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Victoria Film Festival 2013 Interview - MATERIAL SUCCESS director Jesse Mann

Material Success - At Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

"Following the misadventures of the eccentric fashion designer Bruno Ierullo as he readies for his first runway show after a personal tragedy inspires him to risk his life savings on a career change into the art. Taking the viewer through a behind-the-scenes of the processes and people involved in preparing the unusually large 300 plus garment collection for the runway within a mere months time, Material Success features fly-on-the-wall observations and confessionals from Bruno and his tireless band of colleagues that reveal his kaleidoscopic art to be a reflection of his iconoclasm. A portrait of a man struggling to define himself in terms of his art, and a celebration of the guiding influences in his life." Director Jesse Mann on "Material Success" which screens at the 2013 Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first film at the Victoria Film Festival?

This is not only my first experience at VFF but it is also my first time in British Columbia. I've heard that Victoria is particularly beautiful. I'll be there for the screening and I'm looking forward to seeing the west coast audience reactions to the fantastic characters in Material Success. There's a lot of heart in the story but there are quite a few eccentric characters, with some hilarious moments. The most insightful moments for me as a filmmaker happen when you're part of the audience watching something you've created.

It's terrifying at first waiting for an audience reaction but just one laugh at the moment you were hoping for can be such a gift. There's a great responsibility as a filmmaker—you're asking people to spend two hours in the dark watching something they're paid for. I know I want to be inspired, entertained, struck out of complacency, engaged, educated, amazed, and provoked when I watch the best of films and those are some of the things I strive to evoke through my films. Maybe that's why I truly love the festival experience because you already know these are lovers of the art. I believe those that attend and support film festivals, wether you are in the arts or you're just a lover of the arts, they're throwing a bit of caution to the wind. Its in this act of supporting indie films and the filmmakers behind them that you're often rewarded with finding some true gems that you might otherwise miss.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to the industry.

"E.T." First film I ever watched as a child. Is that too far back? That film made everything in my imagination seen real and attainable. I was recently at an event in Los Angeles where Spielberg was also attending and although I didn't have the opportunity to meet him just to be in the same room as him was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I've always been in awe of great story tellers. I believe they bring together the worlds collective consciousness in the most specific ways.

I began by studying psychology in university but I dropped that immediately and enrolled in film school at Ryerson University. There it was like a hive of creative people whom I felt truly connected with. We were all childlike and wanting to exorcise these stories. I try to remain as childlike as possible at every moment of my life and I believe that fuels my constant curiosity into the human condition and the innate human need to tell and hear stories.

It was really natural to fall into documentary; I'm a voyeur. I love people watching. I do wish I was invisible along with the camera sometimes though. Although the camera has an interesting effect both when it is seen and when it is forgotten.

How did this whole project come together?

Marc Swenker, the talented producer of the film, brought to me a story he thought demanded an audience. A close friend of his, Paul Ierullo, had an uncle whom had recently quite his job of 30 years and was putting his life savings into a new career as a fashion designer without any formal training in the art. So immediately I was intrigued and we went to his studio in liberty village in Toronto to meet him. I wanted to see if he was a compelling character, who he surrounded himself with, and what his deeper story was.

Also, I had never been to a fashion studio so a behind the scenes adventure was exciting to me. I was expecting to see maybe a few select garments on a hanger, he had only been in production for less than a year at this point and he was gearing up for his first fashion show. Walking into his studio was a big surprise...neon green and orange painted walls floor to ceiling in his loft space, over 200 hand-made kaleidoscopic garments hung and wrapped, decorating almost every corner of the space, and there was this small man with big curly hair sitting with his legs dangling over the edge of second floor. This man had the enthusiasm of a 6 year old when he immediately started talking about all the new designs he was making for his show and he looked to be in his 50's. Bruno Ierullo had a energy about him that was electric, as if a part of him had been bottled up for so long and now that the seal was cracked it was all coming out in a flood of emotion. He was passionate about his new path in life to say the least. Then I met Susanna. Seeing Bruno and Susanna, his production manager who has been in the business for decades, interact with each other was magic. There was a colorful chemistry between the two that is rare. It was then I had the thought that there may be much to discover behind the scenes of this unconventional fashion "family".

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

Stephen Chandler Whitehead, the cinematographer of Material Success, and I have been dear friends since attending film school together. It's great when someone that makes you laugh so much also turns out to be one of the most talented people I've ever worked with. He's brilliant and we work very well together. We had discussed the use of two cameras at all times during the filming of the documentary. The world we were entering seemed to me like I was watching a 70's sitcom. There was something so wholesome about it and to me the inherent comedy demanded the ability to cut within moments depending on the timing.

Steve is also someone who sees moments when they happen and takes the initiative. He has a delicate sensitivity to the nuances in human behavior that you always hope a cinematographer would have and he moves with them. In documentary you can't reset a scene (or at least not with honestly) and you have to be able to see and move with the moments as they occur. Two camera (Sony PMW EX3) set-ups helped us capture those moments as they flowed naturally.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was your favorite moment?

The most difficult part of making this film for me was definitely the edit. This was my first feature film and I was also the editor. Although I thought I knew the story while we were filming the discoveries in post changed everything. We filmed with two cameras for sometimes 12 hours for almost ever day for a month in lead up to Bruno's first fashion show. The sheer magnitude of footage in post was intimidating. Luckily I was working with the talented post supervisor Jeff Bessner. Jeff was a wonderful world of perspective for me.

When I was lost in the details he had an amazing ability to pull me out, give me a wider lens and find where the minutia of the story was taking us in the bigger picture. The edit from start to locked cut took a year and a half. We weren't working full time on it but maybe this helped the process because we were able to work intensively, then move away and come back with new insight.

The magic moments for me happen both when you are filming and when you are filtering through hours and hours of footage. The magic moment is when you are watching someone so closely, either behind the camera or on the screen in post, and you suddenly see that flicker of revelation in ones face, that shade of deeper meaning that shows itself for a time across that persons face, and for a moment you glimpse a part of that persons soul in all it's vulnerability. That moment for me is what you wait for.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

There are so many inspirations in the film world today, such an abundance of talent, so I find myself influenced by so many filmmakers. Some of my favorite documentaries over the past few years have been Wasteland, Bully, How To Die in Oregon, Hell and Back Again, Anvil! and Ladies in Blue. I recently had the opportunity to meet Lee Hirsch and I gushed to him over his talents like a school girl. Bully rocked my world. There is something particularly startling and intimate about filming children in close-up with the world around them out of focus. It was so poetic. It brought you so devastatingly close to these children and their pain. Another favorite film of mine for similar reasons is Ponette. Valentino: The Last Emperor was also a film I adored. The medley of humor and love in this film was so perfectly done; I loved them both so deeply by the end of the film. Isn't that what it's all about? Documentaries give you the up close and personal opportunity to stare uninhibited at strangers, watch their lives, feel passionately about them and even fall in love with them.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Huge. As far as I've ever experienced the medias support of independent film is critical to their reach and success. As an independent filmmaker if anyone in the media offers to support my struggle (and it's always a struggle to get your indie film out there) I'm standing with open arms and the promise of a hug. "It's hard out here for a..." indie filmmaker. I guess you'd say I appreciate the support of the media the same way I'd appreciate someone mentioning my house was on fire; it's nice to know you have good neighbors.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Ok, let's get indulgent here. How about La Scala de Milán? But I'd settle for a screening at Teatro la Fenice in Venice.

If you could offer some advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?

When everyone tells you "no you can't" follow your instincts and do what you feel is right. Take risks. If you're wrong, so what? Admit it and move on. There's no shame in being wrong, but regret is debilitating. Pay attention, slow down, watch, listen, learn. As filmmakers we all have a lot to say, that goes with out saying, but there is an art to observation and much reward.

What would you do or say to someone who is talking, texting or being disruptive during a movie?

I'm a documentary filmmaker. I'll stare at them, film them, then put them on the screen for everyone to watch.

And finally, what is the single greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

After the Wedding. The whole audience was doing the whole shaking-crying thing. That film was devastating. It was great fun. I came out looking like I kissed a bee hive with both eyes.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 02/08/13 05:37:31
last updated: 02/08/13 05:37:59
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