Director Spotlight: Ivan Olita
Ivan Olita is a filmmaker and creative director based in Los Angeles.
Ivan’s commitment to storytelling drove him to found BRAVÒ, a production company which has established since its inception a strong and international network of clients, collaborators and strategic partners. He studied film under Werner Herzog and his projects have been featured among others on POV, Nat Geo, The Atlantic, Nowness and The New Yorker.
THE 1000 DAYS
"I'm fascinated by people, places, stories that somehow live on the fringes of society..."
MATTE: Looking at your work as a Director and Creative Director, you capture a wide range of diversity in regards to storytelling and creative approach. What intrigues and challenges you the most when it comes to capturing stories? How do you go about deciding to create a film of a story?
IO: I think that the more I look at my work, the more I realize that I'm fascinated by people, places, stories that somehow live on the fringes of society; characters that inhabit an inherent condition of limbo. Whether it's because of their gender orientation (Muxes) or of their social status and wealth (Fabolous James) or their closeness to a specific religion or religious practice.(The 1000 Days, Contra Daemones).
I'm always interested in people that have to deal with their identity in an unusual way, people that live in what are the cracks of the well paved roads of societal conformity. I guess I'm interested in the mythology of identity and how it can be scrutinized through stories of people that bravely embrace living on the fringes.
When I decide to create a film I'm mostly driven by personal curiosity. I guess there's a little bit of me in everyone or in every story I try to tell. I'm trying to understand them and myself at the same time.
MATTE: Do you work with inspirations or references when creating? If so do you have particular artists/directors who inspire you generally or do you source and inspirations based on each single project and subject? Describe your general creative workflow when kicking off a film from beginning to the final cut.
IO: Absolutely. I believe any kind of creative pursuit should start from a very strong foundation of creative research. I think creativity is a dialogue with whatever has happened before you.
I don't believe in approaching things without having the cultural context of what you're trying to do / which creative sandbox you’re trying to play in. Sometimes people that approach things in a candid, ingenious way are successful at it but it’s not the way I operate.
The references are definitely based on the single project and subject. The creative workflow is usually studying the subject itself and then finding references, visual inspiration and narrative guidance from directors or fine artists that approached the same themes. I then use those elements as a roadmap to talk to my crew and creative collaborators and align on what we are trying to do. Some things you like, some things you don't, some things you might want to improve, and for others you might have to come up with solutions. So yeah, I see references as a roadmap to reach the destination, which eventually is the final cut.
MATTE: In regards to your latest short film - “A King” - How did you find out about Jesse Garon and what intrigued you the most about his personality? Did you get to know him before you started working on “A King” or did you build a relationship while you worked on the film together? He shares some very emotional and sensitive moments of his life and his thoughts. How do you go about building such an intimate relationship and him opening up about his fears, his sexuality and thoughts on love?
IO: I started researching characters to shoot a new film and one that stood out was a Thai Elvis impersonator that used to work at the Palms Restaurant in LA but unfortunately he has been gone for a number of years now. That brought me to widen the scope of Elvis's impersonators and obviously Vegas was the first place I thought about. This was happening around the same time that the Elvis estate put out a cease and desist for anyone using Elvis' likeness or name and that was obviously a big turmoil for the wedding industry in Vegas because these people base their livelihood on impersonating Elvis.
There were a lot of newspaper's articles interviewing some of the most prominent Elvis impersonators, and one of them was Jesse. And there's something that struck a chord maybe because, you know, he is the actual OG Elvis impersonator in Vegas. I called him and the moment we got on the phone, he struck me as a remarkable character. I saw that there was so much more than what meets the eye. And right there and then I decided that I wanted to tell his story.
MATTE: On the location of the film - what’s your impression on Vegas as a place and how did you go about utilizing the locations which were captured throughout the film - from the scenery of the city and Jesse’s workplace, to Jesse’s home and the field in the last scene?
IO: Vegas is an incredible city to shoot but one important element we decided right away with my director of photography, Andrea Gavazzi, is that we didn't wanna portray the Vegas that you usually see in a Hollywood movie. We wanted to portray a Vegas that was truer to the lifestyle and identity of Jesse. He obviously frequents the strip for his work, but he really is in the back-end of the Vegas entertainment machine and there's many places that are not that apparent to the public, they're more charming and mysterious, they maintain a sort of an old school aesthetic that resembles the Vegas of, you know, the sixties and and seventies. Once we got there, we gave ourselves a week or so to just absorb these places and explore.
The desert idea was Andrea's from the very beginning. He had this vision of Jesse dancing in a desert, and I embraced it. We actually ended up staying one more day just to shoot that scene. It's the very last thing we actually shot on set. Very grateful to Andrea for providing me with such a powerful ending for the film.
MATTE: You have a very interesting and intentional way of using music while reflecting on different aspects and phases of his life. When does music/sound come into play for you when making a film? How do you go about selecting sound for your films?
IO: Music wise - I have to give all the props to my incredible composer, Jean. I've been working with him since the very, very beginning. We understand each other very deeply, and he's one of my most trustworthy collaborators.
I map the music for my film emotionally. I set appointments for the music to meet the audience at specific times but he takes my loose input and, and evolves, shapes it, develops it into what is an original score that, by the way, was entirely composed by him and performed live by his team.
MATTE: Personal one: While navigating through Jesse’s emotions in retrospect of his life and his actions, do you find shared thoughts or similarities to your own - a connection between you and him?
IO: As I said earlier, I guess as a director I can always find similarities with my subjects, but the most important thing we wanted to get out of, of this film, and hopefully we've been successful at it, is that truthfully, I shouldn’t be the only one to find similarities with Jesse. As he clearly says in the film, we all play a character in life and he just happens to do it in an extreme way. But really the bottom line of his story is a common condition that we all are exposed to, especially these days with the proliferation of social media and easy access to our public persona. I believe that really, the idea is that everyone of us might have more in common with Jesse than what we think.