June 15, 2017

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College buds Matthew Firpo (TSOA ’12), left, and Maximilian Guen (LS ’14), right, are the brains behind Magna Carta, the SoHo-based creative hothouse teeming with commercials, VR films, and other interactive new-media projects. Next up for the pair, who landed on last year’s Forbes "30 Under 30" list, is an episodic TV series humanizing the European refugee crisis, which was also the subject of their 2016 documentary short Refuge.  

That film has been shown around the world and it’s generating a deep emotional response with audiences. “We’ve seen people go into the field and volunteer just weeks after attending one of our screenings,” Guen says. Here, the numbers tell only part of their story.  

Matthew Firpo and Maximilian Guen

6: Distinct pieces of the project  

Two children

“We designed it from the ground up to be a multimedia chronicle that would allow people to connect with the story in an immersive way,” Guen says of the project, which includes the documentary, 30 complete interviews, a book of essays, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an events calendar, and a photo series—one of which won a Photo District News Award and appeared on the cover of Vice magazine. “It’s all about telling stories that matter,” Firpo says.

65: Hours of footage shot in Greece over three weeks last January

“What we found in every camp and public square were people who had had their world stripped away from them,” Firpo says.

“And despite that loss, these were warm, hopeful people, eager to share their stories, eager to share what little they had with strangers around a meager campfire. These were not a beaten people; they were ready to rise again, ready to start over.”

5,000,000: Syrian refugees have fled the country’s civil war, according to the UN 

“We asked each refugee simple questions,” Guen says. “Where are you from? Why did you leave? What do you expect to find where you’re going?” 
Syrian Woman

4: The number of times the translators cried during interviews 

Syrian Woman

“Our on-location translators were often refugees themselves who experienced traumas of their own on their flight from Aleppo,” Firpo says. 


The year Magna Carta was launched from a studio apartment in New York City. It now has offices in London and Los Angeles.

8: Size of the film crew, half of whom earned degrees from NYU

  1. Matthew Firpo (TSOA ’12) Director/Producer
  2. Maximilian Guen (LS ’14) Executive Producer
  3. Jake Saner (TSOA ’13) Cinematographer
  4. Stephen Michael Simon (TSOA ’10) Editor
Photo of a sea with a refugee boat sailing

This article was written by Craigh Barboza (TSOA ’96) and originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Alumni Magazine.