This week’s Filmmaker Spotlight focuses on Director Melanie Travis, whose short is showcased at Sunset Gower Studios as part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. Learn about her film, The Apartment as she discusses goals and reminisces about making the film, lessons she’s learned and where you can catch her next. For those starting out in the film industry, Travis offers some great advice. Get to know Melanie Travis:
Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it.
I’ve been working on this project for about a year and a half, but I’ve had the idea since I was a child. I used to take walks in the evening with my parents; we would look in the windows of peoples’ houses and imagine how they lived. Eventually, I moved to New York City and got my own apartment. I continued the tradition of evening walks with my dog. I would look in the windows of all the apartments and wonder how different my life could be.
After film school, I finally wrote that scenario in the form of a short film. The protagonist, Carol, is a young woman with an ordinary life. One day, out of the blue, a neighbor she’s never met calls to ask Carol to retrieve something from her apartment. As Carol goes in and starts to look around, she becomes absorbed in this other person’s life, and imagines what it would be like to be this stranger. The film is about self-discovery, curiosity, and desire. It’s a story about personal transformation.
I’m thrilled to finally see The Apartment on a big screen in Los Angeles; another big city filled with strangers.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping out with this film?
I had a wonderful cast and crew, and I raised money to shoot the film on Kickstarter thanks to many generous backers.
How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?
It is so exciting to have The Apartment part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios.
While I think, I hope, that anyone can relate to the protagonist’s journey, I think the film is really an urban story. Los Angeles, with its enormous population but sprawling landscape of homes, is an ideal venue in which to show the film. I used to live in LA, and I remember when I first moved there. Days would go by where I wouldn’t interact with anyone. I would go from my apartment right into my car, and driving can be such an isolating experience. Even when I went places like the grocery store, most of the checkout aisles were machines, so in the end I interacted with nobody. All I could do was look into people’s homes and imagine other lives.
I made The Apartment in New York City after I moved, but it was largely inspired by my time in Los Angeles. It feels like a perfect circle to return to LA for the screening of this film with NewFilmmakers.
What inspires you?
In terms of my filmmaking, I would say my biggest inspiration comes from my travels and meeting new people. One of my biggest interests in film is the relationship of people to places. I think film is such an apt medium for exploring this central element of life.
Who are your influences and who do you admire?
I used to be a stalwart admirer of the great 50s and 60s filmmakers- Antonioni; Goddard; Bergman; Hitchcock. I still admire these icons of cinema, but as I’ve matured as a filmmaker, I’ve opened up to contemporary cinema and now I think my work also is very much influenced by such directors as Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsey, and Debra Granik. It’s no coincidence that these are female directors- as an emerging director myself, I realize the lack in this industry of women and the female perspective. In the short films I have made to date, I have followed the lead of these filmmakers and consistently given voice to women, not as bystanders, but as the protagonists of their own lives.
What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?
Two important lessons I’ve learned from the industry are patience and collaboration. It can take years to complete a film, even a short, and at every point in the process it’s important to not lose sight of the story or get impatient. You never know what can happen years down the line now that a lot of our work lives online. And when I was just starting, I thought I could make an entire film by myself. If you stay and watch the credits after a film ends, you see there are so many people involved in the making of a film. The better everyone collaborates together, the better the film will be. I’ve been on stressful sets, and I’ve been on wonderful sets, and in the end the film belies the mood of the set. So, it’s extremely important to be a good collaborator.
If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?
I would love to collaborate with Woody Allen. I relate to his sensibilities as a filmmaker, and I think he has this incredible ability to saturate the places in which he films. I’ve always admired his New York films from the 70s and 80s, and now that he’s shooting abroad, he still manages to capture the essence of these foreign places and create interesting characters with entangled relationships to where they inhabit. Plus, I grew up in a left-wing Jewish intellectual home. Working with Woody Allen would probably feel like replaying scenes from my childhood.
What is the toughest experience you’ve ever had to overcome?
There’s been death, divorce, and the regular gamut of experience in my life, but one thing that sticks out in recent years was a particularly nasty breakup I had with someone.
We were moving from Los Angeles to New York, with everything we owned packed into an RV that we were driving across the country. We never made it to New York though- we broke up in Texas. After a dramatic roadside argument followed by a crash that destroyed the back half of of the RV, we pulled off onto a dry field of weeds. We aggressively sorted out our lives there, material and emotional, in an oven-like motor home in the dead heat of a Texas summer. Then one caught a ride back west, and the other continued east. The experience is one of the toughest I’ve overcome.
And now the story is a feature script- so I can relive the experience as soon as I get the funding.
What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is to listen to advice from others. It’s tempting, especially in the creative industry, to be stubborn about your ideas. But it’s tremendously helpful to listen to advice from others, whether it’s about your story, the process, or anything. People come from a broad range of experiences and it can only help to listen.
What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?
To new filmmakers starting out, I would say live, travel, and have adventures! Material for good stories won’t come staring at a computer screen; it’s important to get out into the world and connect with people and places.
Where can we expect to see you next?
I’m accompanying screenings of The Apartment to film festivals in New York and LA, hopefully other cities soon. I’m also finishing a script about a boy who thinks the world is ending and needs a few more things before the apocalypse. He lives in Brooklyn, so it’ll be fun to shoot my next short in my backyard.
Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects.
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