What I Learned in Rome

I spent four weeks in Rome this fall. And it shouldn’t have happened.

I am a founding member of the World Wide Lab, an international collective of theater directors dedicated to meeting once a year to develop work together. Our mission is to, once a year, step out of our normal way of working and to expand our skills and to learn from each other.

Since 2011, we’ve met each year in the New York City area. After last year’s lab, the Italian member of our group announced that this year we’d put on a full production in Rome.

We had no idea how we were going to do this. We had no funding. Many of us have day jobs that would be hard to leave for a month. It didn’t make sense. Only one of us speaks Italian. How were we going to direct plays in Italy?

But just over a year later, there we were, sitting around a table in a piazza in Rome, about to start our first European production. We came there from Taiwan, from Israel, from Germany, from Greece, from Canada, from across the US. Somehow we found a way for it to happen.

It wasn’t easy. We all made sacrifices to be there. We weren’t calculating whether such a project was good for our careers or not. We certainly weren’t making money doing this. But we did it because we had to. We wanted to create exciting and challenging work together so we made a commitment for it to happen. And the work was good.

I realized in Rome that this is the most important thing as an artist – we have to be making things, no matter what. I made The Adventures of Paul and Marian so I could create a movie that I wanted to see with a specific team of actors and collaborators I wanted to work with. I committed to making this movie without a dime of funding and no real plan on how to make it happen. But the work needed to be done.

And we did it. We held fundraising events. We had an auction. We ran a crowdfunding campaign. We got a grant. We begged, borrowed, made do. And with the support of nearly 200 funders, a dedicated cast and crew, and a large group of friends and volunteers, we made a movie.

A frustrating lesson I’ve learned is that that’s not always enough. Making a good movie doesn’t mean people will be able to see it. Since completing the movie in January, I’ve spent the past 11 months submitting the film to festivals and distributors, and as of this writing we’ve been accepted absolutely nowhere.

But the work is good. In order to get the film seen, I must make a commitment to getting the film distributed the way I made a commitment to getting the film made, or the way the 12 directors of the World Wide Lab made the commitment to go to Rome. Normal channels aren’t available to us, and opportunities for independent filmmakers to have their work seen are dwindling. Work that doesn’t capitalize on casting famous actors to get noticed (although our actors are as good or better than many famous actors you’ll see) and isn’t developed through market research is rare these days. But that’s who we are. We made The Adventures of Paul and Marian because we had to.

I’m approaching the next stage of the project with the same dedication and pure (perhaps naïve) intentions I brought to the making of the film. If I have to hand deliver a copy of the movie to people around the country, then so be it. But I’m making a commitment to getting the film out there.

Stay tuned. I don’t know how yet, but I know we can make this happen.


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2 Responses to “What I Learned in Rome”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Happy Trails to you my friend!

  2. Paul Sinclair Says:

    You are a leader of men. As you fight and struggle to find ways to make things happen many others watch. As you succeed they are inspired and see you as a role model. When you finally crack it with distribution of The Adventures of Paul and Marian a huge number of people will be watch how you did so and will spread the word. In years to come people will follow in your footsteps, often not even knowing they are doing so who who Jay Stern is, but nonetheless you will have led them forward in a way that is good for the artistic world at large. By the way, I’m one of them!

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