Interviewed by: J. Graciano
We had the pleasure of catching the short film "Casey", directed by Miguel Duran and written by Violeta Reina at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The film immediately stood out with its raw portrayal of a teenager's struggle to find her own identity while carrying the burden of her mother's alcoholism. Casey expresses her frustrations and dreams to become more than her surroundings through her lyricism.
"Casey" has screened in numerous film festivals including Dances with Films, Portland Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival.
We're excited to have caught up with the creators behind the film, Miguel and Violeta:
What inspired you to create this film?
Violeta - I’ve often heard the phrase, write about what you know. And for me, what I knew was my own family’s experience with alcoholism and addiction. I knew what it looked like to see someone struggle with that, to love them dearly but hate what they were doing to themselves, and to see them be at the utter mercy of their addiction with little control over their own emotions. I tried to show this in the character of the mother.
What is your background in filmmaking? Please elaborate on the uphill battle of DIY filmmaking, and also the merit you may see in it?
Miguel – I graduated with a degree in Film Studies, but didn’t have much formal production experience from school. I gained that through working on sets – working as a production assistant on a couple of smaller projects and then working my way up to production coordinator and production manager on some larger projects and music videos. Then I ventured out to making my own projects, directing a few short films and several web series episodes. I think learning by doing, trial and error, is the best way to learn. Learning how to shoot with limited resources and no budget forces you to be more creative with your storytelling and while the first attempts may not always be successful, you are going to be able to add a little more each time you create something new.
Violeta - I didn't really become interested in film until much later. I started by just helping Miguel where I could. I had dabbled in things like makeup and set design, but really out of necessity only. But at a certain point I realized I wanted more than just helping out occasionally. I thought really hard about what I could learn fairly quickly that would contribute the most and I though makeup was a good fit. So I studied on my own, focusing more on the fx side, although I didn't use that skill for this particular film. I tend to focus on this particular skill now, but since I do have the experience with other areas, I will still do them for our own projects. I try to have a very can do attitude, and anything I don’t know, I can learn. But it does make it difficult sometimes, to wear that many hats on set.
Your film focuses on hip-hop as a positive force. What are your thoughts of hip hop as a whole, taking in the mainstream form which references sex, money, drugs, and violence?
Violeta - I am not actually that into hip hop myself, for the very reasons you mentioned. But my brother was. But he was into underground hip-hop. When I would go see him perform, I was always struck by what a deep and raw form of expression this was. It was never anything glamorous, but I know that he put all of his fears, his frustrations, his disappointments, his regrets into this writing.
But he also put his hope and dreams in them too. He was a true artists and he left all of that on the stage every time he went up there. And it wasn’t just him, this was true of everyone I saw take the stage. No one was there for the fame or the glory; they were there to share a story. And it didn’t matter if you liked it or that you could relate. What mattered was their need to share it, and in that way I came to see what he was doing with hip hop as no different than what I was doing with filmmaking.
Hip-hop, like any other art form, allows people to express themselves. And while the subject matter is often dark or morbid, I think in the sharing of it, there exists clarity, there exists peace.
Since the main character, Casey, is based off of your brother why did you choose a female lead? How do you think this impacted or changed the film and how people view it?
Violeta - I tried to write it as a male lead at first. I knew I had to start the story in the middle, right when the two characters were fighting. But when I envisioned this in my head as a male lead, it kept turning into a physical altercation between the boy and his father. But I didn’t want that. I thought it would be more powerful, to have the same scene play out in a more subdued way, and layered with tension rather than an overly dramatic shouting scene. And when I made the choice to make it subtler, the lead in my head turned into a female and I knew it was going to be a story about a young girl and her mother.
What do you think about the lack of imagery on screen of brown people and their daily stories? And how do you go about portraying that with less of an established blueprint?
Miguel - In general, I think it’s frustrating because it’s hard to break stereotypes, so it’s a constant uphill battle both to get Latinos cast in roles that aren’t stereotypical, and to tell stories that will resonate with that audience. I think a little of both would go a long way in seeing positive portrayals.
I think another factor is getting community support at the box office. A lot of people like to bemoan the lack of diversity in films, but don’t show up when a diverse movie is released. However, there’s also a responsibility to the filmmakers. You need to make something well executed and compelling enough for people to want to see. A diverse cast alone isn’t enough.
Were there any notable resources you used to move your film from script to reality?
Miguel – The two biggest factors to making Casey a reality were Violet’s brother Victor David and our amazing crew. I had worked with our DP, Alex Simon, on a previous project and having that experience together really made us in sync to move quickly. We only had the club for four hours to shoot the performance, arrival, and exit scenes so everyone had to be on top of their job to pull it off.
Violeta - We knew the most difficult location to find would be the club, but luckily since my brother was a rapper himself, he was able to put us in contact with a club he frequently performed at.
What're some aspects of your film that you were really happy with, such as a certain shot, specific scene from an actor, or specific location?
Miguel – I think I am most proud of Yvette’s performance. This was one of her first lead roles and she had never rapped before. I was so impressed with her professionalism and determination throughout the process and I love how she brought the character to life. I’m also really happy with how the club performance came out. As I mentioned earlier, we had the club for such a small amount of time and yet we were able to shoot everything we needed, and thanks to planning between my DP, Alex and me. We were able to get some great shots.
And finally, our two supporting characters, played by Eddie Ruiz and Marisilda Garcia really delivered. Their relationships with Casey, and the delicate balance between who they appeared to be and who they really were was so important for the film to work. Their presence was vital I was really happy with what they brought.
What is next up in your film production?
Miguel – Right now, I am focused on directing my first feature film, from a script I wrote. It’s been a long journey to get this feature off the ground, so we’re really excited that it’s finally going into production this Fall. In the meantime, we also completed a dark comedy short film at the beginning of the year that is currently in post-production. I am also developing a short thriller to shoot at the end of the summer.