The idea for filmmaker Ilana Marks' film came to her in her sleep.
Our dreams can be a fascinating window into our innermost fears and desires. For Ilana Marks, they’re also a gift that led her to a full-length feature film.
Marks is a writer, lecturer and TV/radio host originally from South Africa who now resides in Sarasota. She trained as a stage actress in London, has written and directed several plays and is also the author of the book “The G-String Theory” about her time exploring the “paradoxical sensuality of India.”
She’d never written a screenplay before her latest venture, but a dream inspired her to write the film “Mind the Gap,” which makes its Sarasota premiere March 21.
“One night I had this dream that showed me the whole story, the whole concept, and at the end of it I was spoken to, and it said, ‘Write this, it’s a screenplay,’” she says.
She woke up surprised to have received such a clear direction, and immediately felt a sense of obligation to follow it.
The story follows Adi, a 38-year-old off-Broadway actress on the verge of success when her womanizer husband leaves her. Suddenly she’s a single mom struggling to support her young daughter. Determined, the character goes on a journey of self-transformation that takes her on a mind-bending experience in London and to a hilarious divorce support group.
Marks says the characters — particularly the hysterical cast who make up the support group — were so clear to her that she started recognizing them as people in her everyday life. When she was casting, as soon as she met the actors, she knew they were the right fit.
The result is a cast and crew consisting of blockbuster TV and movie alums such as actor Erin Beute of “The Vampire Diaries,” local actor Tanya Christiansen of “The Hate U Give,” script supervisor A.R. Bjorklund of “The Greatest Showman” and Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Anthony Realmuto.
The piece was first written as a stage play shortly after Marks had the dream around 2010 — by hand, nonetheless.
She worked on it on and off for the next couple years, but got stuck. She couldn’t decide how to write the last three scenes because the end of her dream had been so eccentric, so she put it away in a drawer and stopped thinking about it.
“Dreams are hard to explain in a language we use in our everyday life,” she says. “It brought me a message from another realm.”
The story was set aside until Marks went on a silent retreat hosted by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in 2013. The Zen master’s experience is meant to be a spiritual journey to clear one’s head, and she left with a completely clear vision of how to write it because of the “quieting” of her mind.
She suddenly knew how to write the ending, and it was finally clear that this was not a play, but a film. Two years and some 21 drafts later, she had a finished script. They started shooting in 2015, traveling from Orlando to London to New York City for shoots, edited the film then gave Florida audiences a sneak peek Feb. 9 at the 23rd Annual Film Celebration at Valencia College in Orlando.
One of the biggest challenges for Marks was transitioning from playwriting to screenplay writing. When crafting a piece for stage, Marks says a writer is free to be more poetic with dialogue because theatergoers expect thoughtful characters. Filmgoers, however, expect to be entertained and engaged in a story that can also be relatable on some level — without getting too lofty.
The film does, however, have a thought-provoking layer to it that Marks thinks filmgoers will enjoy.
One of the characters is a quantum physicist, and Marks wanted a strong mathematical and geometric pattern threaded throughout the narrative, so she worked with a mathematician to place accurate symbolism throughout.
“Someone can go in and just have fun with it … it’s like ‘Seinfeld’ meets ‘The Woody Allen Show’ meets ‘The Truman Show;’ or people can go and enjoy it on a deeper level of psychological comedy; or they can go even deeper and try to understand the quantum physics in it,” she says.
Whenever she writes a piece, Marks says she always tries to find a way to juxtapose a profound message with a sense of light heartedness. She thinks people take themselves too seriously, so she wants to offer a fun, entertaining experience for her viewers while balancing fun and thoughtfulness.
As for “Mind the Gap,” Marks wants it to challenge viewers to question their long-held realities and beliefs. It’s already challenged hers.
“For me it’s literally a dream come true,” she says. “The message of it has changed how I see the world.”
Correction: In the 3/14 print version of this story, Ilana Marks' first name was spelled incorrectly.