The 33 Metro bus travels Los Angeles by Venice Boulevard. The trip begins at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles and makes its way West to Santa Monica, where Pico Boulevard meets Ocean Avenue. This bus is always running, too. On every single holiday and at every hour, this bus is at work. Barring extreme circumstances, this means of public transport will get you across town in about two hours, give or take.
On a quiet Tuesday evening at 11:30PM, director and artist Lorenzo Fonda waits at Spring Street and 7th Street for the 33 to arrive. He had just finished working on his graphic novel, A Trumpet And A Feather, and drinking a few beers at Spring Street Bar as he waited for the bus. The bus arrives and he and a handful of others waiting around him board the bus. He takes a seat in the back and resumes work sketching. He has a long ride from Downtown Los Angeles to his apartment off of Venice and Pacific: this is his home-away-from-home.
Lorenzo is a young man. He has lived in Los Angeles for a few years and has never had a car. He has been working as a director for years–but his work in film hardly defines him. “I guess my goal is to make feature films, like everyone else here,” he says as the bus creeps down Spring to Venice. “But in general, I just like to tell stories—what’s relevant it’s how you tell them and how it relates to your art. I came here because in my hometown I was not getting anything close to what I wanted.”
He grew up in Modena, in Italy. Lorenzo had always been interested in film but was never really invested in school. “I really didn’t like the idea of being tested,” he explains. “I started doing film work in high school and I was being paid for stuff that I was doing so I thought that I could maybe have a career without having to go to college. That was very heartbreaking for my parents because they’re both teachers.” he jokes. “They were fine, though–and very supportive. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their support. Even if art making was not their field and they didn’t fully understand it, they saw that I was passionate and that I could go somewhere in it.”
After working for years in film, he eventually attended the prestigious Fabrica art “learning laboratory.” “The place was founded by the owner of Benetton and Oliviero Toscani, long time photographer for Benetton. It’s not a school but basically this place where artists go and create. You get a scholarship to attend it in Treviso, which is right next to the Benetton factory.”
“The place has been around for almost twenty years and hundreds of students from all over the world have attended in the fields of video, graphics, music, interactive design, photography, writing, etc. There are people from all over and they get together and they work on projects, both commercial and personal. You get to work in this amazing place and artist come to give lectures every month and you get to do workshops with them. You’re paid to be there, too. That place completely changed my life because I got to meet so many amazing artists from all over the world.”
Working with such inspirational peers was the motivation for Lorenzo to realize that there are ways to be able to do dream projects and have people fund them. It was a learning experience in creating while being able to make a living. “There were guys my age doing personal projects, getting them funded by art institutions, and getting paid to do their own work. If they can do it, why can’t I? I started doing what I’m doing because of the inspiration and motivation the people at Fabrica gave me. Some of those people are my best friends now and they’re all over the world. It’s this big network of artists and we all still collaborate.”
Just as he was finishing the Fabrica experience, someone there showed his work to Mercurio, a small italian production company. They signed him as a director right away. It was during this period that he made his somewhat Internet iconic, meme-level Sloth commercial for Alfa-Romeo. “I was shooting my first things on big sets, on film, with a real crew and all: it was great. I stopped telling people I made videos and started saying I was a director: I felt I reached the next level” he says. “When I signed with them, I knew they had money and that I was going to be standing on the shoulders of giants. A very privileged position. They did mostly commercials but they wanted to branch out and do documentaries, short films, and other culturally relevant stuff. I told them I was interested to work with them as long as they supported me in making personal side projects. A couple of months after signing, I brought in an idea about doing a documentary on Blu, a graffiti artist. He was big in Italy and around Europe already but only in the underground world; the general public didn’t really knew about him.”
Through mutual friends he connected with Blu and they made a film that had Blu traveling all over Latin America with Lorenzo following him with his camera. The resulting documentary was titled Megunica and it’s what brought him to Los Angeles. “The film screened at Cinema Tuesdays at The Montalban. They did a whole night about my film and it was the North American premiere. I came here and I liked the vibe of LA and came to terms that this is where things happen for film. I realized it wasn’t all about Hollywood but there were also a lot of people doing the kind of stuff I was interested in. I figured I would try life here.”
He was eventually hired by the incredibly creative Paydirt Pictures, which is where he’s created such pieces like Metronomy’s “The Look,” Scissor Sister’s “Baby Come Home,” and campaigns for National Geographic and Nike. He knew things were going to change with his work too because he was in Los Angeles, a city he felt was bursting with creativity. “I still love New York City the best though. I feel that is my favorite city in the world and I was actually represented by a company there before moving here and considered moving there.”
As Lorenzo is speaking, he continues to sketch: he has drawn what appears to be a family of blob people budding from each other. “I never thought about LA as place that I wanted to be but it just happened. I came here and I realized that it was so much more than Hollywood. And this is where the money and the people are and I want to make films so I guess this is where I am comfortable in being for now.”
You would assume that Lorenzo is strictly a filmmaker but film is just a means to express himself (and a way to pay bills). His ties to drawing, writing, illustrating, and making is a result of him not being able to simply do one thing: he has to get his stories out in any way he can. “I always felt like I didn’t want to stick with one thing. I try not to be defined and I don’t want to be limited. I introduce myself as a director but I feel pigeonholing yourself is a risk. It’s a big danger. If you define yourself as something, you have to be that for people. Then they keep expecting that thing from you again and again.”
“It started to become clear to me that artists tend to get stuck in a style and an approach and a process. I am terrified of that. Constantly reinventing myself is one of my biggest concerns. I like to tell stories and I like to express myself. Why should I limit myself to what I’ve done in the past?”
Everything Lorenzo does relates to something else he’s doing. If he’s making a film, he gets his hand-made visuals in. If he’s making an illustration, he finds a way to make it feel like a film. He’s very clever with how he makes. “I always like to sneak in something else, to make it something more. I always take every project as an opportunity to be challenged and to come up with new ideas and ways to approach art making. I think it’s part of the way I work. It’s also exploiting the limitations of certain situations. I try to turn around limitations and make something new. Don’t cry about how it sucks and that you can’t do it: how can you go around the problem and come up with something interesting? That’s how I challenge myself.”
Funny enough, this need to challenge himself is where bus riding comes in: if you tell Lorenzo that he can’t do something, he will feel compelled to explore that option. He is a master of breaking rules and one-upping expectations. “I’ve never had a car,” he says. “When I moved here, people all said I had to get a car. Everyone says that! I get a kick out of going against the norm. As long as I can keep doing it, I feel like it’s good for my self-esteem. You know, if I can keep doing this for years, maybe I’m right and people are wrong–and maybe if they’re wrong about this they might be wrong about other things. It’s not that I can accomplish things ‘because I ride the bus’ but it’s about challenging the status-quo. It’s some kind of psychological trick I play on my mind, I guess.
“Also, is to help ‘save the environment.’ Every night I close my eyes and think that the world is a better place because I took the bus home,” he says jokingly.
“I like riding the bus because when living in LA you risk to build a fake reality around you. You go to meetings and bars and parties and amazing houses with swimming pools with fancy people and everything seems so easy and at hand: that is not my experience. For as much as I enjoy the occasional visit of that world, I don’t really belong there. It’s not who I am or where I’m from. Riding the bus around roots me back in the real world, in reality. LA can make you dream way more than you should, and riding the bus helps me keep my feet on the ground somehow.”
“I like being close to people, too. You know, touching their shoulders. Smelling them.”
“I can always read and draw on the bus,” he adds. “If I am at home, I don’t really read. I just browse the fucking Internet and waste time. I can’t read on the Internet. Most of the time my ride is two hours from my place to anywhere and two hours back. It’s almost four hours in my day that I spend reading and drawing and writing, which I wouldn’t do if I were at home. I would just procrastinate reloading the same four websites every five minutes.”
“I get to make really interesting pictures of people on the bus, too.”
Lorenzo doesn’t find that his work and creating is specifically a response to Los Angeles but that his breaking rules–and even riding the bus–is a response to the American Dream. “Being here makes you feel that anything is possible. Coming from Europe and Italy, the States represent the idea of the American Dream. It’s still going on. I feel it and lots of friends of mine feel the same. The States have always been a source of inspiration to do anything. This do it yourself culture was born here, especially with skateboarding and the punk music movement. Anything is possible. Especially here in LA–and the same rules apply in film! If you can think it, you can create it. The vibe of this city is very inspiring. If all of these people are doing these things, why can’t I? It’s the same feeling I had at Fabrica.”
“However, I don’t know if you can see LA in my work–but it is there as a general inspiration.”
Lorenzo has no plans to change what he is doing. He’s going to keep working on projects he likes and will continue to fold in his various talents. He’s currently in the process of making a new documentary titled Archeology Of The Future. “I need to find the money to finish it,” he says. “I’ve been working on it for a year and it probably won’t be done for two more years. It’s a long time but Megunica took me more than two years. I know how that feels.”
“I will keep writing for music videos and doing web comics and drawing and writing and collaborate on other projects,” he says, packing up his belongings as we approach a traffic circle in Venice. “I always keep my eyes open for things. But when you have such big projects, you have to have discipline. If you don’t work on them, they will drag and drag and drag and they will still with you for years until they are not even relevant to you anymore. I feel that when I’m excited about it, I have to jump on it.”
He exits the bus and heads Westerly. It’s nearly 1AM and the only people out are those walking from the bus or smoking outside of bars. “Maybe I’ll discover that making films is too much work and I’ll become a full time fine artist,” he says before stopping outside of his building. “I am an artist because it’s an excuse to be able to learn about things that I’m interested about while still having a sense that you’re not studying but somehow playing. The goal isn’t to make art: the goal is to explore concepts and themes that I am interested in. Films and art are the tools I use to research these ideas. The excuse.”
For more on Lorenzo, be sure to Lorenzo’s personal website, Archaeology Of The Future, Lorenzo’s new documentary official page, and Paydirt Pictures, Lorenzo’s production company. He also has included a video and photos from his years of bus travelling, each with captions. Check them out below.