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Laughing in the face of adversity: introducing producer and screenwriter Nikolay Sysuev

Born into the collapsing twilight of Soviet Russia, Nikolay Sysuev is no stranger to learning how to make more with less. 

Nikolay Sysuev is a talented producer and screenwriter known for writing and producing several Oscar Qualifying short films that also achieved Official Selection at prestigious international film festivals. 

Although born in a small industrial town in the Soviet Union (USSR), Nikolay graduated from AFI Conservatory in LA with an MFA in Producing. His mother was a talented mathematician who knew how to always get enough for her family in the brutally tough, collapsing Soviet economy. His father was a commercial flight engineer who went into politics. 

His life changed dramatically when his family moved to Moscow; his father joined the government in 1997. When he was 16, Nikolay’s father used all the money he could to send him to a  boarding school in the UK. 

From there, Nikolay, keenly aware of how it felt to survive on very little, dreamed of financial independence. After scoring 96% in Maths, he studied Mathematics at Edinburgh University and then went into London’s financial services sector as an investment trader for 10 years. 

He was no longer struggling, but neither was Nikolay doing anything that lit his soul on fire. His true passion was writing and producing. After work, he studied acting, screenwriting, and producing at a film school. His first short film, in 2015, was dark comedy about a disgruntled broker who brings a gun to the office. 

Despite his parents not wanting him to quit a lucrative career, Nikolay quit his finance sector job and started working on sets. He produced a play, almost got into drama school, and read books on screenwriting before finally deciding to take a serious leap into a career he’d been dreaming about since watching American TV and movies on VHS tapes in the 1990s. 

Nikolay describes applying to AFI in LA as the best decision he ever made. Allowing him to pursue his passion to the fullest finally, and the short films he’s produced before and during have won him critical acclaim early in his career. 

During his time at AFI Conservatory, Nikolay was one of only a few students that produced two thesis films: Why Don’t You Like Me? (2021) (WDYLM), and KUSH: A Bubblegum Western (2020).

Both films earned Nikolay Sysuev a high level of distinction. WDYLM and KUSH were selected and screened at several well-regarded Film Festivals for short films and are both classed as Oscar Qualifying films. 

WDYLM was part of the Official Selection at the Dances With Films (DWF) festival. DWF is an LA-based independent festival that is among the most highly attended worldwide, with 20,000 attendees. In 2022, WDYLM beat over 36 shorts for the Audience Choice Award. This demonstrates the extraordinary nature of Nik’s creative work and the high degree of recognition in this hyper-competitive industry.

Being in LA, studying at AFI, and writing and producing these short films have given Nikolay a new perspective on the types of stories he wants to tell. Very few producers and screenwriters have grown up in the harsh realities of a collapsing society and economy, as Nikolay did in the dystopian depths of Soviet Russia. 

And yet, this and other life experiences have given Nikolay a unique perspective and voice. His experiences and inspirations, such as his hard-working and resilient parents, give Nikolay a tireless determination, work ethic, and commitment to his craft. 

Using his talents, Nikolay wants to tell stories that he feels personally connected to as truthfully as possible and to connect those unique stories with a wider audience. Such as his mother working on a secret Soviet space program or his father’s challenging political career in 90’s Russia. 

Life of survival in the Soviet Union was full of stories of human ingenuity, persistence, and savviness. There was also a lot of humor. In his short films, work he is currently doing, and projects he wants to work on in the future, Nikolay brings that dark humor into those stories. 

Laughing in the face of adversity, Nikolay Sysuev is an incredibly talented producer and screenwriter with a bright future in the film industry.

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