New York City Debuts First Neighborhood Filmmaking Initiative

By John Zhao New York City can be a pretty anonymous place to live. A new neighborhood film challenge called On My Block Films is looking to change that.

After living in 4 different neighborhoods within 6 years, filmmaker Ryan O'Hara Theisen realized he didn't truly know any of his neighbors. That bummed him out and got him to thinking about ways he could change things. He'd noticed over the years how incredibly strong personal bonds where created between complete strangers on film sets in a short amount of time. 

He tapped his friend Mary Crosse, an Executive Producer who'd experimented with other social projects, and asked her if she'd be willing to Direct such an effort. She agreed and with a team of dedicated volunteers they've brought to life - On My Block, a film challenge that invites filmmakers of all levels to create a short one to five minute film (narrative or documentary) using only their block's residents as the cast and crew.

Films can be shot on any format (iPhones to 35mm) and must be created and completed between August 1st and October 31st of 2012. The public will be able to vote for the films by "liking" them on OMB's Vimeo channel and the top 30 scoring films will be judged by a panel of local NYC community leaders and filmmakers. The top scoring 15 films will be screened at a film festival in November.

Novice filmmakers are also encouraged to participate and the website ( has helpful tips to get 1st timers going. Get to know your neighbors better while helping OMB reach their goal of 50 films (10 from each Borough) by visiting and officially signing up.

Still on the fence about it? Ryan’s first film was made by 10 diverse neighbors on his block, several of whom were hesitant that they could dive head first into filmmaking. Little did they know their dormant filmmaking talents came to life, and they continue to remain true friends just few doors down from each other. More films are populating the site, with many stories behind each neighborhood experience.

To further illustrate the possibilities of just one block of New York City turf, one neighbor who became a co-producer on Ryan’s film used to work for Obama, and he’s now finding himself on the list to shake hands with the President on visit to the city through her. Curious what magic, surprises, friends and how the Kevin Bacon rule can apply to your block? Sign on up and spread the word!

John Zhao is a China-born Korean-American filmmaker. He spent his childhood with his grandfather, an acclaimed calligrapher who sparked an everlasting love for poetry in him. At 5, he moved to Germany where he had his first cinematic experience, and began making films shortly after. At 22, made his debut feature using rogue tactics upon couch-surfing to New York City, where he now lives and works on films, commercials, writings and trying hard to stay out of trouble.