“American Autumn” is your first short film. How would you describe the experience?
¡It’s been intense! Like a long voyage (but without leaving the set or the studio). I’ve learned so much and I have planted the first seeds during this journey. Young people, including myself, have trouble launching their own first projects. It’s been a long process just to get to the pre-production stage of “American Autumn.”
I studied acting, worked in fashion and art direction, did some song writing, and finally realized that a way to get all my interests together would be to direct my own visual pieces. I had never thought about it before: I just got to that conclusion after experiencing life and wanting to talk about those experiences; it was kind of a need I had.
We are bombarded all day long, with crazy amounts of information, and it generates fear. We constantly ask ourselves if our “voice” would be heard or if we will be able to carve our own space here and now. This thought was probably my biggest barrier. Also, a lack of self-confidence that is difficult to achieve when you are just 20 years old. You just have to jump right into it if not you might end up waiting for a “right moment” that will never happen.
We actually met when you were working in fashion and now you just finished directing your first short film. Even though they are two different mediums they are both about telling a story. That’s what you enjoy, telling stories?
Yes, always have. I know more or less how everyday real life works, but I need fiction in it, even if that fiction is telling a real life story with small alterations to it. Life is less boring if we have stories to tell. In cinema you can always find creative or technical directors; I feel closer to creative directors. My priority is to show a story that people will see, not to work with the best camera or achieve the perfect light. While working in fashion I was lucky enough to experience the romantic side of it, developing a concept as an art form, which was awesome. We created stories that were based on fabrics, colors and textures. Fashion was my first school.
At first glance “American Autumn” seems one of those stories we have seen before in movies: a story about relationships, mixed feelings, unfaithfulness and jealousy. However there are two elements that make it stand out: one, the fact that even though it’s a story about grown-ups it’s told by child actors; and two, the analogy with a dinner party that is about to take place. Those two elements were always present while developing the idea for the film?
Since day one, I knew I wanted to tell a story about grown-up relationships acted out by children. The story was just an excuse to be able to engage in this experiment. The structure of the dinner party/screenplay developed from the culinary adventures in the story.
Why did you decide to work with kids? Could it be because it allows some distance and helps the story be seen a different way? By the way, you can’t help smiling while watching those kids act and talk as they do.
It was an organic process. While thinking about the behavior and nature of the characters in the film hiring child actors made sense. That added a melancholic touch that worked with the story, a yearning for a life that has yet to be lived or that slipped away too soon, making us question, “where does reality end and the game start?”
The film is full of brazenness and one-liners, such as the one said by Trevor “Sweetie, I hope your NYT dinner doesn’t resemble this one at all.”
(Laughs) Right, irony and cynicism are key elements in the screenplay.
With what character did you have the most fun? I would love to see how the story unfolds, to be able to meet Victoria.
I love Trevor. I understand people who have a tendency to suffer unintentionally and in funny ways. I have a friend who is just like him; actually I jolted down notes about my friend and used them for Trevor… I just hope he never finds out about that!
The film is full of little details that set the story in context. You mention Nan Goldin, Lars von Trier, The New York Times, HBO, Château Lafite 2005... I wonder if those elements help you define your characters or if they are defining you.
Since it’s a short film we are not able to find out more about what the characters do for a living, but they all have something to do in creative fields. All the characters are based on friends and family, people I know. Of course, I haven’t actually drunk a bottle of Château Lafite (laughs). Those references help set a time and place that adds credibility to the story.
How important is Lars von Trier’s work for you and the way you understand film?
Lars von Trier had a deep impact during my teenage years. I felt connected to his way of telling stories without artifice; it seemed to be closer to the reality I had experienced. I love the raw way in which his characters and their journeys are filmed. I admire him because he is able to surprise every time in a classy way. Plus he worked with Bjork, which is just so cool. Also, the opening of “Melancholia” gives me goose bumps. The weeding, the families, all that frenzy that reminds us of “Festen.” It’s the type of cinematic experience that I love. And his actors are always superb.
Now that you mention superb actors, all the kids in your film are fantastic. Can you talk about the casting process; was it difficult to find them? Had they all worked in films before?
I signed up to all the casting webs. I would call them up and meet them at home. I saw more than 100 kids. It’s just crazy to see what a harsh schedule some of those kids have with castings calls and filming. Some of them don’t go to school, they work all day and at night they have a tutor that helps them with schoolwork. It was also fun to work with them, since some of the lines in the screenplay were a bit “mature” for their age and liking, such as “I just got my period,” they would be embarrassed while saying it. Since day one, I had a deep connection with the actors I chose. I was looking for a certain maturity level more than innate talent. I preferred and 8 year old capable of better understanding the screenplay than knowing all the acting tricks. (I ended up having a great relationship with two of them.)
In your director’s statement you mention, “I had already understood that what is natural and basic is also complex, and it fascinated me.” So true. Your first film takes place in New York and you film with children. What was the most complicated aspect during shooting? Did you have a moment were you could not take it any longer, and wanted to jump ship?
The most difficult aspect was living in a city where I hardly knew anyone. I had to figure out how to build a team and start a film project in a foreign country. Also, the relationship with the parents/guardians of some of the actors could be difficult. Seven days before shooting started I had to find a replacement for one of the actors, due to a conflict with the mother. Those were some crazy and intense seven days; at one point I thought I would have to cancel the whole shooting. On the other hand, some actors, due to their age, had trouble understanding the meaning of the screenplay, who their characters were and what was happening between the characters. The mature and subtle comments were hard to grasp, so we would talk about being a grown-up and find examples for them to see and understand. After that, they were all able to understand the theme of the story.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did the idea for “American Autumn” spring to mind?
I had the idea in mind while living in Barcelona and didn’t know I would move to NYC. Imagining children acting as grown-ups brought up interesting questions. While I was writing the screenplay I had to move to NYC.
I started a film course in NY and one of the assignments was a 20-minute film so I decided to film American Autumn. Once I started filming, after reworking the screenplay, I realized that the story would not have worked as well in Spain as it did in New York. New Yorkers are obsessive, fussy, neurotic and crazy about everything that involves food and cooking. All those elements influenced the screenplay of A.A.
Apart from casting the actors, was it difficult to come up with the rest of the team?
I was lucky enough to meet Rob Leitzell early on. We met for coffee and I started talking to him about the project. While I was heading to our meeting, I could only think about the MGMT music videos. Anywho, he loved the idea and told me he wanted to be on board. He has been a great support. Not only has he worked hard as the cinematographer but also as a producer of the film. He’s been a key player for making it happen. Rob gave me the confidence and assurance that I needed in order for me to consider a project like A.A. With him on board everything was easier. For the rest of the team I just sent out a bunch of emails to people I admired that lived in New York, some of them replied and joined the adventure.
Even though it’s your first short film you have surrounded yourself of well-established people in the industry.
I really believe that happened because they loved the idea. When Rob read the screenplay for the first time he said, “it’s not that bad…” and then I mentioned to him that children would be playing the characters and all of a sudden he loved it.
Tell me about Elias Comfort McConnell who appears in your film. He’s the only adult actor, and he plays a messenger, who has no relation whatsoever with the rest of the characters. I believe that is totally intentional. Did the fact that he is a better-known actor influence in your casting decision?
It was important for the outcome of the story to have an adult character appear at the end. It leaves the last question in the air. I admired Elias as an artist. He is also one of my friends in New York and we wanted to work together.
You also work with Andy Hafitz, who edits Larry Clark’s films. How did you meet him and what did he add to “American Autumn?”
I actually met Andy when we were at a crossroad. We had been working with an editor that suddenly left the project and we could not carry on. A producer friend of mine, Lucas Joaquin, put us in contact. We called him up and were lucky enough that he didn’t have any projects lined up and he loved the story. Andy has great professional experience and added a level of maturity to the film. Without him “American Autumn” would be just another short film. His advice and opinions have helped me a great deal.
You are an only child, but grew up surrounded by a big family, full of cousins, aunts and uncles. I can only imagine you as a child surrounded by constant family drama, which probably has been of inspiration to you as well. Do you think your first film has set the theme for your future projects or will your next film be completely different? I’m not talking about working with child actors, but about relationships and the conflicts that surround them.
I believe that theme will always be present in my work. Since “American Autumn” is my first film, I wanted to focus on my interests, which could eventually become my signature as a director and reappear in my future films. I am familiar with, and love to talk about relationships and human connection; the beauty of it all relies on as each day goes by that you learn and discover new things, be it because you have more life experience or because of everything that you see that surrounds you.
How did you establish the parallelism between the different courses served on a dinner party and the development of the story?
Silvia Gonzalez Laa, co-author of the screenplay, came up with that idea; I loved it
and decided to use it.
If you think about it, cooking is similar to filmmaking: you need different ingredients and how to use them properly in order to achieve a good result. We know you can direct, but how do you handle yourself in the kitchen?
(Laughs) I would love to say I’m great but I’m awful at it. Having said that, food is one of the loves of my life.
The illustrator Jordi Labanda is the art director and one of the executive producers of your film. How was it working with him? I love his still-life illustrations that appear at the beginning.
Working with Jordi is great! No one but him could be able to put into context this group of friends and their daily whereabouts. He just knew the type of characters I was talking about in “American Autumn,” so it was fun to see the sketches he would send to the costume department. He filled up a Mood Book with images from the late 70 to early 80, which I had never seen before, and were so helpful in shaping the story. We took an interesting aesthetic voyage together that we both have enjoyed greatly. His film knowledge is endless, so that really helped while adapting different ideas into the film, made everything dynamic and easy.
Talking about Labanda, you won’t mind me asking if he had anything to do with the writing of the screenplay? It’s just that when Catherine says “The Château Lafite from 2005 needs to breathe before being served,” I couldn’t help but think of his comic strips “De lo Last” for AB Magazine at the end of the nineties…
It’s so funny you mention that. Actually once I finished the screenplay I sent him a copy for him to read. A couple of days later he sent the screenplay back with a few notes on the side, and one of them was the reference about the Château Lafite. So we could say that is his contribution.
Now that the film is finished, what will your next steps be? Are you planning on showing it at different film festivals?
Right now we are looking for a distributor that will show it at film festivals and other media outlets. We are trying to show the film in as many countries as possible, so people have a chance to watch it online, on TV or at a movie theater.
Is it nerve wracking to show your work to critics and audience? What do you hope their reaction will be?
You are so immersed in the filming and editing process that you tend to forget what will happen next. When I started filming I was much more restless… It’s better to just let yourself go and wait and see the reaction of the audience. I’m aware that the story can generate discussion since children are involved. I believe I might get asked why I decided to use child actors; hopefully their interest in my answer will be enough to make me happy.
What can you tell us about your next project?
It’s named “These Days” and it’s about the eccentric relationship between a mother and her son. It’s a 30-minute art film in which the reality the characters live in takes place in an everyday world that is equal parts surreal. The purpose of the project is to allow the different creative departments involved in it experiment and work with a story that has no sense of time or place. By doing so we are creating a new scenario that is not only artsy but also entertaining.