I figured why not start with a couple of masterpieces to get me in the right frame of mind. So, packing up to head off to the Venice Biennale College Cinema workshop to pitch my second feature, Memphis, I did the math for the long day of travel ahead: book – Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. Movie – Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st. I figured those two daring and beautiful pieces were the right first steps in getting into the mindset to engage in what lies ahead – ten days of collaborative development with fourteen other film projects to try and carve out which ends up one of the three fully funded microbudget projects to premiere at the 2013 Venice Film Festival. But it gets even more intense when it turns out we’re staying on an island that is home to an ancient monastery-turned-mental-hospital-turned-university. The room I am staying in feels like all three. The seclusion of the campus just across a waterway from San Marco square is both beautiful and well, ghostly. And the mist that comes in off the lagoon as thick as velvet helps both said beautiful and ghostly achieve even greater depths.
Filmmakers from Israel, Lebanon, Phillipines, Thailand, Brazil, UK, Italy, South Africa…and a sister team from the U.S. along with me and my producer, John Baker (Dragonslayer), so the mix isn’t just providing a diverse community, it is entirely inspiring. After running my first feature, Pavilion, through the IFP Narrative Lab in 2011-12, I knew there would be some of that inspiration for sure. However, housed on the watery outskirts of Venice – a city that may have created the term ‘wonder while I wander’ – this lab has an endless sense of creativity and intensity. Every day, thus far, John heads off to his producer’s grilling – the base of which are the questions ‘can you actually get this film done in time and on budget’ and ‘how do you define the producer’s role’ – while I work with a group leader and four other projects – defining our creative goals, challenges, and directions – in essence, proving our project’s validity. The afternoons, I engage with story consultants to try and defend and expand the notions of the story I am trying/hoping/praying to make. Evenings are social and filled with the type of dialogue I missed by not going to film school – theory, references, personal histories – beautiful film nerd stuff – over a glass or two of wine. And then coming back by vaporetta to our little insane asylum in the deepest fog to sleep it off and press restart. So far, so good.