Nenad, Who Plays Ping Pong

Brandon Lavoie


1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?

In 2018 I directed a short documentary for Project Home Again, a non-profit organization that provides household furnishings, goods and appliances to low income families in need in the Boston area. The film is an intimate portrait of a family that faced daunting issues and benefited directly from Project Home Again’s mission of assisting people to live with comfort and dignity no matter their circumstances.

2) How did you get into directing? 

My initial focus in college was business management with a concentration in finance, which I realized during freshman year was not for me. During sophomore year I transferred to a community college where I took a creative writing class and rediscovered a passion from my younger years. At the same time I watched a few movies that made me look at filmmaking as more of an expressive art form. The combination steered me toward film school with a focus on writing. I was accepted to Emerson College’s School of Media Arts and quickly found that writing was too narrow for the way I wanted to approach storytelling. Directing, however, offered me the opportunity to approach a story globally while still being able to interact intimately with all the creative segments to create something with a collaborative vision. I haven’t looked back since.

3) What is your most recent project? 

I am currently finishing up post on The Both of Me, a short doc about a West Virginia coal miner and the industry that both built up and ripped apart his life. This passion project is the culmination of six years of work, travel, and collaboration. I am beyond excited to soon share it and his story with the world. The miner in the film has become family to me. We speak frequently and he’s inspired me to be a better person and a better filmmaker. His willingness to allow me and my team to create an evocative story around his life is both courageous and heartbreaking.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

The best part of being a director is having the opportunity to bring a story to life, to use your imagination on a daily basis, to collaborate with talented craftspeople who push both you and your vision and help bring it to fruition, and to create work that marries empathy with cinema. Being challenged on a daily basis to push your boundaries and going outside of your comfort zone, and to do the same for your team, to create meaningful work that resonates with people is one of the best gifts of being a director. For me a part of this is the ongoing practice of listening to others while learning to trust my instincts in the creative process.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

When you make films, documentary or narrative, it is personal. I think it has to be or the heart and soul of your story will be missing. I try to capture sincere emotion and approach stories from the most heartfelt angles. Having to not use some of those moments that you might really like in the edit, in order to create flow and forward momentum of the story, is oftentimes the most challenging part of my job. Sometimes, material you love may not serve the story and at the end of the day serving the story is always your top priority.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

My current professional focus is to work more heavily in creating commercials and branded content in an emotionally resonant and visually impactful way. I will always be working on some kind of passion project, whether a short doc or a feature narrative script. For me it is important to maintain that balance to feel creatively fulfilled. The many personal projects I have worked on have been crucial in helping me to discover my voice as a storyteller and therefore making me a better director for commercial work. Each project has built both knowledge and confidence and I look forward to pushing myself and that voice further into the commercial arena.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

When I first moved to New York City, I began working for Barbara Kopple, an Academy Award winning filmmaker, who came up in the world of early vérité documentaries and learned the craft by working closely with Albert and David Maysles. My two biggest takeaways from working with her were to always listen to your gut and follow your instincts when it comes to story, and never to be afraid of building relationships with your characters--she encouraged it. Both of these have become an important part of who I am as a filmmaker and director.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

My favorite director is David Fincher. I believe he creates atmosphere in a film like no one else. His frames are nuanced and layered as he creates a space for his audience to suspend their reality but does so without being intrusive. Fincher’s stringent attention to detail and subtext are evident in everything he does which always pushes his films to the forefront for me.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

My favorite movie is Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders. My favorite TV program is a toss-up between The Sopranos and Californication. I feel these three choices have a lot of similarities in their basic premises - stories about protagonists, who despite their great and sometimes ironic senses of empathy, are deeply conflicted by the choices they’ve made in their lives and how their past indiscretions have affected the ones they loved the most. These are all themes I’ve become greatly interested in and that seem to consistently show up in my personal work.

My favorite commercial is a :60 that Miles Jay directed for Bose called “Alive.” Its simple yet effective manner and message reflect a caliber of work I greatly admire.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)

I grew up an only child, in a single parent household, in a small southern New Hampshire town. I had a lot of time to daydream. When I was young, adults would frequently ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always had a different answer. I didn’t know much about each profession, but I would create intricate narratives of how I would get there and the life I would live. I didn’t know it at the time, but those imaginative excursions into building the varied future lives I’d never actually live were my first forays into the world of storytelling.

In my teen years I held a variety of jobs, volunteered with various non-profits and played lacrosse year round. All of those endeavors helped to create a work ethic and attention to detail that have remained a part of me to this day.

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

This pandemic and last several months have changed my life in ways I could have never imagined in February. In mid-March I found myself sick with COVID-19 and alone in my Brooklyn apartment hearing the sirens of ambulances taking the sick to hospitals around the clock. Like so many, I quarantined for about a month, barely even going outside. That first month was more about focusing on my health and basic needs than introspection. Jobs that were supposed to happen got indefinitely postponed, many outright canceled. Production came to an absolute halt and any sense of normalcy became a thing of the past. Being in NYC without a car meant virtually no travel of any kind.

I was fortunate enough to have filmed my last passion project, a docu-narrative hybrid set in the hollers of West Virginia Coal Country, right before the pandemic hit the U.S. My editor, also a NYC dweller, and I began combing through the footage with what was then found free time. I also began scouring transcripts and using the dialogue from my main character’s interview to build a script for the film in a screenplay format. I sent my editor revised versions based on each new rough cut and then we’d hop on Zoom to edit with one another remotely. This became the new version of our collaboration. Zoom allowed us to maintain the immediacy of information and idea flows, but created challenges in reviewing tight visuals.

By mid-April I was on my way to recuperating and very anxious to be out of the confines of my immediate apartment and the city I normally loved, as a whole. A friend in Northern California called one day and said that if I could make my way out to the west coast I could work on their ranch and at the same time get a reprieve from the claustrophobia of a shuttered and sick NYC. I had new purpose for a short term goal and the sense of an adventure to unfold. The next several weeks were extremely hectic: securing a car, talking with my landlords about getting released from my lease and finding extended lodging in Northern California, organizing my belongings with what to take and what to put into storage, finding reputable movers during a pandemic, creating a plan to drive 3000 miles on my own, finding a way to take my beloved dog home to NH, all while continuing to recuperate and work with my editor and extended project team.

I left NYC on the first of June, setting out on what would become a ride of wonder and introspection. Amidst the backdrop and upheaval of a pandemic I drove for five days, seeing the country as I traveled not only through my eyes, but through the eyes of a filmmaker: times of day, backdrops of scenery, how sunrise, midday and sunset affect the reality of what you see. The vistas were endless and awe inspiring. The long solitude of driving for many hours offered the opportunity to reflect on personal and professional questions, decisions and goals. It also afforded me the opportunity to think about the broader social consciousness that was awakening across the country in the context of Black Lives Matter. I felt relatively safe and unafraid traveling transcontinental as a single white male in my twenties. Would that have been the case if my ethnicity or race had been different? There was so much to think about and endless hours in which to do so. By the time I arrived in Northern California I knew that the trip had been an unexpected gift.

After getting a COVID test I began work on a mountaintop ranch working the land with my hands and learning about the natural connectivity of everything around us. It was something new and completely different from anything I had done in my life. And everything, everything I learned and saw I found myself filtering through the lens of being a filmmaker. I also formed new relationships that while still new, I believe will last a lifetime. As I write these answers I am preparing to return to the east coast, to NYC, at the end of October. Not to what I knew before or who I was before, but hopefully as a person more awakened by my singular experience brought on by COVID-19. I have renewed energy to tell stories, to bring both light and darkness in a truthful manner and as my mentor taught me, to trust my instincts and continue building relationships. I am in fact, looking forward to the future as never before.


Contact Brandon Lavoie via email