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Meet Julia Brauner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julia Brauner.

Julia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
When I was little, my parents and I immigrated to Los Angeles from Paris, France. There, I attended a French international school that played a big part in keeping me in touch with European culture. Growing up, my mother worked in a mall, so every Saturday was spent watching back-to-back movies next door to the store she worked in. I saw so many films that I had often seen every movie out in theaters at any given time, sometimes even twice. During my free time, I applied what I had seen in movies to my own little creations. On weekends, I made short films and music videos with friends. When I was alone, I attempted hand-drawn animations (quite unsuccessfully I might add). School projects somehow became an excuse to practice editing in Final Cut Pro which my friend’s father taught me to use. However, not once had I considered filmmaking as a potential career…

I applied to film school on a whim and attended Loyola Marymount University. I had a very difficult first year but as soon as I began to work on set, it became clear that this was where I was meant to be. In fact, I loved LMU’s School of Film and Television so much that I spent more time there than anywhere else for four years. During that time, I decided that I was to become a line producer and worked very hard to produce as many high-quality short films as I could, both for professors and students. I never wanted to direct, but I happened to have an idea in mind that I just couldn’t shake, almost like an unsatisfiable itch. So, I decided to give it my all and get directing out of my system. After all, wouldn’t the experience help me to better collaborate with directors in the future?

I have always had an attraction to the surreal and an inability to tune down the worlds I create in my head. As a result, many professors tried to dissuade me from making my thesis film. A professor declared to me in front of my peers that it would simply be too hard to make. “It’s too expensive,” he told me. There are too many moving parts. Merging live action with stop motion? That will never work! How could students possibly build the intricate interactive sets I had in mind? Well… they were wrong. I signed up for an experimental animation class and learned how to do stop motion. I found the funding I needed. I made sure I had the right people on my team (I would never have pulled it off without them). To this day, I am incredibly proud of the work we achieved together.

Two years later, I still sometimes struggle to present myself as a director and have tried to shake the desire away, but somehow, the itch to create, tell stories, and share unique imagery slyly tiptoes through the hallway, slides through the keyhole, and finds its way back to me each and every time.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Filmmaking is never a smooth road and I don’t think it ever will be, but that is what makes it an incredibly exhilarating process. I find strength in the struggles and family in the hardships. After all, as my father would say and my experience would confirm: there is always a solution, you just need to find it. That isn’t to say that I haven’t had my fair share of worries.

I once decided to make a short film while in French Polynesia to attend a wedding. I had no contacts on the island and literally walked around asking locals if they would be interested in acting in exchange for a small compensation. Thankfully, the rustic termite-infested hotel I was staying at had an undeniably friendly and dedicated staff and before I knew it, we were shooting in the Tahitian jungle with nothing but a camera and a prop created by the hotel gardener. As I struggled to stand still, camera in hand and arms covered by “warrior mosquitos,” I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t want it any other way (except for forgetting the bug spray).

Throughout my university years and to this day, I have been working for an A-list talent and their production company. Although I absolutely adore the people I work with and wouldn’t trade them for the world, I can’t hide that it isn’t exactly my dream job. In fact, it can be pretty draining and I sometimes find myself losing that spark that attracted me to the industry in the first place. However, when I arrive on set, collaborate with my talented friends, or get a sudden burst of inspiration in the shower, that sizzling flame is reignited and I discover my love for film once more.

Like everyone else, living through a pandemic has also had its challenges. Despite having some bad days and perhaps a rusty start amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, I am trying my best to use the time I have at home to develop new skills and do some much needed writing. I also made my very first 2D animated short. I think it’s particularly difficult in our industry because filmmaking is such a social process. I often find myself turning to social media which sometimes weighs on me heavily as I struggle not to compare myself to others and their successes.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I think what sets me apart from others is my style and the worlds I am interested in portraying. In school, I felt drawn to the surrealist and absurd paintings and stories we studied. This transferred over to my taste in film. Some of my favorite filmmakers are the Czech stop motion extraordinaire Jan Svankmajer, the strange gothic-styled Burbank-escapee Tim Burton, the vivid and colorful Hayao Miyazaki, and finally the collection of stop motion films created by Laika Studios.

I very much view filmmaking as an opportunity to escape everyday normality. That’s why I strive to explore whimsical, eerie, outlandish, and bizarre realms and characters that give a magical context to the banal. As human beings, our knowledge is limited to our experience, but what is to say that there aren’t other worlds we can’t perceive? It’s this duality of realism and fantastical that I am passionate to explore.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
It’s interesting because I think this is the most difficult of all these questions to answer. I’m very lucky to have had an overall happy childhood filled with mostly treasured memories and as I reflect upon the question, I wonder at what moment my childhood actually ended. Was it sudden like the rip of a bandaid? Or did it leave me with each fallen tooth? To be honest I think that, at times, I’m still very in touch with that innocent and imaginative childlike mentality.

One memory that stands out is a journey I made with my dad. It began in a rice paddy in Bali, Indonesia. We slept briefly in a room in the fields and left in the very first hours of morning to begin our trek up Mt. Batur, an active volcano.

I remember being urged to put on many layers of thick clothing but not feeling the cold. In all of the excitement, the darkness enveloped me like a warm blanket. The initial anticipation turned into pure giddiness when I was instructed to put on a head torch. How cool! Now feeling like secret agents, we began our long walk to the crater.

Although we didn’t make it to the very top before the sun started to appear, the view we got of the sunrise was incredible and a sight I could never forget. With this new light, we could now fully take in our surroundings. At an elevation of nearly six thousand feet high, they consisted of a sparkling blue lake, Mt. Agung (a neighboring volcano), and a dark sea of volcanic rock (of which I kept a piece).

As we walked along the windy edge of the crater, I remember feeling warm and safe. My favorite part though – perhaps because it satisfied my hunger – was cooking hard-boiled eggs in a small hole at the top of Mt. Batur where hot steam was in a hurry to escape. Sitting beside my father on our personal steam-heated slats of rock, I remember looking out at the view and feeling an overwhelming sense of peace.

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