Benh Zeitlin on Meeting New Orleans

Co.Create: Tell me how your crush on New Orleans began. Zeitlin: Marriage, more like! That’s more a reflection of the volatility of our relationship.

How did you two meet? We met when we were children. Seriously, I went there as a kid with my parents. That was probably the crush phase. It had such an effect on me and I always had this fascination with it. I just found out that I always talked about moving there in high school. I have a terrible memory but I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend recently and talking about how different I am from how I was in high school and she told me, what are you talking about you told me you were going to move to New Orleans to make movies in tenth grade and wear a cape. She’s like you’re not wearing the cape but …

So, in 2006 you ended up returning for good?  Yeah but it wasn’t the plan to stay. I was going city to city looking for a place to make this film. It kind of took root there and then turned into something so big that I could not uproot myself.

The film is so viscerally connected to New Orleans, it’s interesting that you weren’t originally writing it with the city in mind. What was the original story?  It’s impossible to separate it from New Orleans now but that is very much something that happened when I came there. It started off as something called Glory At Sea. It had this core--it was about a shipwreck and these people that were on these shards of wood and they were looking down at people at the bottom of the water. The people on the bottom were looking up and the people on top didn’t know if they should go down and join them or stay up top. It pre-dated Katrina and all the storm stuff but when that started happening, talking to my friends there I would get this little chill that maybe this fable/myth needs to be told through something real, that it might be able to connect to what’s happening in New Orleans right now. I went there not knowing if that was going to work at all but it really exploded. The film got totally out of control. It just felt like you have a seed and you plant it in the right spot and it just grows.

Read the whole thing at Fast Company's CoCreate.