Burden of Genius is Laura’s latest film with director Tjardus Greidanus. It is their follow-up to the CINE Golden Eagle-winning A Shot to Save the World about the creation of the Salk polio vaccine. Other films they have made together include the dramatic features Hellbent and A New York Heartbeat, both of which Laura produced. She also produced the documentaries, Everest: On Location in the Death Zone (Miramax), a Gold Plaque winner at the Chicago International Film Festival, The Chef & The Architect (Food Network) and the movies-of-the-week, Someone Else’s Child (ABC) and Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack (CBS). Laura began her career as a rock & roll disc jockey at the legendary Los Angeles radio station KLOS, and later by making behind-the-scenes documentaries for the world’s most respected directors including over 30 projects for Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols and Michael Mann.
Burden of Genius is Tjardus’s follow-up to A Shot to Save the World, which documented the creation of the Salk polio vaccine. An early cut of that film came to the attention of Bill Gates, who was interviewed before its premiere on the Smithsonian Network on World Polio Day 2013 for which it won broadcasting’s CINE Golden Eagle. The film also aired on the BBC, was syndicated throughout Europe and Israel, and screened at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum, the Salk Institute and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, where it won the jury award for Best Documentary. Tjardus has written and directed two narrative films, the $5M coming-of-age drama Hellbent and A New York Heartbeat, an Echo Bridge Entertainment release that was named Best Feature 2014 by New Filmmakers Los Angeles. He began his career as a director of photography on PBS’s Wired Science series.
Carl is a screenwriter (St. Elmo’s Fire) and TV writer producer (Saved By the Bell) who also teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is the co-founder of the non-profit Steeltown Entertainment Project with the mission of building a thriving film industry in southwestern Pennsylvania. He has collaborated on various projects with Laura Davis and Tjardus Greidanus including his directorial debut, My Tale of Two Cities, a documentary about Pittsburgh’s rebirth in which he went shopping with Teresa Heinz Kerry, played football with NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris, and walked dogs with Dr. Thomas Starzl, which gave rise to the idea for Burden of Genius. The three also worked together on A Shot To Save the World, a documentary about the Salk polio vaccine which won a CINE Golden Eagle Award. Carl was also co-executive producer of The Chair, the DGA Award-winning Starz reality series.
Kris frequently collaborates with director Tjardus Greidanus and producers Laura Davis and Carl Kurlander. He co-produced their award-winning documentary, A Shot To Save the World, which premiered in 2013 on the Smithsonian Channel and the BBC. As an independent filmmaker, he’s produced projects for performing arts organizations, non-profits and corporations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Clients include the Grable Foundation, University of Pittsburgh, Attack Theatre, The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, and the city’s PBS affiliate, WQED. In 2009, he began working as a teaching artist, creating and fostering filmmaking learning opportunities for students in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Kris grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania and believes his strong work ethic grew out of helping at his family’s restaurant. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and step-daughter, cooking, hockey, and writing.
David Majzlin is an Emmy®-nominated composer and music producer known for his eclectic and genre-bending approach to scoring. David also recently worked with opera superstar Renée Fleming for the score to Bel Canto directed by Paul Weitz and starring Oscar®-winner Julianne Moore His other credits include the multiple Emmy®-award-winning documentary, The Loving Story (HBO), the Emmy®-nominated Sins of My Father (HBO), and PBS documentaries Herb and Dorothy (Independent Lens) and Althea (American Masters.) Other films to which he has contributed original music are Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (Samuel Goldwyn Films, Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival), Sunshine Cleaning (nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival), and numerous television shows including Parenthood, Ugly Betty, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and 60 Minutes.
Barry is an Emmy® Award-winning freelance motion designer based in Missoula, Montana. He produces visual designs and still image composites for films and commercials. His Emmy® was for Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction on the film Valley Uprising. He was also lead designer for the documentaries, I AM directed by Tom Shadyac, and Damnation directed by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight. Barry said about Burden of Genius, “Working with Dr. Starzl’s historic photos and learning layer by layer his life story was inspiring and hard. Some days, I would be feeling good when he was making progress, and then down when he lost patients, especially the children. I cannot imagine the stress he went through. Now, millions have been saved. He was amazing!” When not in the studio, you can find Barry fly-fishing on the Blackfoot, snowboarding or polishing up on his lefse flippin (we advise that you look this up.)
Yay Brigade is a design studio founded by Roman Jaster and Nicole Jaffe in 2014. From their studio in Downtown Los Angeles, the duo focuses on web and print design. They create work that is delightful and rigorous, with a dash of whimsy.
Yay Brigade celebrates the medium of the web as a malleable and democratic communication platform. Their ambidextrous designer/developer personas provide a strong foundation for creative and robust websites.
To tell Dr. Thomas Starzl’s story was an extraordinary opportunity. Here is the amazing architecture of a man’s life set against the backdrop of one of modern medicine’s greatest triumphs. Stories like these are gifts for filmmakers. The universe offers them up and it is our challenge and responsibility to return them in an emotionally understandable form. We set out to create a narrative blind to future outcomes, one that remembers just how unimaginable the prospect of success is before it actually arrives.
Starzl’s reputation as one of the most fantastically creative minds of the 20th century is well deserved. Although a new field in medicine is never the work of one person, few would argue that more than anyone Thomas Starzl bridged the gap between laboratory research and clinical practice, transforming the stuff of science fiction into a reality.
This was a journey of discovery. Our first interview with him turned into a series of conversations that were filmed over the course of two years and came to include some of the world’s top transplant surgeons, patients, ethicists, historians and journalists. Then came the painstaking job of creating a 90-minute documentary, culled from over 70 hours of interviews, 30 hours of archival footage and hundreds of photographs. The challenge was to carve out an emotionally charged narrative while conveying the scientific innovation in a manner lay audiences can understand.
At 90, Starzl remained as complex and uncompromising as the fearsome perfectionist former colleagues recalled. His greatest gift, perhaps, was not to falter despite incredible odds and setbacks. But there was a lesser-known, equally fascinating side to his character, which included a deep emotional connection to his patients, a commitment to sharing his knowledge, and a profoundly humanistic outlook. He was keenly aware of the penalties the world demands for progress, and knew that his technological advances outpaced the existing ethical framework. His core sense of ethics, his instinct to avoid easy answers, and the cost to him personally were something I wanted to explore.
Thomas Starzl’s story is famously uplifting and continues to have sweeping contemporary relevance. I am honored to tell it, but my deepest appreciation goes to the man himself. He tread the path of a visionary from dark hours and deep fears to stunning achievement and renown. In the end, his story touches all our lives and serves as a reminder of what can be accomplished when, in Starzl’s words, we learn to “ignore the bullets” and focus on achieving the impossible.
- Tjardus Greidanus
Director Tjardus Greidanus
Courtesy of Burden of Genius