New York is a great place for the faint of heart. Psych. This city is a brutal. On the one hand, NYC is a microcosm of America’s best self: competitive, innovative and diverse. On the other hand, it’s the home of the grind. Filmmaker Andre Andreev is well versed in the city’s unique duality. After immigrating from Bulgaria as a youth, Andreev found his way to the city twelve years ago. From graphic design to filmmaking, Andreev has been creating ever since.
Andreev’s most recent film, I ❤ NY tells the story of Milton Glaser, the graphic designer behind New York’s iconic “I Heart NY” logo. Featured in the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival Shorts Program, I ❤ NY is a nuanced, nostalgic, and heartfelt examination of one of the few humans to define an indefinable city. Andreev was in his home country of Bulgaria over the holidays, but CONVICTS managed to catch him on the phone for a conversation. Thousands of miles from his beloved city, Andreev told us about the creation of I ❤ NY, his love/hate relationship with the city and what it really means to be a New Yorker.
When did you know that you were a filmmaker?
My dad is a graphic designer and I took after him earlier in my career. My mom ran a movie theatre, so inevitably, those two career paths crossed down the line. Initially, I was trained as a graphic designer and then I went to design school and transitioned into animation. I worked for MTV for a couple of years and then started my company, Dress Code, where we do animation, live action production and a little bit of everything. That’s when I really started focusing on film. That was maybe five or six years ago. To be honest, I don’t know if I fully feel like I’m a filmmaker as is, because my background has been so varied.
You never really have a plan until it’s there.
Hindsight is 20/20, right? I could tell you exactly how it happened but at the time it’s just about making the best possible decision in your scenario.
New York tends to attract dreamers. Was the case with you?
A little bit. I went to school in San Francisco at California College of the Arts and at the time I wanted to pursue something that was outside of my comfort zone. New York was the closest thing in the US that could offer that. I think that, culturally speaking, New York is closer to a European style of living. Because that’s where I’m from, that’s what I was drawn to. I really liked the ideas that were coming out of New York and the city’s fast pace. It had the best opportunities. It was, really, the place to be.
When you first arrived in New York and you began working at MTV, did you have a romanticized version of the city?
I don’t think I necessarily had a vision of the city, but I had a vision of being able to realize my fullest potential. My thinking was: I’m going to go to a place that’s really going to challenge me but also offer opportunities. MTV gave me the platform to start a company and that was the catalyst to what I have and where I am now. The concept of making whatever you want to make out of yourself at the highest level was very seductive to me.
How did you find your way to the city?
I migrated from the very small country of Bulgaria to the States with my mom. Then I moved to New York by myself. I was definitely a small fish in a big pond. If you can make it in New York, you get a lot of cultural cache from being able to achieve at the highest level. It’s not easy right? You have to deal with the challenges of living in New York, of starting from scratch, of having to compete with everybody else. There’s a certain romanticism with that because–especially when you’re younger–you want to prove yourself. You want to challenge yourself. In that sense, there is romance in the city.
There’s this quote from Milton Glaser, “When you do something that’s guaranteed to succeed, you close the door to the possibility of discovery.” What risks have you taken?
Early in my career as a traditional graphic designer, I was able to see the top. I didn’t get to the top of that career by any stretch of the imagination, but I could see myself working in that industry at a very high level within five or ten years. Coming to New York, I saw that I needed to be challenged at another level. Filmmaking was that challenge, because all of the sudden I was redoing all of my career and all of my education.
How did you learn the ins and outs of filmmaking?
I never went to film school. I took some classes at NYU but that was it. I just picked up a camera and taught myself. The challenge, for me, was being in a zone where I was uncomfortable. To reference your quote from Glaser, that zone is really seductive because you’re not in full control. Whenever you’re not in full control, things happen. Those things can be either really good or really bad. That lack of control can birth a lot of excitement and other things that you would not otherwise foresee. You create things that, otherwise, you never would have created.
So, Glaser is obviously an iconic figure in New York for his work in graphic design. For creating the I Heart NY logo, and also for co-founding New York Magazine. When you were creating your film, “I ❤ NY” what was it about Milton Glaser’s story that inspired you?
Milton Glaser’s family escaped a war and came to the States and settled in New York. He more or less made his life in New York out of that experience, which is basically based off of persecution, right? To me, I was never persecuted as an immigrant. I came to here in the pursuit of a better life. However, I can definitely relate to being in an environment where you have to make something of yourself. People are not leaning on say, family connections, or people that they’ve known for a long time. You have to bring the merit of your own work ethic and personality and be judged on the success of your work. That is a parallel I can see pretty easily. I’m sure you know about the history of New York and a lot of the working class, especially in Manhattan, was settled around the Lower East Side and Chinatown and Little Italy, Nolita. Inevitably, we find ourselves, our office, right on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. By walking into the building, the literal building that we live in, you’re sort of walking down this pathway of history where so many immigrants have started their lives in the past. Literally walking through those same doors everyday resonates in a very visceral way.
So, why do you love New York?
Well, that’s given the assumption that I do.
Is it a love-hate relationship?
Hate is such a strong word! There are times I hate things in New York, or realities in New York, but I’ve never really hated the city or the people in it. I, like, most other people, have what I would call a working relationship with New York City. In the sense that I know how to exist in it, and New York accepts me for who I am without any judgement. It provides me a platform to do what I do at the highest level. It gives me a living, it has provided me friends and a place to live comfortably. It’s what I call home. If you can call something home, that’s as close to love as you can have for a place. At least, the way I see it.
Home is where the heart is?
Yeah. Where people know your name, where people miss you when you’re gone and where you’re happy to come back to.
What’s your favorite way to spend a day in New York?
One of my favorite things to do in New York is people watching. It may sound a little bit weird, but I love witnessing what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. Sitting at a coffee shop, sitting outside and seeing all the people, imagining what they are up to, where are they going, who they are they about to meet? What kind of vibe do they have? One of my favorite things about New York is the diversity that it brings. There’s no other city at that size that has as many different types of people, generations, social and economic standings. That is what I love about it. Just taking even ten or fifteen minutes out of my day and getting a coffee and sitting on a corner in the Lower East Side to absorb that energy–not necessarily even to be part of the city–but just to observe it and see the beauty of people trying to make it. Other people trying to hustle and make money or just walking down the street and going about their life. There’s a certain beauty to it…to the city just working. Just moving, living, working. The subtlety of that beauty and those little moments are what I cherish the most.
Do you think that’s what you try to capture in the film?
Yes. It’s a very short film, however, you see a lot of glimpses of New York. It is somewhat voyeuristic in the sense that you’re just getting a split second of somebody’s life. It could be somebody in a fish market in Chinatown, it could be somebody ordering a coffee in the financial district, somebody in Dumbo taking their kids to school. Inevitably, what you’re seeing is this sense of humanity based on the diversity that this city offers.
With Milton’s narration in the film–I hope one of the resonant things is the fact that we are, in a sense, driven by the same motive: to live and make it in the city. That’s what unites us. It’s being in New York that is the common ground. That brings so much togetherness and respect for each other, because inevitably, you’re in the same deal as the person working next to you. You’re in the same thing. By seeing a little bit of these scenes, seeing these different scenes of the film, the thing that I was getting to was visually trying to show that no matter what you do in the city, you still have to make it. So if you’re the guy hustling peanuts in Times Square or if you’re the person that sits in a boardroom down the street, you’re still more or less in the same world. You’re just trying to make it in whatever you do. I think that there’s a certain beauty to that and there’s a certain honesty that I was trying to capture.
It’s like a million little pieces of chaos that somehow come together. So my last question is, what does it take to make it in New York?
I think that persistence is a big one. This belief in yourself that you are able to make it and you can do it, regardless of the setback, regardless of the everyday problem that you’re faced with. Having that belief that you are worth doing whatever you’re doing is key. Because inevitably, in a world that is as competitive as New York, there is going to be failure. There’s going to be a lot of failures. I think that self-belief and drive and motivation and work ethic are really what make New Yorkers, New Yorkers. I’ve lived in New York for 12 years and I call myself a New Yorker. That brings me pride and that brings me identity. For me to identify with a city I didn’t grown up in, to have an identity with that place is incredibly valuable to me. It’s something that you can’t put your finger on: I think that it has to do with this perseverance, right? New Yorkers keep going. There’s no stopping them. No matter what it is, they keep going. That spirit is really what makes the city what it is. It’s the people that just keep doing what they are doing.
Thank you so much.
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