When independent filmmaker Ondi Timoner needed a shot for her most recent documentary, she didn’t hesitate. She grabbed a camera, hopped on the back of a motorcycle, and took off after her subject—comedian and activist Russell Brand—in the middle of London traffic.
That kind of fearless, whatever-it-takes approach has helped make the Pasadena-based director one of the most successful talents in her field. Twice she’s captured the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Now, Timoner is plunging into some of her most ambitious ventures yet: a documentary series for the Viceland cable network and a feature film on the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
BELLA Los Angeles caught up with Timoner just before she embarked on a shoot in the Panamanian jungle for her Viceland show, documenting an effort to create “the world’s greatest sustainable modern town.”
How are you juggling all these projects?
“Jungletown,” the Viceland series, is the priority—we’re shooting actively every day. It’s 10 one-hour episodes for season one. For “Mapplethorpe,” we’re still working on putting the financing together. It’s supposed to shoot in spring 2017.You produce these projects through your company, Interloper Films.
Why the name Interloper?
My brother came up with the name when we were in college and founded the company together. To some it could mean spy, but to us it means “in the group but taking notes.” You can’t just stand back and shoot fly-on-the-wall footage. You need to get in there, get involved, and be a part of things, and then film from the inside. That’s the only way to make anything worth watching.
In addition to Interloper Films, you launched ATotalDisruption.com, an online channel for artists and entrepreneurs as well as people who want to learn from them. Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
My dad was an entrepreneur for many, many years. I grew up with him having founded an airline [Air Florida] the year I was born. Watching him grow this airline and innovate new ways of air travel influenced me a lot. I think I also inherited his gene for taking risks.
Do you have a personal philosophy that guides you?
I have a few philosophies. One is that your happiness is going to be determined by your ability to accept and adapt to change without fear. Change is constant, and fear is one of the greatest cripplers. My dad had a stroke when I was 9. Watching my parents lose all their money through my teenage years, and watching the black-tie invitations stop rolling in, I learned security is an illusion. I have the same human instinct as anyone else to want to cling to things and feel like they last forever, but if you’re around long enough you realize they don’t. You’ve just got to embrace every day with as much positive energy as possible.
People often describe you as a cool person. What’s your reaction when you hear that?
I am a mother of a 13-year-old child—a single mother—and I try to be good to people. I give my work my all. And the philosophies that guide me, that I try to live by, end up making me cool, I guess.
You even have a cool dog, Bellatrix. How did you come up with that name?
My son, Juki, was really on me about getting a puppy for his 12th birthday. That’s how Bellatrix came into our lives. The first night we had her at home, I was standing outside at three in the morning wondering what the hell I had done because this dog needed to go to the bathroom every two hours. Then I looked up at the stars, and it was so beautiful. I was thinking, “What am I going to name this fur ball?” I noticed the Belt of Orion and a name came to me: Bellatrix. I said to my son in the morning, “What about Bellatrix?” He said, “People are going to think Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. I want to name our dog after a star or a constellation.” Later I Googled Bellatrix, and lo and behold there’s a star on the left shoulder of Orion called Bellatrix. I had been looking at it when I came up with the name, but I didn’t know it at the time. And my son said, “OK, done.” Juki’s father passed away in a motorcycle accident the morning of March 11 in Los Angeles. When I picked him up from school, I had to figure out how to tell him his father had died. For a good two or three months afterward, Juki slept in my bed. And every single morning, Bellatrix would jump on the bed and wake him up with licks. It was the greatest thing. Thank God she was in the family for that.
By Matthew Carey