Prelude: This is a picture my film buddy Jack took when we were in film school. He and his crazy sidekick Blake thought it would be cool to take a television and throw it down the stairs in order to protest everything TV represents. Apparently, the whole thing made a big explosion and they took a photo of it. It’s a bit of a poseur thing to do. Later on, Blake went on to work for Miramax. Haha.
I met my close friend, Nare, when she was 18. She had just barely turning 19 when she moved to NY. Nare reminded me a great deal of the actress, Ally Sheedy, in the The Breakfast Club. She was so incredibly pale and soft spoken and introverted but she had a spine of steel.
Nare’s Armenian. The first I’ve ever met. When she first told me she lived in LA, I said to her, “Now I can visit you when I come to LA.” She said, “Well, actually, I live in Glendale.” I asked her what that was. She didn’t explain it well to me. Years later, we both ended up meeting there. It’s an Armenian mecca. I’d come to LA, shoot a film for a week and leave—and she’d help me all the way through.
It fascinated me that she looked like a very pretty, standard, white all-American girl. But because she was Armenian, she had different values than an American girl. She didn’t grow up on Seventeen Magazine, obsessed with makeup and material things. In fact, she grew up feeling pretty suicidal—and this intrigued me from the beginning.
I asked her to show me the scars on her arms and to tell me the story about what happened—and how she ended up in the hospital—and why she was depressed. And that was when I realized that the internalized existence teenagers go through—not that much different than what I went through—had less to do with what she looked like to others or whether or not she conformed or fit in; but had everything to do with how “unique” she felt inside—and how separated she felt from others.
I began to tie in her story to my character June, in RED AS BLUE and I told her I would fit in bits of her in there. So I asked her to throw me some cool Armenian last names. I described the mood I was going for. And that was how we came up with Lusparian. I liked it a lot. It means “of the light.”
She told me high school stories about some weird chicks she knew in high school. They were very amusing. She said she knew this Mexican punk rock girl that was an outcast. I asked her to tell me her name but she refused to because she didn’t want me to use it in a movie. But I will anyway. LOL!
I combined a lot of my own experiences in high school (growing up in a Mexican hood in middle-America) with Nare’s personality and the punk rock Mexican girl to flesh out June Lusparian. And after I fleshed her out for the 1980s period novel, I had to modernize her to the year 2014 for NUNE. I met with Nare and said to her, “I want my character to sound like ‘June’ but in Armenian.” That was how we came up with Nune, which is pronounced “Noon-nay” and I instantly fell in love with it, because it looks like “dune” and “noon”—and had a nice dark mood to it. When I wrote the Nune character, I wanted her to be like Nare: seemingly normal on the outside, but was not normal on the inside. I felt that this best describes how almost all teens feel.
Nare was still at the age where everything was uncorrupted. She was against technology. She was almost a Luddite. And after I found this out, I had to tell her a great story about how I went to Maine one year after a very bad breakup to emotionally detox myself in a small town. There, I entered a crickety old hidden bookshop and in the backroom was an older lady putting strange rocks into crates with books in them. I asked her what those rocks were for. She said, “They’re lava rocks. It helps keep paper from getting mold.” Then I told her, “Oh, I had about five crates of handwritten journals that collected mildew in my basement in upstate New York. They were all green. It was so damp that my basement even grew mushrooms.” When she heard that I threw out my journals she gasped and said, “You threw out your journals!” like someone got murdered.
I said, “Well, er…yes.”
“But one day handwriting will be extinct! You must preserve the written word!”
I looked like her like she was crazy. She was way worse than me. I thought I had done my part just by using a pen in my hand…but this lady treated the written word like the Torah. It really shocked me. When I was about to leave, I saw a rock sitting on her counter. I asked her what that rock was for. She said, “That’s my lucky rock.” I looked at it and it had a perfect white circle on it. I asked, “Did you paint this on there?” “No,” she said, “It came like that.” I told her this was amazing and that I wanted it. She gave it to me. She was a really well-connected soul.
But it was her that taught me the word Luddite. She was the first Luddite I’ve ever met and self-proclaimed. Luddite, by the way, is a bit of a misconception. If you read the history of it, it has to do with people who were anti-sewing machine and felt that the machine was going to destroy society. It is the same reaction people had to typewriters, to computers, and today to cell phones and androids. I believe that computers do destroy society: but it is our job as society to make better computers. We give them humanity.
Otherwise, they are just machines and will do without thinking. Just tell Siri that she’s stupid and she’ll say, “That doesn’t sound good.” Say, “Well you are,” and she’ll say, “This is about you not me.” Tell her she’s just a computer.” She’ll say, “You’re certainly entitled to that opinion.” Eventually, she runs out of human responses and will make no sense. That’s because we give the technology sense. I believe Kubrick’s “HAL” was a brilliant example of this; albeit a bit too dark for my taste (for a transcendental idea).
After Nare and I moved apart, I wrote a 3 or 4 page letter, handwritten and mailed it to her to NYC. And when she read my letter in the subway station, someone gasped and said, “OMG, is that a real letter? People still write letters?” The person was flabbergasted. They must have thought I was 100 years old. Nare laughed. She said the person was genuinely shocked. And THAT shocked me. Yet I had a friend who was younger than me one day bitch me out when I told him I switched from writing letters and journals longhand to using computers. He was very young but old fashioned and I shocked him. He thought it was rude and we argued about it. You have to understand, my brain processes ideas at 10,000 rpm and my hands can’t keep up with it. I even beat the computer sometimes. So no, I’m not a Luddite.
When I was a teenager, I wrote a 100-page letter by hand to my best friend Alisha in Kansas and her friends thought it was crazy. We wrote each other a lot. We loved to write.
Nare used to tell me that she didn’t like expensive gifts. She felt it was more thoughtful to take a photo, make something by hand and put it back together. But her Armenian friends—who were affluent and materialistic made fun of her and almost condemned and embarrassed her when she gave them such a gift.
And over a period of time, Nare changed. She went from being a girl that loved handwritten letters and the human touch, the human voice—to someone who responds mainly to text messages.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is great. Technology and I can be friends. But this is not about technology; this is about staying close to the spirit of youth.
Many can argue that it’s naïve to think that you can be innocent forever. And that people change, they grow older, they behave like adults. But that’s wrong.
Innocence has nothing to do with being a child or an adult. Innocence has to do with individuality, being true to yourself as your number one friend—your confidante.
When filming NUNE at the subway station in LA, I had gone there with Brianna Joy Chomer (who plays Nune), and she asked if she could keep my metro card after I ran it through the machine. I asked why and she said she wanted it as a keepsake—to remember the movie by. I was like, “Really? But it doesn’t have anything of the film on it.” But it didn’t matter. It meant a lot to her. So I said sure.
Brianna helped me remember Nare when she was 19 years old. She also helped me remember my friends who would make vows to be free from social engineering forever—who would never cave in to having their core values lost. And 9 times out of 10, most of them have found the smaller things in life to be a nuisance. So when she asked for my metro card, it was a gift to me. It wasn’t really me giving her anything. She had given me a part of myself that I don’t want to forget. And I hope she will never forget that part of herself too:)
This is my message to the youth: It is too easy to forget. It is best to remember who you are—because at the beginning of time and in the end—that is all that you are.