The son of artist and director Julian Schnabel, Olmo Luis Schnabel grew up surrounded by magnificent art. Growing up in New York only amplified this for the 26-year-old filmmaker, while also giving him a unique perspective on the complexities of growing up in the 21st century. Now coming into his own as he produces—and likely soon directs—some exciting new projects, he hopes to connect with young viewers by sharing stories that draw from his own experiences and those of the artists he collaborates with.
Schnabel recently produced his first film, Giants Being Lonely, with friend and writer/director Grear Patterson. A moody, ethereal piece about high school students exploring rocky relationships, unrequited love, family tensions, and deep loneliness, the movie is the first from Schnabel and Patterson's newly minted production company, ROD3O. L'Officiel USA caught up with Schnabel to learn more about the concept behind the new film, his experiences working on the project, and what's next for him.
Giants Being Lonely is your first film as a producer.
When you’re doing something for the first time, it's trial and error. I had to pretend everything was okay because everybody else is freaking out and depending on you. Whenever I was in doubt, I would walk into the bathroom, splash water on my face and scream for a second, then walk out with a smile. I worked for my dad [artist and director Julian Schnabel] on At Eternity’s Gate as the director’s assistant. I saw him do everything. He’s very specific and sees everything very clearly.
Did your father give any feedback?
When we were filming the movie, we didn’t speak. After we wrapped, I’d call him when I was having a hard time and he gave me some words of wisdom. But then we edited it by ourselves. When it was almost done, I showed it to him. That was when we started having a dialogue about it. He’s a pretty honest person. He always was a really good father and very supportive, but he would never give me false compliments. So when he had a positive response, that really meant a lot because I knew it was genuine. That was a big moment in my life. I don’t remember if that had happened before and that was very satisfying to feel like I made him proud.
Photo by Lily Gavin
Were you nervous about producing your first film?
I’ve spent so much time being scared to follow what I wanted to do because of rejection or criticism. I was in a weird place personally in my life. I was ready to lose everything. So that was also a lot of the feeling that went into the movie.
Is the film based on Grear’s childhood?
It’s based roughly off real events and things that Grear experienced. Grear grew up in North Carolina. This kid, in his senior year of school, killed his parents and threw a party.
You made Giants Being Lonely with your friends.
Jack [Irving] and his brother Ben are my best friends from growing up in New York. And the girl, Lily [Gavin], was my first girlfriend in high school. So it was a very intimate setting. It demonstrates itself in the film. When you see these characters, there’s something very personal. The movie, at moments, feels like it’s a documentary. The characters don’t feel like they’re actors. They feel like real-life people.
You premiered the film at the Venice Film Festival.
I’d gone to Venice many times with my father. He had all his films, except The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, premiere in Venice. It was a dream come true. It felt like that was the moment we accomplished everything. I want to show the movie to as many young people as possible. I think it's important for young people to watch it because they'll see it and maybe relate to it. They can understand a little bit more about themselves.
You want to direct next.
My friend Jack [Irving] wrote a great script—a love story that takes place in New York. It’s kind of a chase, runaway plot like Bonnie and Clyde. Two boys are coming to terms with their sexuality, but at the same time running away—this crazy love story. It’s a dark comedy, action film. It seemed different than anything I had experienced in New York. We have a relationship with the city and the script is very autobiographical at moments. A lot of things seem very personal and of a world that we lived only.
Did you always want to direct?
For Giants Being Lonely, it made sense for me to produce. Grear brought me on and I wanted to be a part of it. He wrote the story and it was about him. But while I was there, I was definitely getting excited about the day I’d have my opportunity to direct. It’s definitely something intimidating. In the same way, I was intimidated to do this and I did it. There’s a fine line between work and play, and that's the dream.
You and Grear started ROD30, your own production company.
We decided that when we went in to do the movie. We own a lot of our own equipment, so now when we want to make something, it’s really easy to make. We have the cameras. We do a lot of gorilla stuff.
There’s no texting or social media in the film—a departure for most stories about young people.
I don’t have social media myself. We didn’t want that to be informative of our characters. Gen Z can be very over-expository. I remember growing up feeling scared to communicate. That’s the period of life we wanted to speak about: when you’re not saying anything, when you feel like you’re drowning or sinking into something. You can either let go or move forward. Some people move forward and others make a decision that completely alters their life forever. My cousin and my best friend, in one year’s time, basically didn’t know how to communicate what they were going through, whether depression or sadness. And both of them took their lives. We were trying to talk about the importance of finding someone when you’re feeling that way. Don’t be scared. Speak to somebody. It’s going to be OK. Life is turbulent, but it’s part of the human condition, especially when you’re young and you need to figure everything out.