Creative Garden: Part 2
PART 2: “What Would Albert Do?”
Albert Einstein once said of his discovery of the theory of relativity that after endless calculations and failures, the solution came in a dream, “like a giant die making an indelible impress, a huge map of the universe outlined itself in one clear vision.”
Research has revealed that this “aha” moment is generated in the Temporal Lobe of the brain, and that people with abnormalities in this area, often display greater creativity. The frontal lobe, where ideas are generated, sends those ideas to the Temporal Lobe for editing and evaluation. Highly creative people are able to better modulate certain neurotransmitters from their temporal lobe to their frontal lobe, resulting in the genius we wish to possess.
In fact, mathematicians, scientists, and writers mostly agree that the solution to their creative dilemmas often come quite suddenly and spontaneously. Apparently, I am not the only writer who experiences bolts of unexpected creative insight. Those ideas that crash into our fragile psyches, when we are in emotional despair, and save us from certain demise.
My search for another tortured soul has ended with the discovery of writer/director, Henry Barrial, the only son of exiled Cuban parents, and a Hollywood survivor. Born in New York City, raised in Miami, schooled in Montana, and transported to the City of Angels. In my own “Eureka” moment, my quest for an interesting creative subject was complete.
As I contemplated an approach to discussing Henry’s creative process, I realized that this was a complex man. I did my research, and read everything I could about him. I even managed to get an advanced copy of his latest movie, “Pig”, from his producer, Mark Stolaroff, and an exclusive bit of insight from his lead actor, Rudolf Martin. I was totally amazed at what I discovered, and am sure you will agree. This is a creatively gifted individual, worthy of a spot in my “Creative Garden”.
“…certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit.” Thomas Mann 1950
Most people are creative in one sense or another. We all have thoughts of, “If only this were done like this,” or, “What if?” It is what we do with that thought, and how we let it brew and come to fruition, that sets us apart. You can imagine my surprise when I received a long, very welcomed response from Hollywood screenwriter/director, Henry Barrial, stating, “Pain often drives my attempts at writing films, and perhaps it’s the pain of not fitting in somehow. I’ve been feeling very pained today, and in the midst of my darkest pain, I made a note of how I could be driven to commit a murder.”
My first thought was, “Wait, did I say something wrong?” Upon closer examination, I realized that Henry was just excited about having a breakthrough with his adaptation of a certain Dostoyevsky novel. I had somehow managed to blunder my way into his creative process, yet, he allowed me to share this intimate moment in time. That was special, and I thank Henry for sharing his discovery with me.
I asked him what sets off the spark of his creative flow, and he put it this way, “Ideas excite me. Perhaps it can be an unusual place or a circumstance that a character is in. With a recent script, I was inspired to take a drama and turn it into a horror film, and see how that combination could work. So, I get excited about a wide variety of things, but the point is, I get excited.”
I couldn’t agree more about being enthusiastic about what you are writing about. In fact, the one thing that few people achieve is the implementation, perfection, and completion of the creative process. Following through with an initial idea is much easier said than done. Henry added, “Keeping the creative juices flowing can be difficult after that initial rush. Especially in long form screenplays. It takes a long time to plan and execute a screenplay, so I have to be sure that initial idea is strong enough to last me through the process. Selection of idea is everything.”
Of course, one of the biggest obstacles that writers face is choosing a topic that they know nothing about. The dirty little secret is that creative writing requires a lot of research, which means hours of time spent trolling around on the internet, reading books for knowledge rather than pleasure, and building a strong foundation for one’s storyline.
In fact, a degree in Psychology, and a passion for people and their inner character, has influenced Barrial’s writing career. His award winning short film, “The Lonelys”, is about three residents of a mental home , who travel on an adventure from LA to San Diego. Henry’s first feature length film, “someBody”, co-written with Stephanie Bennett, is a study on the games people play while in the dating scene, and as LA Times reviewer Jan Stuart observed:
“Director and co-writer Barrial alternates scenes of Samantha’s hapless dating career
with talking-head interviews with her beaus (and a few other interested parties),
revealing the two-way current of deceit and self-interest that makes dating
such a treacherous business. Barrial and Bennett have honed some
excruciatingly accurate dialogue from the roughshod process of improvisation,
aided by the alert editing and athletic cinematography of Geoffrey Pepos.”
When asked to elaborate on his interest in Psychology, Henry remarked: “My interest in Psychology is probably about my interest in character. True character. I’m very interested in people’s real lives. Not their social ones, but what’s beneath that. I suppose that’s a good interest to have if you’re going to be a writer.”
I guess the critics agreed, as “someBody” was an official entry in the dramatic competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my hands on a DVD of this movie, so I decided to seek out an advanced copy of Henry’s newest feature, “Pig”. I was fortunate to have a connection, and screened the movie shortly after it won the “Best Feature Film” award at the 2011 London Sci-Fi Film Festival.
“Pig” left me with a strange sense of silence and uneasiness, and had a profound effect upon me. I was so touched by it that I felt the need to reach out and find out more about what influenced Henry to write it, and what role the lead actor played in the creative process.
Henry has said that, “With ‘Pig’, it was the challenge of having a man wake up in the middle of the desert and logically follow what happened to him next. It was exciting for me to go through those steps and to weave an intricate tale. But, it started with the idea of a man waking up in the desert and not knowing how he got there. That grabbed me.” In 2008, Henry had read about a man who had been abducted and interrogated by the CIA, then hooded, handcuffed, and dumped in Albania, far from his home in Germany. This inspired him to write “Pig”.
I do not want to spoil the film for future audiences, but will say that the ethical considerations of the product in the movie raised the hairs on the back of my neck, and obviously intrigued the star of the movie, Rudolf Martin, to work on the ultra low budget film for over 2 years. I asked Rudolf about how working with Henry expanded the depth of his own creative process as an actor. Rudolf revealed this:
“I think that one of the benefits for me, in spending some significant prep time with Henry prior to shooting, was getting a very strong and detailed sense of how he saw this character, and what was important to him. As a result, I felt this character became an extension of both Henry and myself, and I think we had quite similar instincts regarding his inner life. So, by the time we started shooting, I really didn’t feel like I had to ‘act’ and play a character.”
I asked Rudolf about the physical and mental demands of playing “The Man”, and what effect it had on him as an actor, and as an individual. I was a bit surprised by his answer, but impressed with what he had to say.
“Every role that has some depth to it has had on impact on me as a person/actor (I’m not sure I separate the two.) Some of that impact will often stay with me, and it certainly has on this one. I hope that makes me a better person. I like “The Man’s” honesty and lack of preconceptions.
I think in a way, Henry and I both wanted his lack of personal memories to result in a purity of mind that wouldn’t be possible for someone with a functioning memory. But, that same condition is also a source of pain for him, so I will have to be selective in what parts of this character I continue to carry around with me.”
When I asked Henry about the difference between his creative process as a writer and a director, his response was: “I feel both processes involve great planning, and then following your inspiration and instinct. The only big difference for me is that writing is a solitary activity, and is the genesis of all that follows.” Amen to that, Henry.
Rudolf Martin had a very interesting take on working with Henry as a writer/director. “I think what was different and special in working with Henry was his focus on the inner life of the character, and his close attention to nuance in both his emotions and his thought process. ‘The Man’ became real to us, and once we were completely ‘in sync’, I didn’t feel that Henry wanted me to simply play the character, but rather that he saw me ‘as’ the man. That was hugely important, and really freed me to trust my own instincts. What started out as a mix of imagination and personal experience, resulted in a new persona for me.”
Henry was thrilled that Rudolf auditioned for the role, and said, “The joint work between Rudolf and I was mainly done before filming began and was all about his feeling connected to the character in a very personal way. I knew on set we’d have very little time for that, so we discussed as much as possible beforehand. Rudolf bought in from the start, was willing to work within our limitations, and really grounded the film in reality.” The director and lead actor “clicked”, and their individual creative processes became one.
“Pig” is an intellectual movie, made by an exceptional writer/director, and which made a metamorphosis from a thriller movie to a mind-bending film. Henry managed to do this with the help of producer, Mark Stolaroff. Mark and Henry have worked together for over 10 years, and “Pig” is their second feature film since “someBody”. Mark’s expertise in “No Budget Filmmaking” was instrumental in allowing Henry to shoot in the Mojave Desert, Los Angeles, and keeping the film within the SAG Indie Film Ultra Low Budget parameters. Henry adds, “My idea and execution has to transcend budget. There is no way around it. So, the idea is everything.”
Many hands touch a 90 minute film, and budget has a huge impact on what a writer/director can pull off. At a recent meeting with “Pig” Co-Producer, Alex Cutler, I discovered that his initial role as an intern grew into a much larger position as a result of his input into the structure of the movie, as well as his belief in the power of the script and the film’s exceptional actors. Along with Mark and Henry, Alex is committed to bringing the film to as many audiences as is possible, and why he traveled along with them to promote the film at festivals in The Netherlands and Germany. No role is without importance in an independent movie venture.
Although I have worked in film and television production, I am a novice with feature films. I asked Henry about what he has learned over the last 10 years regarding this art form, and how that knowledge influences his forward motion in filmmaking.
“I think the main thing I’ve learned is an increasing knowledge of the language of cinema, and integrating my ideas with the technical aspects of filmmaking. I think the greats have an easy fluidity to their work, so that the visuals, sounds, acting , and story, meld together seamlessly. Screenplay writing form is an obstacle that is easy to overcome, but the key area of concern is the understanding of story, and how it functions and captures the imagination of an audience. One tends to underestimate the power of story, and how difficult it is to craft a great one.”
As I got into the story of Henry Barrial and his creative process, I realized that like me, Henry loves what he does, and that the end result of his efforts is an innocent expression of the love he has for his craft. I’d like to think that my own creative process mirrors this, and hope that all of my creative peers share in my enthusiasm for this man, and his excellence as a writer/director.
We may never have the great insight or creative “aha” moment of Albert Einstein, but we can go to sleep at night knowing that we are true to ourselves, work effectively and efficiently, and that we are independent spirits, authentic to our art forms. The creative process is personal, may be born of pain, and illuminates our darkest moments with hope.
Please make sure to follow “Pig” and learn how you can see this amazing narrative. Further information about “Pig” and Henry Barrial can be found at http://thepigpicture.wordpress.com/ and also at: http://thepigpicture.com/The_Pig_Picture/Home.html. You can follow “Pig” at https://www.facebook.com/ThePigPicture and on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/IAmTheClue
Henry Barrial lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Eva, a professional photographer, and their two children. You can see Eva’s incredible photos at: http://evabarrial.blogspot.com
Learn more about Mark Stolaroff’s “No Budget Filmmaking” at: http://www.nobudgetfilmschool.com/
My sincerest thanks to Henry Barrial and Rudolf Martin for sharing their creative processes and for propagating my “Creative Garden” series.
Best wishes to Alex Cutler as he works on his Master’s Thesis at The New School in Manhattan, and works towards making documentary films.
Many thanks to Kenzie Doyle of Boulder, Colorado, for use of her amazing painting, “Creative Process.” This painting inspired Part 2 of the “Creative Garden” series, and MIP is extremely grateful to Kenzie for allowing us to feature her talent on My Ink Project.
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