Artist, architect, children’s author and filmmaker Vera Mulyani screens her short films at the Edgemar
By Michael Aushenker
Bayou-based musical prodigies, rainbow-draining color thieves and the colonization of Mars: while these may sound like very disparate ideas, it all makes sense the way Vera Mulyani explains it over cappuccinos at the Cross Campus creative workspace in Santa Monica.
The peripatetic Mulyani, for now settled in Santa Monica, has lived in and worked in 30 cities around the globe. Her pursuits have been numerous and varied: architecture, landscaping, urban design, literature, photography and filmmaking. She has also managed to publish a series of eight color-coded children’s books under the umbrella “Parable of Colors,” with titles including “Mr. Blue,” “Madame Red,” “Mr. Yellow” and “Chef Orange.”
Mulyani screens two short films she produced and directed — “Elah and the Moon” (2009) and “The Melody of Choice” (2012) — on Monday at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, with executive producer Carole Warren flying in from London to attend.
“Elah and the Moon,” which premiered at Cannes, is a period-style fantasy piece about a boy seeking love and approval from his father. Mulyani calls it “a visual poem.”
In “The Melody of Choice,” main character Teo is an indigent boy genius who can hear sounds from nature that other people cannot, and in a chance meeting with real-life jazz prodigy Jonathan Batiste learns to turn the cans he collects for money into an amplifier of those sounds.
Born in Indonesia, Mulyani had her first art exhibition at age 16 in Hong Kong. Then she spent nearly a decade in Europe, earning a master’s degree in art and architecture in Paris and apprenticing under Rudy Ricciotti, “the Frank Gehry of France.” She designed a villa in the south of France and was part of a team that designed the Louvre spinoff museum Louvre-Lens before moving to New York City, where in 2009 she earned another master’s degree — this time in filmmaking at New York Film Academy.
Mulyani finds similarities between architecture and making movies in that both involve “working with the unity of a creative team to achieve the same goal,” she says. “The only difference would be that filmmaking is like building a beautiful house in people’s heart.”
The story of how Mulyani came to make “The Melody of Choice” in Louisiana started with a MacGuffin. Mulyani’s increasing involvement in the tech world after moving to Los Angeles led her to attend a women’s entrepreneurship conference in Shreveport, La., in March 2012. The event turned out to be a bust, but she did meet Cedric Glover, then mayor of Shreveport, who urged her to shoot a movie “in the same city they filmed ‘True Blood,’” Mulyani said.
An initial promise to receive film subsidies fell through, but she nonetheless took Glover up on the invitation. Mulyani storyboarded her short film and sought pointers about how to work with actors from Edgemar instructor Brian Drillinger. In May she crowdfunded for $25,000 toward her $50,000 filming budget and amassed $30,255 from 44 backers. That was enough money to cover travel expenses for her crew of 30 from New York and L.A. (18 of whom were friends and acquaintances from film school) and have the film selected for the Louisiana film prize competition that October.
Mulyani relied largely on locals for on-screen talent to get across the film’s message about overcoming hardships to make dreams come true. Not giving up would also become a subtext during filming in the bayou.
“We were miserable there. It was so hot!” Mulyani says with a laugh, noting the crew tended to avoid the local deep-fried culinary culture. “We’re all just starving every day, mosquitos every day,” she continued.
Luckily, it was only a four-day shoot.
Mulyani submitted “The Melody of Choice” to the Sundance Film Festival, but she’s more intent that schools screen it as a way to encourage positive thinking among students who face the challenges of poverty.
“That’s the goal: to change the kids’ mindsets,” she says.
Monday’s screenings double as a fundraising event for an animated short based on Mulyani’s eighth and final “Parable of Colors” book, “Mr. White,” in which a diabolical painter steals all the colors from the rainbow, plunging an entire town into misery.
The moral: “We can’t be happy when we make others miserable,” says Mulyani, who plans to collaborate with Michael Bonitatis’ L.A.-based Animation Libation Studios.
As if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Mulyani also plans to launch a website, marscitydesign.com, in May. The site encourages users to contribute conceptual ideas toward accomplishing Space X CEO Elon Musk’s much-publicized vision of a million-strong colony on Mars by 2030. Musk’s concept is architecturally very next level because “we just got stuck here on Earth,” Mulyani says. “There’s no innovation. We’ve run out of ideas.”
Whether such a vision comes to fruition is almost beside the point. It’s the by-product of this dangling carrot that Mulyani feels is worth the chase.
“At least all this research will add to our understanding [of Mars, the cosmos],” she says, buoyed by the idea of “architects and scientists working together.” Each discipline can learn from the other, says Mulyani, who is clearly not content to be pigeonholed in one realm of expertise.
Mulyani’s screening event starts at 7 p.m. Monday at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. $20. Call (310) 392-0815 or email email@example.com to RSVP. For more information, visit parableofcolors.com.