I had lunch with my friend Patricia Bosworth and spoke to her about my conflict in writing a Director’s Statement for “Violetta”. She recommended I be authentic and just explain how I feel, and cite the work and people who have inspired me. She encouraged me to talk about “process”.
How I approached this story, or how I have managed to develop a process for myself is largely based on observing my “subconscious”. I do not set out initially with a specific intent or message, as with documentaries or politically/socially motivated storytelling. What I do is usually start with an image and then begin asking questions. I follow around my characters; I watch them, curious about their behaviors and psychology. I observe how they interact with one another, only to follow up with more questions. The function of the questions is to discover motivations to move the story forward, to create backstories, and is used as a compass to steer me away from “bullshit”. Is the human behavior real? Is it coming from truth, is it based in life, or is it something that I have seen repeatedly portrayed fictionally that has become a cliché for which I have mistaken as truth? I often require some outside help at this point! So what ensues is a sort of dance between the non-conscious and conscious mind.
My mentor, the late Tom Palumbo, said, “Let your hands dictate your behavior, not your mind”. He illustrated this with a quote from Federico Fellini, who once exclaimed when an observer pointed out to him his own creative process, “Don’t tell me what I’m doing!”
This approach also came from me analyzing the work and process of filmmakers who had made me feel things the most profound.
As a member of the Playwright and Director’s Unit of The Actors Studio for over a decade, I was influenced by the works of Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, etc. All who relied heavily on improv as a tool for inward inquisition. Other obsessions of mine at that time included John Cassavetes, Pedro Almodóvar, Jane Campion, Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. These filmmakers had an approach to storytelling that was both personal and relentlessly soul-searching. Based on my audience experience, I was lead to believe that this approach, a kind of thinly monitored subconscious liberation, is what produced the most significant emotional reactions from an audience.
The movie “Violetta” very much comes from the neighborhood where I was living when I wrote it. I did not set out to make a film for and/or about the Latino community. I just happened to live in one, so that influenced my characters. My inspiration also came from films I had been watching at the time, such as “The Piano Teacher”. And it came from the people in my life and memories, not as they are, but how they “live” in my subconscious (i.e. the female Colombian bartenders who masterfully juggle swarms of intoxicated men). The result? A kaleidoscope of fragmented things shaped into something new.
You are in a barn. The barn is your conscious mind. It is night, and it is pouring outside. You grab the wheelbarrow and shovel and go out into the rain. You dig up the wet mud and shovel it into the wheelbarrow. Outside is your subconscious mind and the mud is your memories, dreams, hallucinations, etc. You bring the mud back into the barn, and before it dries you must shape it.
Now there are two approaches at this point. To think of, let’s say an eagle. And you decide to replicate that eagle using your conscious mind. You sculpt the chaotic, decomposing nature of the mud into something recognizable, shapely and beautiful.
Or, you can let the mud tell you what it wants to become, and you can interact with it, “let your hands dictate your behavior”. The mud is your actual material, loaded with all things. It’s intention? Not so clear. That’s the mystical nature of mud!
After the film was completed, I did realize themes had manifested in retrospect, but initially, theme was not a motivator. "Violetta" is about a young girl striving for human connection in an isolating and dangerous world. It is about the psychological avenues a person might travel when there is an offset of power dynamics within their family, and how "Violetta" is striving to understand this all; as her soul begins to steer her towards her own independence. I think she, like me in relation to my own intentions for the movie, is not too aware of her own motivations, and is forced therefore to allow her desires to lead her into strange worlds, interactions, and discovery. Violetta's character arc, if it had the space to be expanded into a series or feature film, would evolve through this process towards a final moment of self awareness.