Today I get to sit down with a future AFI producing fellow and the producer the Las Vegas indie film Liars, Fires, and Bears, Constanza Castro.
So Constanza, you’ve done directing, acting, and producing. You are about to attend the American Film Institute for producing so I assume this is what you have decided what you want to do in the industry?
Yes. It was really hard to figure out. For a long time I thought, “I want to direct, I want to direct, I want to direct.” I wasn’t able to do it as much because I was constantly producing. I LOVE producing and it’s something that comes off easy for me. I also love directing though. I remember taking Wolfgang Muchow’s class and he wanted us to choose one thing. I chose directing for the first half of the semester and the second half I changed my mind to producing and had my mind made up.
Everybody always said to me that if I was going to apply to AFI, to apply for producing. “You’re a producer,” they’d say. As soon as I had my mind made up, people changed theirs, saying that I should go for directing. I was like “Are you kidding me? You’ve spent four years telling me that I’m only a producer and now all of a sudden you want me to go for directing?” It was really hard and at the end of the day I made the decision that I love filmmaking and it came down to me wanting to learn the business aspect. I think I need to hone my skills as a producer and just really learn to make a film in LA, because it’s not the same as making a movie in Vegas. I think that AFI will enhance both the creative and business side for me.
The history. I’ve had a lot of friends that have gone. I was thinking about going for the Stark program and I decided AFI was the better choice for me after talking to all my friends and doing my research.
Do you have any plans for after AFI? Staying in LA or coming back to Vegas, or will go where the opportunities take you?
My ideal plan would start after my first year at AFI, which is hectic and crazy. Around the time of thesis I’d like to toy around with the idea of developing a script for a feature or if any of my friends have a feature then to jump on board to make my second feature. But if something else comes up, you never know, you have to take an opportunity if you see it.
You’ve already produced the feature film, Liars, Fires, and Bears. What’s it like producing a feature film in Vegas? What’s something that you didn’t know going into it that you do now?
A lot of things actually. Thinking about deliverables for distribution. Just how important it is to have your music rights cleared right from the beginning. Negotiate to get those full rights right away as opposed to going to festivals. I kind of knew about it but I didn’t know how important it was. Thinking about clearing a script and going through the things distribution companies ask of you.
How to be a bit more organized like having the right software to keep track of your budget. It’s those things that they don’t teach you at school. You’re doing a movie and making it happen and you have to figure it out on your own. You figure out a way but it may not be the easiest way. Also having a line producer so I don’t have to do that (Laughs). It’s good to learn though.
You just don’t like it.
Yeah. I don’t know if you remember me with all my papers in my car on LFB. Keeping track of money and receipts and knowing how to organize it at the end so it’s ready to show anyone.
What is something that came easy for you when shooting LFB? Something you were prepared for completely.
We had a really solid pre-production, you were involved in that. I think that having Devon Byers, Rachel Alterman, yourself, and myself working together keeping in communication constantly really helped. From my point of view, I think we had a pretty solid, easy shoot with little problems. At the core I think it came down to thinking ahead. Knowing where the bathrooms are, is there wi-fi, where are we putting craft services. We didn’t really have a production office, we had my car (laughs). Thinking ahead for all the different situations, how can we control sound. And keeping in communication with people.
All the short films you’ve worked on must have helped with the experience.
Absolutely. I also think that the experience we got from working on Stealing Las Vegas helped on a bigger scale.
We had never seen a big production like that and having that sense of how departments worked was helpful as well as seeing how much work and how much communication it took. It made it more than just a few friends making a movie. It made it more professional. I always try to take my productions as seriously as possible. Have fun, but treat it like it’s a million dollar movie. Keep it cool but always working and treating everyone with respect.
What was the hardest part of production for you on set?
I get asked this constantly and it’s really hard to answer. I don’t know if it’s just me and I’m biased because everything seemed so easy and I had so much fun. I had a really amazing team of people backing me and the project up.
The first day of shooting was tough. I woke up to a snowy backyard! It usually doesn’t snow in Vegas. I check my phone and I had like fourteen missed calls from Rachel (co-producer), Devon (1st AD), and Ashley St. George, our actress who couldn’t drive to Vegas from LA because the roads were closed. We explored everything. Flying her would raise our budget because the entire public wants to fly all of a sudden because they can’t drive through a closed road, so the ticket prices skyrocketed. We weren’t sure if she could even make a flight. We talked rescheduling and even talked recasting because the bar would only give us that day to shoot there. Finally the odds were in our favor and Ashley was able to make it. That same day Lundon Boyd, our lead actor, got sick from drinking apple cider over and over for a scene. What do you do with a sick actor? Lundon soldiered through it and maybe even tried to fuel it in his performance.
Part of it is learning how to be a good leader and take care of your crew. We always tried to take care of our cast and crew.
What would you do differently in hindsight?
Work on the story. With Rex ’84, which is a potential future project we had to put off, for now, as the director of photography Craig Boydston and myself are going off to grad school. I tried to focus a lot on the story, much more than I did with LFB. We could have rushed off and shot it before grad school but the script wasn’t ready and we needed a lot of money. We are all passionate about it but decided that it was best to put it off for a bit and continue to work on the story. It’s important to spend the right amount of time on the script and really try to squeeze as much story out of it as possible. As a producer I think that it’s just as important to focus on the story, as it is securing the funds and getting the key elements together. With Rex ’84 I noticed I craved to spend more time digging into the story and the core of the characters.
I would also think about how to market the movie before starting a project. Your first movie you can do almost anything you want and be creative because it’s almost an exercise because you are still learning and starting out. Is this marketable? Who is the audience? What am I trying to say? Who am I trying to reach? I didn’t think about that stuff back then.
There are so many little things you don’t expect and you don’t think about, but you have to.
Back then you were one of the first Vegas projects to raise money on Kickstarter. Since then other Vegas filmmakers have raised money on Kickstarter and some have failed. Some have completed production and some never even got started. Kickstarter also takes a percentage of what you raise. Would you recommend filmmakers going the Kickstarter route?
I think Kickstarter is still going strong. You have to think about the network of people you can reach. If you have a marketable idea you can use key words to attract more than just the people you know. I don’t know if I would do it again unless there was a key topic I knew I could use to reach out to a larger audience with. For instance, if you do something on autism there is a community that will support projects about autism. I just don’t know if I would want to exhaust my family and friends again. I do think Kickstarter is something to consider still. Kickstarter can legitimize a project because it is so public.
We had twenty or so days of food donated. We had a Facebook page and got as many likes as we could. We said we would give the place a shout-out on Facebook and we have x amount of fans. It was only 300 but people will do it. You just have to ask. We knew we weren’t really going to be making money. People will help you especially for a non-profit thing that’s creative. Always thinking of asking for free stuff first and then consider paying later. Ask for free and then negotiate.
How is the distribution search going?
Distribution is hard. There are a lot of scam companies. I took a year of entertainment law at UNLV and I think any students in the entertainment/art world should take that class. It puts you on a different level. It’s the class that got me into thinking of art as a business. It goes fast and covers many things but it gets you really thinking of art in a business mindset. My professor donated an hour of her time to help with pointers for distribution and what to watch out for, what to ask for, or what to ask to be taken out of contracts. She was extremely helpful. It’s just trying to find a company that will take care of your film and put it out there. As long as it’s available for people to access it, that’s what’s important for me.
So I’ve exhausted you about Liars, Fires, and Bears. Here are some easy but not so easy questions.
You can’t ask that! That’s so hard!
Um…Clockwork Orange, Mean Streets, City Lights. Oh and 400 Blows. Can’t believe I forgot that one, it’s one of my favorites.
What about your favorite movie of the last year?
The first one that comes to mind is Beasts of the Southern Wild. The story really touched me and I was amazed at the fact that it was a first-time director. It was a very hopeful thing. Looking at what the film accomplished, you think it is possible to get there sooner than later. Also Stoker, which I saw at Sundance but is now in theaters.
You’ve produced a good few music videos. How did those come about and what’s different about producing a music video compared to a normal narrative?
For music videos, it’s different from project to project. Rusty Maples, Gold Boot, and Black Boots were friends who asked us to make a music vid, and since we love their music we were like HECK YEAH! Music videos allow you to tell stories and be creative in a different way, though, but just like in film, you have to visually tell the story. It’s a load of fun. But the production of it is the same as making a movie, it just depends on the actual project how big or small it will be.
Who is your favorite producer or director you would really want to work with?
Drake Doremus, the director of Like Crazy. I love his stuff. I love the stories he tells and I love his voice. I think it’s very honest. I love Scorsese too but if I could go back in time I would want to work with Kubrick.
What would be you best piece of advice to young producers and young filmmakers just starting out?
Work on as many things as you can with as many people as you can. Find out what you like and what you don’t like. Find out what movies you like. Find a voice and find the stories you want to tell. Take every opportunity. You will learn and you will grow from working with a variety of people. Get out of your comfort zone and explore.
Thank you Constanza for your time and best of luck with your future projects and AFI!
Constanza Castro info: