Magazine article Screen International

Paul Dalio, 'Mania Days'

Magazine article Screen International

Paul Dalio, 'Mania Days'

Article excerpt

NYU Tisch School Of the Arts and NYU graduate film-making alumnus Paul Dalio talks to Elbert Wyche about Mania Days, his debut feature that premieres in SXSW.

The film stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby as two manic-depressive poets who meet in a psychiatric hospital and whose art and romance is fuelled by their emotional extremes. The film also stars Christine Lahti, Griffin Dunne and Bruce Altman.

Dalio speaks to Elbert Wyche about his quasi-autobiographical connection to the story, his close relationship to his mentor Spike Lee and his ability to balance many roles in production and post.

Mania Days receives its world premiere at SXSW on March 16. CAA represents US sales.

When did you decide this was a film and subject matter you wanted to take on?A few years ago in my last year of NYU film school, my wife and classmate at the time invited me to Bulgaria to help with her debut feature. She said, 'Give me an idea for a crazy love story.' I said, 'Two manic-depressives meet in a psychiatric hospital and begin a romance which brings out each other's mania?' She said, 'No, you have to do that, that's your personal story.'

We met three years earlier at NYU when I was just getting out of a psychiatric hospital. She pulled me out of the darkness into light, thawed my frozen heart and pushed me to write a love story about those days. The love story between two manic-depressives who bring out all the beauty and horror of each other's condition was a metaphor for my love and hate relationship with my bipolar. What many people don't know about it is that while it can be horrific (one in four commit suicide) there's also a magic and beauty to it. Thirty-eight percent of Pulitzer Prize-winning poets were bipolar.

Describe your writing process while tackling this script.The core of the writing process was digging up memories and pushing the characters into progressively more dramatic situations that would take them back and forth between beauty and horror with building magnitude until they reached the end of the line. For me, walking helps me brainstorm and sitting helps me flesh out those ideas into big picture notes. I transfer those notes to a 'smaller picture' outline and then transfer those into a 'smallest picture' script. I started doing this thing I call stoop hopping, where I would walk around with an iPad in a neighborhood with many stoops and brainstorm. When an idea hit me I would sit down on someone's stoop so I wouldn't have to buy coffee and could write my idea down.

Spike Lee is the executive producer; how much involvement did he have in getting Mania Days made and how has knowing him impacted your growth as a film-maker?Spike Lee was my professor at NYU Graduate film school. He's an amazing man in that he's not only a master, but he also strongly believes in mentorship. Many great NYU thesis films were executive-produced by him such as Manos Sucios, Una Noche and Pariah. He was very involved with every phase of the film - giving extensive notes on the script, advising on all the different creative aspects of pre-production and attaching the cast and crew. He would even come on set and watch me direct and coach me right then and there. He is truly a great mentor.

Who are a few film-makers that inspire you and do they inform your style?All my heroes have informed my style in some way. Spike Lee, in the way he pushes to do things that hadn't been done before and reaches high levels of expressivity in style. Emir Kusturica in his use of contrast - mixing tragedy with humour, tenderness with rage and bringing magical imagery to bleak circumstances. …

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