Photography by Floria Sigismondi
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Italy, but grew up in Hamilton, a small industrial town outside Toronto, in Canada.
What is your first memory of making art?
I just remember seeing a paint brush and some colored paint pallets and having this incredible feeling inside. It just created such deep excitement in me.
Did your parents encourage you to be creative?
Yes, they did. If I scribbled on a piece of paper, they would declare to the world that I was an “artist.” I am blessed to have grown up in this environment. I know a lot of my friends suffered growing up in a home where they had to deny their passion or have it constantly confronted. It’s not a very stable career seen through the eyes of fear, but with passion and encouragement you create your own reality, anything is possible. My parents are both opera singers, so they were the black sheep of their families, and I guess they learned from that. Thankfully didn’t pass that along to me. Even though we did grow up in a low income family, it never dampened their passion.
How old were you when you took your first photograph? What was it of?
It was my last year of art school at OCAD in Toronto. It was a black and white self-portrait. I had braided my hair in some gravity defying design on top of my head.
What are your thoughts on art school?
It was a great place to meet like-minded people. I was so excited to go and create art 10 hours a day. It felt like a dream. Also it gave me a place to experiment in mediums I knew nothing about. My last year of college is when I decided to take a photo course. I was so taken by the immediacy of it that I barely went to class and used that time to shoot. I remember that I had my first darkroom under the stairs in a basement apartment and the floor was made of dirt. My projector was out of balance, so I had to tie some rope to it and hoist up one side of it to get a rectangular and parallel image. I spent so many hours in that little cubby hole.
Your style is so distinct and unique to you. Did it take you awhile to develop your style and voice? Was there ever a point where you found yourself emulating someone that you admired?
Because I was already a visual artist, I had started to develop a style within my painting. I was a great fan of impressionist painters. I remember developing a roll of film I shot and discovering that it was completely blank. Not one photo was exposed properly. On closer look, the first 3 images, where you pull the film through the camera, had these incredible colors on it. I experimented until I found what had happened by accident. Even when I take photographs I consider myself more of a painter.
How and when did directing music videos become a part of your life?
I had established myself somewhat as a photographer, but I felt a little stifled by the medium at the time. I was making triptychs and telling little stories with my photos. It felt like a natural progression to move into film. I think I really came into my own when I directed Marilyn Manson’s video, Beautiful People. I remember the feeling of euphoria when I saw my sketches come to life in front of me. It truly became the point when I began to trust myself as an artist and decided this would be the medium I could really explore and settle into.
Do musicians come to you with their ideas or do they hand you a song and let you work your magic? What tends to be the process?
I usually get the song with little or no direction. The music and the lyrics are what guide me.
Did you study filmmaking or was it something that was learned as you went?
I didn’t study film. I learned everything as I went. The biggest challenge for me was to communicate my ideas to people. I had never had to do that. I found it especially important to learn this skill so I was able to get my ideas and style across to the crew. A word can mean a million things, and you’d be surprised at the varied interpretations it can have.
What did you enjoy most about making your first feature, The Runaways?
I loved being on set and working with the actors. It was a challenge, because of the speed we had to keep. We were literally on the move, everyday in a different location. That eats up a lot of time, but I loved recreating that era.
A few years back I saw a play called The Little Flower of East Orange. Michael Shannon was the lead. He was captivating, as good as it gets. What was it like working with him?
Michael brought an intensity with him. I think he’s incredibly talented and exudes a truth within his acting.
Is there another feature film in the making?
Yes, I am working on two scripts of my own and adapting a book.
What advice would you give to a young artist?
Experiment and develop a style of your own. I think it’s important to know yourself, know your interests and know what makes you happy when you are creating. Artists are very sensitive people, and I know that when I’m working on something I don’t believe in I am miserable.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making art?
I’d probably be in jail.
What is the biggest influence on your work?
…the subconscious. It’s a beautiful thing when you tap into it.
What are you working on now?
I’m mostly writing. I’m working on an original script called DAVE and an illustrated storybook.