Setting out on trail of discovery
Name: Paul Mezey
Breakthrough pics: “La Ciudad,” “Our Song,” “Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack,” “Maria Full of Grace”
What I learned the hard way: “In some ways, I’ve learned everything the hard way, because I’m always making decisions in the trenches, and I’m immediately responsible for those decisions. The producer’s job is to lay the path, but you have to share the filmmaker’s ultimate vision. The hardest thing is making that judgment call, rising to the occasion and taking the risk with the director.”
Paul Mezey calls his Gotham-based production company Journeyman Pictures, and the moniker — like a pinpoint compass — indicates what makes up Mezey’s brand of independent cinema.
Almost by impulse, in the middle of describing production difficulties on his and writer-director Joshua Marston’s Sundance smash “Maria Full of Grace,” Mezey muses: “I would like to make a film in the Middle East, just to broaden my views. Where my head is at any moment influences what films I choose to do.”
“The one word,” says Marston, “that Paul says a lot is what he’s about: discovery. Often, as scripts are ready for shooting, producers want to lock them in. It’s a closed way of making films. Paul keeps talking about remaining open, that we’ll discover things as we’re working. It’s the most creative approach, by far.”
Mezey’s Colombian father has influenced his own desire to explore Latino and Ibero-American characters (David Ryker’s “La Ciudad,” Jim McKay’s Crown Heights-set “Our Song” and “Maria”).
But when he looks back, “It wasn’t as if I grew up wanting to be an independent producer,” he says.
Instead, his early loves were music (leading to a Boston-based punk band called Engine), sound (his first hands-on filmmaking experience was working in the sound department on “Welcome to the Dollhouse”) and photography.
But in NYU’s grad film program in 1992, he was struck by how everyone wanted to be a director and yet “no one had a strong sense of organization. I realized that I enjoyed the problem-solving aspects, and that I had a different kind of creative control because I could make the decisions.”
Teaming at NYU with Ryker and Chris Eyre (“Smoke Signals”) — with whom he made the 1995 short “Tenacity” — Mezey developed relationships with filmmakers who interested him, from McKay to Aiyana Elliott, whose “Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack” repped the personal filmmaking Mezey most responds to.
To HBO’s veep of independent production, Maud Nadler, who shepherded “Maria” and is working on several of the producer’s upcoming projects Mezey “has those rare qualities of always being calm in the midst of crisis, of being a fabulous physical producer and having a strong sense of film art. And he’s equally great in all areas. It’s no wonder that filmmakers want to work with him.”