing. The shows they work on generally have a cultural focus, revealing the world through travel, food, music and dance. Their work can be viewed on PBS, ABC, CNN, MTV and the Discovery and Travel channels.
A number of the shows have featured chef Anthony Bourdain – including Mind of a Chef, The Layover and No Reservation – and two shows originated with the now-defunct Gourmet magazine: Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie and Adventures with Ruth [Reichl, former editor of the magazine].
In the eight years since they relocated from New York City, the couple have taken on a number of film projects for local businesses and entrepreneurs, including Wild Earth, Vitality Yoga, Dina Falconi and Almanac Weekly’s gardening guru, Lee Reich. They co-produced the Tin Roof Sessions in collaboration with the O+ Festival, and are working with New Paltz-based record label Team Love on a concert documentary about the band Bright Eyes. “We love helping local businesses tell their story,” says Bhagat. “And I’m a musician and Laura loves music and dance, so we’re always looking for an opportunity to combine our passions with our work.”
The two have also begun producing their own films and content, taking projects through the entire process of directing and shooting as well as editing. Bhagat serves as cameraman and deNey as director. Assistant Eric Jacobs, recently named post-production supervisor, is their sole hire at this point.
Flicker Filmworks is currently working on a project with the Hudson River Estuary Program, part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The filmmakers will follow students from Cornell University’s landscape architecture program and local environmental organizations to create a short film to promote natural and nature-based solutions to flooding and other climate risks in the City of Kingston.
Before they met, Bhagat and deNey were both anthropology majors at their respective colleges. They first met through editing jobs, but it wasn’t until they worked on the same show [Queer Eye for the Straight Guy] that they became a couple.
Bhagat got into filmmaking “from the dorky angle,” he says. “I was that kid saving money from my paper route to buy my first Commodore [computer].”
He grew up in New Jersey, moving to New York City after college. Able to hone his skills at a technical media company where he was one of three employees, Bhagat took on all the editing, Photoshop, “everything-I-could-get-my-hands-on work,” he says. Through a friend who worked in commercials, he began working for free on a production where he met people who eventually hired him to do his first real film editing.
After that it was learning on the job. “There are tons of opportunities in film and television if you just put yourself out there,” he says.
DeNey, born in California and raised in Connecticut, moved to New York City after college. Doing an internship at a documentary company, deNey knew she’d found what she wanted to do. She hadn’t studied film, but had done a lot of photography and been a self-described “travel addict.” Following the internship deNey worked at a small film production company and in her spare time made short films with friends, learning her craft through doing.
“Necessity is really the mother of invention,” she says. “You don’t need to go to film school to make films. You just need to have something that you’re passionate about and figure out how to make it.”
On the horizon
The two plan to continue dividing their time between their clients in the city and building upon their local work. “We want to do more work with the community,” says Bhagat. “A lot of creative people live here full-time or part-time, but they’re spread out. It takes more work to meet them. So we’re reaching out to everyone who has an interest in anything related to film and video, and just putting all the pieces of the Hudson Valley puzzle together.”
Settling into their new digs is a priority. “Right now this building is kind of a new chapter for us, and it’s really brand new,” he adds. “But the goal for us is to expand and tap into that talent that’s up here to produce quality work.”
More information is available by contacting Flicker Filmworks at email@example.com.