Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Hollywood Makes An Offer

To those of you checking Velella’s Drift, I apologize for our infrequent updates. Meghan is working a couple days a week at West Marine. I’m unemployed, living as cheaply as possible. Last weekend we did get to sail to Catalina Island with Ricky, my friend from high school, and his wife Mara. This time, instead of going to the crowded Hood River-esque Avalon, we sailed to the tiny town of Two Harbors. There were no paved roads, and the whole town seemed comprised of small wooden one-bedroom houses. Spotted with palm trees and surrounded by steep, green hills, it felt more like Costa Rica than Southern California. It was our first sailing excursion since early December and, aside from the below story, our only new adventure.

Meghan’s West Marine store is one of the company’s flagship locations. It’s larger than most West Marines and a bit nicer. Not surprisingly, Meghan meets a lot of boaters while she works. Rich yachters routinely come in to drop a few boat bucks ($1,000s) on the new boating technology. She is on friendly terms with the father of Zac and Abbey Sunderland. And she’s come to know a wealthy Brazilian couple, Lucio and Renata.

The week before Ricky and Mara came to town was the first time I heard about Lucio and Renata. They had been coming in to West Marine nearly every day, outfitting their boat with the most expensive, state-of-the art equipment. Finally, Meghan asked them about their plans.

Renata told Meghan that they were putting together a crew of six people to sail from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal, leaving in November of 2010. Pleasantly surprised, Meghan told Renata about our own, similar plan. Renata elaborated a little more: This wasn’t just a sailing trip; they were also shooting a documentary! Meghan then chimed in about me, my film experience, and how maybe the two boats could sail together? Excited, the two girls exchanged numbers and agreed to get coffee.

When Meg first told me about it, I was skeptical. People come to LA because they want to act, write or direct. No one in LA is just working the nine to five: Everyone has a side project. They are scrambling to get into the business, working their way up the ladder, or else “taking time off to write”. I’ve worked enough gigs to know that every production assistant is also a writer, producer, director. So when Meghan told me about her new friend, I was tempted to chalk her excitement up to her newness in town. But she had a gut feeling, and how could I argue with that? I agreed to get coffee.

Coffee was on Monday at 11 am. I didn’t know what to expect, so I reviewed my qualifications in my head, prepping for an interview. I knew that Renata and Lucio were Brazilian, and I recognized them the moment they walked in. Renata was a little older than us with a thin, sweet face. She was as tall as me, with olive-tan skin and pixie-cropped hair. Lucio was in his sixties, with a prickly gray beard, glasses and a baseball hat. Both wore jeans and wool sweaters, his blue, hers orange.

They were very nice, and after a few awkward niceties, I bid them to unveil their project. Lucio needed little prompting. “Well,” he began with a Cheshire grin, “we are embarking on a new kind of fantasy epic, on the scale of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.” For the next forty-five minutes, the two of them doled out small portions of their last five years of life. They talked a little about the sailing trip, a little about their personal philosophies, a little about their preparations, occasionally tying it all back in to their films. They clearly had a project of legendary scope in their heads but, like most artists, their explanation was hard to follow. Here’s what I pieced together:

1) Renata is independently wealthy. She owns property in Brazil with a house and a production studio.

2) Lucio and Renata plan to spend the next three years sailing down to the Caribbean, then sail over to Europe for a year, and then sail to Brazil.

3) On this trip, they plan to shoot three feature length films (a trilogy), and three documentaries.

4) They want a permanent crew of six people for the sailing trip, and plan to hire twelve additional crew members at every shooting location they stop.

5) Lucio worked as a director of photography for years. These movies are his vision and he plans to shoot and direct the movies. Renata is writing and scoring them.

6) These films star mostly children. The purpose of the films is not just to entertain, but also to showcase Lucio and Renata’s personal philosophy.

7) Their personal philosophy is a mix of classic western philosophy and new age religion. To the best of my understanding, they believe that the influence of media has estranged children from their true selves, which is destroying the planet and ruining families. The solution is to change the media, replacing it with classic philosophy.

8- The three feature films they’re shooting on this trip are only a prequel to the REAL and most important trilogy of films, which will begin shooting after the first three movies and three documentaries wrap.

9) They have a mysterious private benefactor who bought them a 52 foot sailboat and a production studio full of film equipment.

10) They have two actresses who are learning how to sail. They are looking for the last two members of their crew, which is why they invited Meghan and me out for coffee.

I was already overwhelmed. It was a lot of information to take in. Plus, Meghan and I had barely said anything about ourselves and our qualifications. How could they consider us as their fifth and sixth essential crew members? Meghan didn’t have any film experience and I had only PA and post-production experience. Nevertheless, their boat sounded awesome, so I asked if we could see it. They were more than happy to show us.

This was when I began to see that their story was legitimate. They had a 52’ brand new Island Packet center-cockpit cruiser. It was beautiful—straight off the showroom floor. There was a table on the stern deck for Caribbean lunches. The cabin was huge. It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. When we entered, an electrician was working diligently to install all the latest high-tech gadgetry on the boat: A 6 camera surveillance system, a combination sonar/radar system, the world’s quietest generator imported from Europe. Not to mention a high definition projector and screen, so Lucio could watch the dailies (the film he shot during the day). Renata had her own office, with a keyboard for writing the score and an editing station for editing the documentaries. The boat was more than a yacht: It was a mobile production unit.

We had lunch in the cockpit. It was a simple European fare of bread, cheese, fruit and coca-cola in the bottle. Here Lucio and Renata laid out their rules for the trip: No smoking, no drugs, no alcohol, and no meat. Creating the right kind of atmosphere was very important to Lucio, and he wanted to make sure his crew was on the same page.

Also, no more than three people at a time would be on his 52’ sailboat. That meant Meghan and I would be taking a third crew member on our boat. But, Lucio explained, Meg, the two actresses and I would rotate back and forth between the two boats, which meant that Meghan would not always be able to be aboard Velella. Finally, Meghan and I would be expected to commit to the project for all three years. After sailing to Panama, we would forgo New York (‘You don’t want to go to New York,’ Renata told us. ‘It’s too crowded’). Instead, we would sail with them over to Scandinavia for a year, before heading back to Brazil. If we agreed they would trick out our boat, buying us a windvane, SSB radio, and whatever else we needed. Plus we’d be paid a monthly stipend. In addition, they would get us scuba certified, take us on kayaking trips, buy us iPhones, and pay for any classes we needed to prepare. Jaw dropped, we left the boat to go to their three apartments housing their production equipment.

I’ve PA’d on one reality TV show, one HBO documentary, two feature films, and one commercial. At this point, I have a good understanding of the equipment required to make a movie. Lucio and Renata had it all. I couldn’t believe it. We walked into their first apartment and I was immediately drawn to their editing studio. Three screens, a monitor, multiple bays. Then Lucio told me that that was his old station: He hadn’t used it in years. He showed me his new station, which was hooked up to 35 mm bay the size of a refrigerator box. ‘That’s for editing film,’ he explained. Renata showed us her composing studio, with two keyboards and multiple other instruments. Renata had just got her second BA at the UCLA for composing and they played for us some of her works, which were really great. They then went on to show us their DVD library, over a thousand movies available for reference, and their literature library, over a thousand classic books to draw upon for ideas and inspiration.

Their next apartment looked like a bomb had gone off. Two 35 mm Panasonic film cameras stood on tripods in the middle of the room. These were the real deal, the cameras used to shoot all major blockbusters. Scattered around was myriad of equipment: Lighting kits, electrical cabling, and five different dollies. Lucio explained his camera system to me. The two 35 mm cameras were for the feature films. He had a XL2 HD with a complete lens kit for the documentaries. THEN he had a system of five high-end HD canons that he could set up on remote control tripods so he could cover every angle. ‘This is the system George Lucas is currently experimenting with,’ he explained. ‘I figured if Lucas is using it, it will work for us.’

‘What I need from you is to learn all this equipment. I’ll pay for the best Hollywood professionals to train you. Then you can pick your role on set. Since you’ll know all the equipment, you’ll be in charge of hiring the additional crew whenever we’re shooting.’ I turned to Meghan, who was grinning at the size of my smile. ‘It would be like being paid to go to film school,’ I told her. ‘Except I’d be sailing around the world at the same time.’

At this point we were tired. It was five o’clock and we’d been presented with an overwhelming amount of information. However one piece of critical information remained: What were their movies about? Before I made any kind of decision, I wanted to read a script. If I was going to devote three years of my life towards a project, I had to feel some passion towards it. Renata and Luico looked at each other and smiled. Their script was their baby, not to be shared with just anyone. However we were clearly interested, so they invited us out to dinner.

If you are interested to learn more about their project, I would encourage you to check out their website, Meghan and I promised not to discuss their treatments with anyone which, as a writer, I completely understand. Meg and I read their story over dinner in concentrated silence. When we’d finished, I was the first to summarize my thoughts. ‘Wow. This is… ambitious. You’re going to make three film trilogies?’

Lucio smiled, encouraged. ‘Or four, maybe five. We’ll see.’

I recognized that Meg was feeling a bit overwhelmed. ‘I need some time to digest all this. I’m going to respond to you in a long email.’ Renata encouraged us to do so. For the next two hours, Meghan and I sat patiently as they parsed out their philosophy in bits, phrases and rhetorical questions:

‘Everything is made of energy.’ Renata picks up a glass. ‘This glass is made of energy. So why is it a glass?’

‘What do you get when you no longer have a beautiful family? A broken family.’

‘Children are the key; we have to start with them.’

‘What do you see when you’re sailing in the middle of the ocean? The Sky.’

‘Water is the ideal medium to bring out a child’s essence.’

‘None of this information is new, it’s just been forgotten.’

And so on, and so on. After a full ten hours spent with Lucio and Renata, we were ready to go home. They paid for dinner and we gratefully thanked them. A simple coffee date had turned into a life changing decision, and we needed time to think it over.


1 Comment»

  janice reid wrote @

OMG!! How absolutely exciting and thrilling and wonderful. Can’t wait to hear what you are going to do with this offer.
Love and love and love to you both,

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