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Full Circle: Indie Film Reconnects a Filmmaker with His Former Teacher-Turned Screenwriter
Sometimes we never know the impact we have on others. But when a former high school teacher, now Author and Screenwriter Patricia V. Davis, reconnected with a student, she learned that she ignited a spark that changed his life—and ultimately, hers. When Nicholas Levis was a shy student at St. Demetrios High School in Astoria, NY, Davis cast him in a musical production. That experience set his career path in motion. Today, he’s the CEO of BrandCinema, a TV, film, and digital content development company; and an actor. And in a strange twist of fate, when he recently spoke with Davis, she had just completed her first film project. Now, it’s come full circle: they’re working together on this and future projects—and he’s encouraging her.
The New York native who traces his Greek roots to Trahila in the Mani, Piraeus, and Aegina, now calls New Jersey home. He reflected on his days at St. Demetrios, his life path, and how he came to this moment. “I remember fondly my time at St. Demetrios,” Levis said. “I’m still friends with many of my classmates.” And he remembers well his days in class with his teacher. “Back then, she was just Mrs. Volonakis to me. I was drawn to her because she had a philosophy of teaching that allowed for free speech. She loved the arts and encouraged us to use our brains. This made an impression on me. I’ve always admired her.”
Davis recalled those days. “Back in my first year of teaching at St. Demetrios, I was newly married. My then-husband’s grandmother gave me a gold necklace, a gift I treasured because she meant so much to me. One afternoon, as I was leaving school, I realized it was no longer around my neck. I ran back into the building to retrace my steps.” She said most people had left for the day, save for a custodian who saw her crying and offered to help her search. “And then there was Nicholas, who didn’t like seeing me cry either.” Distressed at her tears, he accompanied them on the search. They were determined to help her find it, and she eventually did.
But that’s not the end of the story. The teacher had hoped to coax the timid young man out of his shell. She produced a Christmas variety show and cast him. This experience changed his life. Levis caught the “acting bug”. Not only did he come out of his proverbial shell, but he found his calling. But like most children of immigrants, his family steered him on the path of a “more stable” career. He began college as a psychology major and took acting classes as electives. His passion for the stage grew. “That’s when I transferred to Emerson College. Though it’s a top school for film, I studied acting. There, I had the privilege to study with the late Kristin Linklater.”
Building a successful career
After earning his degree, in 1995 Levis moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career, and got involved with production. “I started as a production assistant and learned from there.” He returned to New York in 1997. He founded Ove Entertainment in 2005, with “three Greeks and two others”. They produced many commercials, documentaries, and other projects prior to the company’s shutter in 2012. One documentary, DARKON, won the Best Audience Award at the South by Southwest festival.
In 2012, he met his current business partner, Jennifer Warren, and they started BrandCinema. “There, I moved to long-form, doing features and TV shows. We also consult and help others, from script to production to selling—all stages of the process. We really get behind the creators and help them bring their vision to life.” Think of it as an incubator of sorts, for TV series, film, and digital projects.
BrandCinema has shot reality shows, digital series, branded content, and full-length features. Among their credits are two episodes of the Spanish Netflix series, “The Perfect Story”, which were shot in Greece; and producing DREAMKATCHER, a horror film. They recently sold a Christmas movie called WHO IS CHRISTMAS EVE? to Lionsgate. Also, as executive producer/partner at Forward Content, the female-forward arm of BrandCinema, he’s developed a roster of female creators and directors, crafting work across multiple platforms.
Over the years, he’s worked on more than 500 commercials, has worked with major production companies, developed and shot many scripted and non-scripted TV shows, plus countless web series and documentaries. He also did a project that was executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and directed by Tony Goldwyn, that included Hillary and Bill Clinton and also Barack Obama in the White House. “I think I’m a good producer/executive producer, but I think I do best in channeling the passion for the projects. I am the guardian of the cast. The most beautiful part of all of this is that movies live on. Someday we’ll be gone, but these works will live in perpetuity.”
Levis continues to act and has had the opportunity to work with many big names, including Alec Baldwin, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Seymour.
Film leads to a reunion and more
Last year, Levis spoke to Jerry Koutroulos, a classmate from St. Demetrios. He and his wife had stayed in touch with Davis. Since her days teaching at St. Demetrios, she’d moved to Greece, returned, became a best-selling author of a memoir and three novels, and more recently wrote a screenplay. LYVIA’S HOUSE is a full-length thriller, with Greek tragedy overtones, shot in Northern California, and directed by Davis’ son, filmmaker Niko Volonakis. It’s been screening at film festivals.
“I spoke to Jerry, and he told me about LYVIA’S HOUSE, and that he loved it so much he invested in it. It had been a long time since I had spoken to Patricia, so I called her. We spent hours catching up.” Levis was captivated. “She made a beautiful film. It’s an indie, made on a low budget, but I’m so impressed with what this first-time screenwriter and director have created.”
He’s now helping her to sell it. “My favorite teacher is back in my life in a whole new way.”
At the end of September, LYVIA’S HOUSE ran at a special screening at Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, where Levis and Davis met face-to-face for the first time in many years.
“Was this meant to happen?” Davis asked. “Is there some Greek film god they didn’t mention in the myths, who lives up on Mount Olympus and likes indie thrillers? If so, I guess time will tell if we stay in the god’s favor. For now, I’m just enjoying this amazing ride, and all the beautiful people who are on this train with us.”
Many exciting projects are on the horizon. Currently, Levis is working with Yanna Darilis, a Greek-American actress, journalist, and producer on a miniseries about Maria Callas. Among his other projects are two Christmas movies and two horror/thrillers for USA linear distribution. He’s also pitching a feature comedy to streaming services and will soon begin shooting an action film on location in Greece, Spain, and Turkey. And collaborating on future projects with Davis.
“A follow-up to LYVIA’S HOUSE is brewing,” he said. “Will it be a sequel? A prequel? Either way, it will be awesome as Patricia is writing it!” He also shared that he and Davis are working on developing her bestselling ‘The Secret Spice Café’ trilogy, a magical realism novel series set aboard the modern-day RMS Queen Mary, into a TV experience.
Levis credits Davis for sparking the flame. “She is an early fire log in my life. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for her. 2024 will be a great year.”
Life works in mysterious ways. We don’t always know if what we do makes a difference. Levis and Davis have come full circle, collaborating on many exciting projects. And someday, we’ll all get to see them. Perhaps it was some “film god” working behind the scenes. Or simply destiny, bringing each to the other’s lives at the right moment. Either way, there is something of the divine.
Learn more about LYVIA’S HOUSE at lyviashouse.com and BrandCinema at www.brandcinema.com