The importance of representation for marginalized voices in the film industry
In July, Indeed launched an initiative in partnership with Hilman Grad called Rising Voices, where ten BIPOC filmmakers were awarded a $100,000 production budget and crew (via Hillman Grad and 271 Films) to produce a 15-minute short film.
In this episode of Here to Help, Indeed’s CEO, Chris Hyams interviews Constanza and Domenica Castro sisters, producers, founders of 271 Films, and executive producers on Rising Voices.
The Castro sisters speak about the importance of representation for marginalized voices in the film industry, the need to challenge the status quo, and the impact of Rising Voices on the filmmakers and the industry as a whole.
You can now watch all ten Rising Voices films on Amazon Prime.
- Hello and welcome everyone.
I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed.
And welcome to the next
episode of Here to Help.
This is our look at how Indeed
has been navigating the
global impact of COVID-19.
Today is August 9th.
We are on day 524 of
global work from home.
Today on Here to Help, we'll
be talking about Rising Voices,
which is a program we
launched at the start of 2021
in partnership with Emmy award-winning
writer, producer, and
actress, Lena Waithe.
Rising Voices started
with a very simple idea.
A big TV ad for Indeed might
cost a million dollars.
And what if instead,
we invested a million dollars
for 10 Black, Indigenous,
and People of Color
or BIPOC creators to produce short films
about the meaning of work.
How would their unique
perspective on work and life
show up in these stories?
At Indeed, we know that
talent is universal,
but opportunity is not.
And these 10 extraordinary
films and the stories they tell
are proof of the power of opportunity.
For those of you interested,
the films are all
available today to stream
and on Amazon Prime Video.
Now none of this would have been possible
without the superhuman efforts
of my two guests today.
Constanza and Domenica Castro
are the founders of 271 Films
and they were the executive producers
of all 10 Rising Voices productions.
They collaborated with and supported
our Rising Voices directors.
And they ensured that all 10
films were finished on budget
and even more amazingly on
time for our global premiere
at the Tribeca Film Festival in June,
Constanza and Domenica.
Thank you so much for joining me today.
- Thank you for having us.
- Thank you so much.
- We're so happy to be here.
- Let's start where we always start these conversations, by just asking how you're doing. How are you both right now?
- We're doing great. We're excited to get to chat with you. We have our coffee, we're in Las Vegas. It's a nice day. How are you?
- I'm great, I'm super excited to be able to be here, to talk about this program, which means a lot to us here at Indeed and to me personally. And so we're going to, we're going to dive into it, but before we do that, for those folks who don't really understand, can you just talk a little bit about what does a producer and an executive producer actually do?
- Woof, (laughs) let's start with producer. What does a producer not do might be like the more, you know, adequate question. I mean, a producer does it all, a producer ensures that anything that needs to be available from like resources to money is actually available to get a movie to safety.
- To safety.
- Yeah, to get a film from start to finish and finish is not just like we have a completed film. It just travels through distribution, festivals, sort of the life after the film is made. So, you know, you're like the mother sort of, or father or, you know, parent of this baby that we call film. And we, yeah, we just ensure that every single thing is available for creativity to happen. And for stories to be told.
- Creating like a safe space, kind of like a, you know, safe sandbox for people to play in and create whatever the story requires. You know, it's all about the story at the end of the day, but it always is about the people who make the story. And that's the job of the producer is to ensure that both of those are met in the best way that they can be.
- So let's talk a little bit about how you got to where you are today. So you are sisters and you are both from Mexico City. Can you talk a little bit about your journey to founding 271 Films?
- Yeah. We've always been partners I guess, in life and Constanza is like my first and best friend and we kind of just grew up with a pretty good dynamic between us and we were always close and except maybe in our middle school years, there was a pretty large gap, even though we're only a year and a half apart, there was, you know, that age moment where you're like so different. I was still a child and she was going into becoming a teenager and we just couldn't understand each other. But beyond that, we've been, you know, best friends from the beginning.
- And business partners, we would sell candy on the street and lemonade and t-shirts, like, whatever. Yeah, we have always been business partners, but in terms of 271, we opened the, you know, our LA company at the beginning of the pandemic. So right before, actually right before, it was like February, we were working on a project with Rishi and Lena. We were like, okay, it's time to actually, 'cause we had started the company in Las Vegas, Nevada, like, let's open in LA and California and then pandemic hit, which was interesting, but the journey of opening, just, we wanted to make sure that we had a space to tell the stories that we wanted to tell, and to be able to say yes to stories that maybe some people weren't saying yes to, because they didn't find it interesting or whatever the reason might be. But that is a little bit of like in a nutshell, why we decided to open 271 Films.
- So you mentioned story and obviously the inspiration for Rising Voices was to bring new voices, to telling these stories, talk a little bit, maybe, about your inspiration for your love of, of storytelling and maybe what the power of story means.
- Yeah, I mean story, the power of story and what it means. It's, you know, I think it's part of the human experience. We all carry a story with us and we also are always exposed to different stories that change us and move us and help us evolve in the time that we have here. And so the power of story is pretty, like, you know, wild, I think in so many ways. And that's why it's such a joy to work in a space where story is celebrated and brought to life. And the stories of people that, you know, continue to inspire us or bring wonder, or fear or, you know, joy.
- Or, you know, things into our lives, at moments and emotional moments in our lives that help us cope with life, you know, is also really a big part of a story.
- And we're like, we love stories that like enable compassion and empathy and that hopefully, we're like very hopeful people. And so we have a lot of hope that was like instilled in us from a very early age, our parents always said, "Without hope you have nothing." And so, you know, I think for us, we look at story in a way too, as a tool to enable change that is much needed for all of the history of the world
- And consistent support. Also just even I think there's movies that have pushed the envelope of like technology in amazing ways just 'cause someone had a pretty big idea as to like, you know, going into some, I mean the animation of today is so different from before, but without the previous one, we would never be here. And so it's like, you know, it's just, I, yeah. I mean, story just pushes the envelope in so many ways because it allows for imagination and emotions to sort of connect. And it's kind of, to me, one of the most sacred spaces that a human being can inhabit within their selves.
- Can you share a little bit about your own experience as immigrants to the US and how that shaped your work and the stories that you're drawn to?
- Yeah, I mean, we grew up in Mexico and so a lot of the content that we were experiencing was, yes, obviously there's Mexican content, but American exports of cinema and cartoons and all of that were, you know, also part of our childhood in Mexico. And so I would say that even before we moved here, we were impacted by sort of an American lens, an American lens, and that we were experiencing life while we were at home also through sort of like, you know, the eyes of Americans, which seem to feel like that's the viewpoint of the whole world. Like that's kind of how, that's like the best way to see it. And so, I mean, if you go to Mexico, you see that a lot of people speak English. And a lot of people are, I mean, just from music to like the arts that just, the US does have this very powerful way of like, you know, sharing the arts to the rest of the world and becoming sort of like the voice for all of us. And so once we moved to the US, it kind of actually changed. And we started to see life in kind of more of like a Mexican, like, to try to make sense of like, what is, you know, now I'm really just in this space that where I don't get to share, like I used to see it through an American lens, but from a Mexican perspective. And now I'm really just in an American perspective and an American lens and sort of like trying to understand what that means has transformed us into also even connecting a little bit stronger for me with my heritage and my roots, and sort of trying to dig deeper into not losing that because it's important to bring it to life and to now be here and try to tell stories that represent us not through an American lens, but through, you know, a Mexican lens.
- And our own perspective.
- And our own perspective. Yeah.
- It was definitely, I feel like as I get older, I start to realize how much of an identity crisis you go through as an immigrant. Especially after spending, we've been here now 23 years. And the sense of belonging really becomes part of like, you know, if I go to Mexico, I don't, I'm not, I haven't experienced as a Mexican living in that country for so long that I feel a sense of, a lack of belonging, but then here, I'm also not fully like an American, so we struggled, not struggled, but at least I definitely go through delving into that experience and instead of trying to understand it, just trying to accept it, you know?
- Yeah, and I would also add that, it's kind of a super power that I think, you know, people that live in our space kind of have I've learned to embrace it in a way that feels pretty, like, unique and special to really be from nowhere, but be from somewhere, you know, within you and sort of what that does when you do integrate yourself into both spaces or different spaces and to kind of, sort of, you know, you kind of experience how you also change the temperature of a room a little bit and how, you know, your experiences, or maybe like, you know, you're not in the, you're not able to, I mean, sometimes when I go to Mexico and I speak fluent Spanish, like, I mean, it's my first language, but I spend so much time speaking English that anybody who speaks other languages would also, I think, would resonate with this, but you just get so used to communicating in one form that when you do go back, you sort of realize, oh, it's been a long time and I'm a little rusty in my Spanish, but that even changes something in the room and in a conversation. And it's not necessarily in a negative way. And, you know, I've learned to experience the world through my lens and be okay with like how it's sort of, you know, maybe clashing against other worlds, but, you know, it's, all you can be is what you are. A place is just a place to me. It's more like, you know, what you do with your life and how you carry yourself into the world in different spaces.
- I think it's amazing to think about how much of creativity and art comes from that sort of connection between different experiences. And, you know, we were talking before we started recording about food. And one of the things that's amazing about food is there's traditional food and cuisine from a specific region, but when people move around and take ideas from one place and bring it to another and bring them together, that's actually when really interesting things start to happen. And so it resonated what you were talking about with those experiences. And I think I see that certainly in a lot of the work that came out of Rising Voices. So let's talk a little bit about Rising Voices. The first chance that we had to meet was when we got incredibly fortunate to have Lena Waithe and Hillman Grad to help bring this idea of Rising Voices to life. Can you talk a little bit about, so we, I had Rishi Rajani on an earlier episode of Here to Help when we were just launching the program, who works with Lena. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to meet Lena and Rishi and how you got involved in this project?
- Yeah, we met Rishi and Lena, I think three years ago when they had a commercial that was directed by Minhal Baig. And she brought us on to produce the commercial and it was like the first commercial. It's about maternal health. We call that the first baby that we all kind of created together. (laughs) And ever since we realized that we share values and we share the kind of stories that we want to make, and we share the kind of-
- Artistic vision.
- Artistic vision, but also the kind of work environment that we'd like to create for the industry that we're sort of like pushing forward. And we've been so fortunate enough to get to work with Rishi and Lena who have truly taken us under their belt and have, you know, given us incredible opportunities, Rising Voices, being one of them. So we're beyond grateful. When Rishi called us about it and we're like, Rishi, this sounds crazy but, okay, let's do it. He's like, I can't do it without you. And we're like, all right, we got this. And so, you know, when you, when you have like an undeniable sort of opportunity in front of you, you have to say yes, even if you're scared, even if you're like, I don't know how I'm going to do it, but let's do it.
- Calculated risk.
- Yes. (laughs)
- We can do this.
- And so, yeah, we have always seen every opportunity that we have gotten to work with them as like love projects. There's just so much love and soul that comes out of them and their mission and our mission and to us, that's like the kind of, always, we're like, we need to just work with more people like Rishi and Lena. They are true game changers in this industry.
- Yeah, there's compassion, love, connection, you know, open communication, trust. Like there's all the things.
- Transparency. There's no transparency in this industry. Everything is just sort of like, and it's just the way that we enjoy working.
- And it makes a world of a difference. You know, when you have those solid foundations, everything else from there up can only be great. And that's what Lena and Rishi bring to this industry and have definitely brought to us. And so we're obviously immensely grateful to them. (laughs)
- So let's talk a little bit about the program itself, because I think that most people have no idea what it takes to make a single short film, let alone 10 and let alone on the timeline here. So just to walk folks through, we opened up for submissions for Rising Voices on February 16th, and we knew that we wanted to shoot for a premiere, all 10 films finished and up on a screen at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 16th. So that's just four months from when we got, I think more than 800 screenplays submitted, you all had to, with a group of people, read through all those, narrow that down to 20, you then interviewed 20 filmmakers and then selected 10 and then had to do pre production, shooting and post-production and get everything ready, knowing all of that, what did you think at the start of this in terms of were we really going to be able to pull this off?
- Ooh, I feel like also, 'cause it's like, yes, yeah, we can do this, let's do it. And then as everything starts to take shape and become more real and the work becomes so-
- And time starts ticking.
- To get so intense and the time just has no mercy.
- There was a time bomb.
- On its face and we were just like consistently faced by how impossible the tasks seem to be. But also how possible, like there was always a light of possibility that like never stopped shining, I guess, and it's what kept us going and moving forward. I mean, obviously reviewing the submissions that, I mean, the time it was like nothing, you know, it's just, it's so many submissions, it's so much work to look through.
- So much talent. That was hard, also. We read some incredible scripts and we're like, well, we have to narrow it down. That became also difficult, but it was a great opportunity to also keep a tracking list of other really talented filmmakers. But everything was a challenge, but in life, everything is a challenge, in film, everything is a challenge, in work, everything is a challenge. And I just think it's about overstepping those challenges and knowing that if you put the time and work, it'll happen. And we were lucky enough that all the filmmakers and everybody that they brought on board to create the films over 500 people came together to make this happen. It just is proof that the impossible can actually happen.
- And there was so much, like, there was such a strong mission behind it that there, you know, it was undeniable to just go for it. You know, it's not every day that, these 10 filmmakers, basically the way I saw it was like, you, two weeks ago, this wasn't on your radar. And today you wake up and there is $135,000 that are going to be invested in you. Like there suddenly you have this money that you can invest in yourself to tell a story, to get the next job. It's incredible. You know, it's not something that comes along every day.
- Has never come along.
- Has never come along and that sort of opportunity and in the safe and beautiful space that was, you know, set up, it's because there's programs where they're like, here's, you know, X amount of money and you'll go off and do it on your own. And everyone's at risk. Everyone who is working on those projects is not insured, is not going through payroll, is not, you know, really not protected. And the filmmakers end up risking a lot, just ignorance is bliss, you know, and there's the motivation if I want to make something, but this is a form of really making something beautiful in a responsible and fair, you know, manner to people that have great stories to tell.
- Yeah, you know, mentioned before, that sort of intersection of different experiences is one important ingredient of creativity. For me, I think the other essential ingredient of creativity is constraints. And that when you have, if you have $150 million in three years, sure, you can do it, but there's something about, you've got three months, you've got $135,000, but which, as you said, for a short film is a very generous, that's a real budget, but it is a set of constraints. And they had very, very short time schedules to work on, which makes you make decisions about how many locations you can use and how many, you know, actors and how many pages you're shooting a day and things like that. And to me, how people respond to constraints actually is where some of the most amazing art comes from. So to talk about constraints, let me just throw this out there. One of the other biggest constraints we had was COVID. So we were early on in, and there were, you know, productions shut down all over the world for a long period of time. They started coming back. So you all had some idea of what protocols were like, and we had set aside a $25,000 budget, just for COVID. Can you talk a little bit about the role that COVID played in these productions and how you managed to keep these productions all going?
- Yeah, I mean, for us, 10, you know, we've done productions through COVID and so far knock on wood. We've been clear because there are protocols that you can follow that help keep people safe, such as like wearing a mask, but it's very uncomfortable to work in this way, especially in production and especially in a, you know, it's just really, really long hours and really, really hard work. But I mean, we thought, okay, 10 movies, there might be the chance that one, you know, has an outbreak because we've seen it in the business consistently. We see big shows getting shut down. So the fact that it didn't happen is kind of a miracle and an amazing thing, but I think it also came from the diligence of like creating protocols and enforcing protocols that really kept everybody safe and having very responsible people join the teams and understand the importance of keeping each other safe.
- Keeping others safe, but also you can't do any of this without having money. And so I think that one of the key components of this, of getting through the COVID challenge was knowing that there was enough money to ensure the safety of everybody, to us, that was very important. I know that obviously for you guys, it was like super important that every single film had $25,000 for COVID safety. And that in itself was in my opinion, what enabled for the safety because you have enough money to test people constantly, to have COVID officers on set, to have protocols being taken care of and you know.
- It was expensive, it's very expensive.
- So that was a big challenge. We talked about the fact that there was a high possibility that at least one film would end up with a case. And we were extremely lucky that that was not the case. And I also think that, like Dome said, it comes down to like the responsibility that each crew member had within themselves to keep each other safe. So you can do the testing, you can have the COVID officer, but if you don't wear your mask, if you don't wash your hands, if you don't keep your distance, there's just so much that those things can do. So we also have to give it to every single person that took it upon themselves to-
- Keep everybody safe.
- Keep each other safe.
- I know when we spoke before, you all had your own experience with COVID impacting your work, can you talk a little bit about your own experience with this and in the middle of everything that was going on?
- So we kicked off production March 15th, where like we did the big intro with all the filmmakers. And so that's kind of, for us, sort of the beginning of production and March 25th, when I was heading back from Mexico City to LA, I tested positive for COVID and two days later, Domenica tested positive for COVID. We had been getting tested, we had been wearing a mask. We just had some family things that we had to deal with. And unfortunately, we contracted the virus. We were very, very, very sick. We didn't tell anybody because we didn't think that we had to because we kept working and we didn't stop at any moment
- And for clarity, you were working remotely.
- Oh yes.
- We were working remotely. Very important thing. We were quarantined.
- I mean, all of pre-production happened remotely. That's another reason why also the productions were able to be minimized.
- And minimize the risk. We encouraged as much remote work as possible from auditions to, you know, and if there were in-person auditions, there were some times, you know, films that required choreography. And so a lot of like testing and pre-testing and all of that went into making that happen. But we really, really, really encouraged as much remote work as possible. And pretty much we produced the films.
- Remote work while we were just quarantining ourselves and hoping that we would make it through COVID. We had, I mean, it was horrible. We had pneumonia. We got not the easy COVID, we got the really rough COVID but we just kept going. And I think having Rising Voices as our thing to do in the moment was really, you know, a force that pushed us to push us through the illness and to just keep going. And I mean, at the end, you know, we did reveal to the team like we had COVID, and they were like, we never knew, but actually we did hear you cough. And we were wondering, and I was like, I know, but, you know, we didn't want anybody to panic, and there were days where I really, I mean, I couldn't walk, I lost a little bit of like my motor skills. And it was, it was really, really hard, but somehow, you know, I just thought, okay, I don't know what happens. I've never had COVID before. And if anybody who has had it, and I know we all have different experience with it, it's really horrible. And I just didn't know if I would live or not, you know, at the end, because I felt so ill, but I was convinced that till the very end, I would continue to make the films. And I was like, whatever happens, you know, I'm still going to keep going. And we did, we kept going and we made it through. And then we, you know, saw them come to life at Tribeca with everybody. And it was just incredible. Yeah, this was a beautiful experience.
- We're so proud of this work and the work that everybody did, we're really, really proud.
- Well, it's an amazing story. And I mean, if you saw it in the film, it would almost feel like it was hard to believe and too made up that that there's that much drama that went into it, but I loved hearing you say that the mission of what we were trying to do was helpful to you in dealing with your own personal challenge. That's something that we have talked a lot about at Indeed over the last year and a half. We have 11,000 employees, every single employee has had their own set of challenges. Many people have gotten sick, have lost family members and friends and things like that. And for all of us, knowing that what we're doing every day is meaningful and helping in the world. And especially over the last year and a half, our mission has been more vital than it's ever been. That that has helped us every day to wake up and feel like we were doing something that was contributing. So it's a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing that.
- Jobs with purpose are the best thing that I think can happen to a person's life, mission, purpose.
- Yeah, mission driven purpose is what keeps us at least going. (laughs)
- So I'd love to hear a little bit about the filmmakers. So obviously the whole thing is really about these, there's 11 creators for 10 films and you all built incredibly strong relationships with all of them. Can you talk about their experience, what it was like, what were some of the challenges they faced during this process?
- Yeah, I mean, the challenge was, I think the biggest challenge was time. It was that we didn't have time, but like you mentioned, Chris, when you build like a sandbox for creation, 'cause you need parameters to create, if you don't have a deadline, you can go on forever. If you don't have, you know, limited resources and what are we going to do? So I think that having created just like a safe space with parameters was something that helped the filmmakers a lot because we have to constantly have deadlines and be pushing up. And it's like, you have to deliver this film by, you know, June first to premiere at Tribeca on June 16th. And so I think that time was probably the biggest challenge because in creative work, a lot of times you need to sort of be able to step away from your film for a couple of days and just be like, okay, I'm not going to think about this film. I'm not going to think about the edit. I'm not going to think about what it is. I'm going to just take some time off. And I think that that was one of the biggest challenges because the filmmakers didn't have that time. So they had to work through making those decisions that they didn't want to make, you know, a lot of times, but I commend each and every one of them for working through that giant challenge, because artists need for the most part to be able to be removed from the work and then be able to make decisions. But none of them had that. And in the end they had 10 very powerful stories.
- And I think part of becoming, you know, like, taking your work into the professional space, does require this type of growth. It requires that you make decisions in the moment and that you know your story so deeply and so well that you can choose quickly where it has to go, because nobody knows it better than you at that point. And so I think while it was a challenge, it's also something that will, I think in this amount of time, they, you know, it was like a giant sprint to the next and like the growth, the growth within themselves, because of like what Constanza's saying, when parameters are set, you have to grow, like, because you have to compromise, because you have to adapt, because you have to, you know, make it happen with what you got. I always say this, I think in every interview. But there's a quote by Guillermo del Toro that like completely is something that I've just taken in and carried throughout, not just my work in film, but my work, just in life, you know, and he was asked, what is the, you know, how can the capabilities of the director be measured? And he said that "The capabilities of a director are measured by their ability to negotiate with reality." And I thought that's like, I mean, it's just something that every time I say it, right, you know, just, it makes so much sense to me, and it makes so much sense because it is exactly that. And, you know, this program allowed for mentorship and Constanza and I had calls with the filmmakers at like one in the morning or whenever something was happening or they had something to share or something to say. And there was a lot of like, you know, I understand, and I hear the challenge that you are facing in the moment, but like, we've got to push through it. And I think that's also going back to like the work of a producer, it's like being that support system. You're like the therapist, the friend, the mother, the partner, the everything to a film and the people that make the film with you. And so in this mentorship program, there were a lot of these kind of real conversations where people were like, I understand that you're being, you know, pushed because of time to make sort of a quick decision that you're not sure that you're ready to make right now, but welcome to Hollywood. Like, this is what happens. You're going to be, you know-
- Doing this for the rest of your life.
- Making these decisions. And so this is just, you know, take this in and see it as an exercise into building this muscle that is going to be your strongest tool as a director in this business. You know, people like to hire people that know what they're doing and people that are ready to commit to something and not just, you know, out of the blue, but like a conscious made decision that helps the story become what it's, you know, that makes the vision come to life.
- But it's also turning, a challenge for me, it's always an opportunity to look back at the story and say like, how can we use this challenge to enforce and take a con and make it a pro. So that's always the approach to a problem is, okay, cool. Yes, we have a giant problem and it's horrific and we have to figure it. We have to overcome it. There's no other option. So how do you turn that into something that makes you win, that makes you your story better? So I think that's also like our approach challenges is turn it into something positive.
- Yeah, and the fear of like, this may be the last time I make a movie, and we said, no, no, no, that's not what you, don't sit in that mindset. This is one of the many movies that you will make. Don't have the fear that this is the last chance you have, you know, and I think that was a lot of like the energy that was felt at times, because obviously this is an incredible opportunity. I mean, this money doesn't come along every so often, or at all, I feel like it's the first time. So I understood that that was like present in, you know, in their radars, it's like, I have to make the perfect film, the best film, and artists will always feel that way. Like artists will always also rise up to like authority, which is great. It's like, you must, you know, that's part of being an artist. You have to also challenge the system and obviously with everything and create a system to try to, you know, to make things work. But it was also really beautiful to see and to feel the pushback. And it just made us realize that, yes, of course, we made the right choices by choosing these filmmakers because these are artists that have, you know, they have the drive to stand up to what doesn't feel right. And also push back and also, but also then compromise and understand, oh, this is also a business, and this is also, there's a deadline and there's a delivery and we must compromise. So I mean, it was a growing experience for sure. And we keep getting text messages from the filmmakers, they check in with us, like, what do you know, how, what are you guys doing? I just want to say that this was an amazing experience. And like, we hear from friends that, you know, know some of the filmmakers or whatever, like we've just heard from them the best things about the program.
- We're all on a high, and this high will keep going.
- Yeah. I don't think it'll stop. And the next thing they do, I mean, I think we all will be the first to be there to cheer them on. And this is just the beginning. We said, you know, don't see this as, this is, you're playing the long game. You're making a short right now, but you're going to play. This is the long game. Go for the long game, you know?
- Hmm, I love that. I had not heard that line before about negotiating with reality, and that's such an amazing concept. It's like a situational jujitsu, right? Transforming bad circumstances into part of the path and the experience. I think that applies in a lot more than just film. That's really fantastic, I love that. So well, so I'd love to then just jump ahead. You talked about then that experience of us all getting to be together in New York City at a Tribeca Film Festival that was navigating its own set of COVID protocols. And the screening was outdoors at this new venue that had just opened up, New York had just opened up. This was before the recent surges that we're going through right now, the weather was perfect. It was an amazing day. There was this huge, massive screen. For me, it was the first time since COVID started that I was together with a group of people watching a film on a large screen, and the 11 filmmakers were there. They had brought their family and their friends, Hillman Grad, you, the folks from Ventureland, all these people who had collaborated to make these things happen came together with the audience from Tribeca. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of what it was like for you all from your seat on your laptops, managing this production to coming into that experience and not even just the screening, seeing we had installations all over New York City around these films and what was that experience like for you being able to just walk in and actually experience all this at the end?
- Yeah, I mean, meeting everybody in person was probably the highlight. Yeah. Cause we were all so close at that point. We had been in the trenches, you know, together through the screen and through a phone and it just felt like we knew each other, but we'd never met in person. And so to finally, you know, see, I remember I was at the hotel lobby and I saw Deondray and Quincy and Elisee, and it was like, oh my gosh, hi guys. Like, this is so cool. Like we get to finally be together.
- Oh yes!
- And then from there, it just kept growing. And so many of the casts of the films were able to join. And so it's all these people that, I mean, some of them we had been very closely working with, but there were others that we'd just been watching the cuts and the edits and admiring the work that they did on set. And then to finally sort of see everybody, you know, for me, it was kind of like running and it was this giant family reunion in a way that, where you're kind of meeting your cousins that you've never met, but you know about. It just felt, you know, it was so special. And I mean, getting to obviously meet you and it brought everything full circle in a way that it's probably one of the best celebrations of my life. It really felt that way. And it was so special. And I know that, you know, you guys, the folks at Indeed went above and beyond to create an experience that's an everlasting memory for everybody. I could just hear it from the filmmakers. I mean, the way in which you guys celebrated their work was truly extraordinary.
- But also to then watch all 10 films play back to back because, you know, short programs tend to be like hour and a half long, maybe two hours tops, six to seven shorts, max, nuh-uh. And so we had never A, been a shorts program that was going to be a three hour long program with a break, but also to watch 10 films. And so that was something that was new to us. And we were like, oh, you know, it's our babies. So of course we love them, but we wonder how like an audience is going to react to that. And when we look back at the end, Domenica, like keeps telling me about this moment where she like looked back at the end of the program and everybody was like sitting and clapping and still there. And we're like, yeah, it's like, everybody stayed through and for us, that was probably one of the most rewarding moments. Because, you know, also the power of watching 10 back to back BIPOC films about BIPOC people and worlds and stories, that we're not just checking boxes, that were true to the unique experience of each and every single one of these filmmakers. And it's like, you know, yes, this is the future of Hollywood. This is what we need. This is what, you know, we have a responsibility to create stories that are representative of our world and each world living in each person and each filmmaker and that was also very cool.
- I mean, and we ended up with so many films in foreign languages with subtitles. And so I, you know, I've been conditioned to be, I mean, I don't, I've read subtitles my whole life and it's never made me not want to watch the movie or not like a movie, but I've been conditioned to like, you know, subtitles have always been like, ah, people don't love 'em so of course I was like, I, you know, this is, maybe the audience won't sit through it as well as we all will sit through it. But contrary to that, everyone stayed there. Everybody loved the movies and more than anything, everyone was entertained. I could just tell that they were entertained. And like, this is the entertainment business. And we've been told for so long that our stories are not that entertaining or that interesting. And this was really gratifying for me as a person of color to sit through and sort of challenge that idea and see it challenged with reality and just nobody left. I mean, the program was long, it's three hours, nobody left, everybody stayed. And I could hear at the end of the program, 'cause obviously, you know, people that know you've made the movies are always going to say something nice to you about them, but I just wanted to kind of remove myself from that. And I walked out with a crowd. I walked myself to the after party, just so that I could kind of get a sense of what happened, you know, and around us. And I could just hear people down the street, like that was great, wow. The time flew by so quickly. And you know, I can't believe that was three hours. And so it just, those moments really meant a lot because it reminded, you know, it reinforced the importance of these stories to be told. I think people are ready for something new. And for, you have Johnson's movie. It's an experience that I've never really had in cinema before. We couldn't cut his film shorter because it was designed, when he shot it to be edited in a specific way. And there was so much craft and, you know, I just, every movie I could sit here and talk about everything out of the films endlessly, because they're such special stories and I was excited to see them be received with so much, there was a space for them.
- Yeah. And I think that, that, you know, what was so striking was this initial idea of, instead of taking a bunch of money and spending it on one thing, that if you gave opportunity to different people, with different experiences, that you would get different and unique stories and to be frank, you know, I think we were, I think we were thinking there might be a couple of gems in there and maybe some not. And just to see 10 extraordinary and beautiful and exquisite and so personal and meaningful stories. And it was 10 out of 10 that clearly there's so much more out there. So I think that was, you know, anyone that might have any doubts about what the future of Hollywood might be, or what kind of stories are out there, that was really our hope going into this. And we talked a lot about this with Lena and Rishi is that, you know, we obviously would like to continue to do things like this, but we hope to inspire other people because there's just so much more out there that's not, that are stories that haven't been told before. And that was, to me seeing these 10 stories back to back, the unbelievable variety of human experience that was represented in three hours is actually a short time to represent that amount, that breadth of experience, it was truly incredible. Well, so one thing, obviously, as Indeed, we care a lot about jobs and work. And one of the things that we were really happy about was because of the real funding that was available. We not only created an opportunity for these 11 filmmakers, but there were more than I think 500 jobs that were created from, you know, craft service to a camera operator, to, Johnson was even talking about the fact that they could rent this space out and pay the people for the space and pay the people who brought in the food, where he's worked on things before where you had to, you know, beg, you know, and steal and borrow to get things done. Can you talk about what you think the experience of working on these films was like for all the people that had a chance to work on them and what that means for their future in this industry?
- Yeah, I mean, it was kind of a, you know, for example, that studio space it's been pandemic and, you know, everybody's business has gone a little bit slower than before. And I think while it, you know, obviously the money goes quick, regardless of it's a large quantity, but the money does go quick, but I think it went to the right places and to the right people. And while, you know, the resources, you have to manage the resources because everything costs money. I mean, just like the permits alone and this, it's not like a student film where you have a student letter and can go get discounts. This was kind of the real game and the real deal. But I think it impacted a lot of communities. I know, for example, Panavision, we have a good relationship with them. And when this came about, we were like, Hey, we have, these 10 films and we'd love for them to have a real camera, like rental house experience and work with real gear and dah, dah, dah. But like, we need your help to, you know, cut us a deal and would you, and they loved the program. And they're like, yeah, yes, of course, we will train you. And same with like Company Three and some other post houses, and just 'cause post production and equipment, real equipment is expensive, but you can only make elevated work with the tools that elevated work gets made with. And, you know, the cool thing about it was like, it wasn't a favor. There was like money that could be, eh, could, you know, that could be put into asking maybe like, instead of it costing so much money, like, could you cut us a deal, but we can pay, you know, we can pay a pretty good amount to get this experience. And so, yeah, I mean, I think the impact was big across the board. The filmmakers got to be paid for their work.
- That doesn't happen.
- That doesn't happen. Never, but even, I think in terms of like everybody working on the film, I think when you have a powerful mission, that's actually carried through by every single person working on it. That's when change and magic happens. And then you have a responsibility to carry that spirit and mission forward. And like, for example, like one of the coolest things was every time we got a call sheet and we would look at it and seeing all these names, you know, that are not like, you know, John Smith, and like going to set and seeing all these BIPOC filmmakers. I know, like, for example, Johnson wanted to find a first AD 'cause all of his background, you know, he wanted to be able to communicate in their language and he hired an AD that could speak that language and just go, it was truly magical. Like I had never seen anything like that, to be honest.
- Johnson's call sheet was like, whoa, this is amazing.
- But it's like, you can see that everybody has that responsibility and they're carrying it through.
- To their communities.
- Their BIPOC communities. And fighting to find those creatives that are going to elevate that work. And that, you know, when you mentioned, Chris, that talent is universal and opportunity is not, it's like, here's a perfect example of that. And when you have all these hardworking people creating something special, it's, I can't think of a better word, but it's like magical.
- I mean, magic happened. The timeline is not normal. Like there was some sort of like beautiful, you know, everything coming together in the most magical way that one could possibly imagine, but the people were the magic, I guess.
- So I guess, you know, from that, you know, we had this idea and then you're talking about all of this magic and these experiences that came from it. And from your perspective, having been in this industry, you know, what we did here was I think a small, but hopefully powerful example of being able to create a space for marginalized communities to tell their own stories, what else can be done to ensure that these stories can find a platform to get made and to reach the audience that's out there?
- Do you mean these films in particular or just?
- Yep, more films like that, more storytellers like this, more opportunities, what else can be done?
- Well, the resources and the freedom and the trust to let people tell their stories is the way to get more stories like these made.
- Money and freedom.
- It's just-
- Money and freedom.
- It comes down to resources and you can't make it happen. Or if you do, you just can't have the quality of work that will get the, not always, you know, will get noticed.
- But I think this program showed that when you put, when you have money and you have freedom, you get 10 extraordinary films by 10 extraordinary filmmakers backed up by hundreds of extraordinary collaborators. So like, you always talk about like money and like financing, how money changes, you know, money and freedom is the way to change, I think, and stop checking boxes. Because when you check a box, you put everybody in a compromised position of I'll give you this, but you have to change this.
- Yeah, you just chuck somebody else back in the box.
- And it loses the integrity that every project starts with.
- Yeah, I hope other people in the business or other people that are interested in financing stories and like innovative storytelling get to see what you guys have done because it really changed everything, you know, for at least the 10 filmmakers. I know that their careers will go, this is a giant push forward and a unique push forward.
- I think that the, it's funny talking to Rishi and Lena and other folks that money is the theme that keeps coming up. I'll say for us, it actually is the easy part, if you all didn't do the work that you did and the creators didn't do the work they did to actually prove the value of it, it would be harder, I think, to inspire others. So, you know, so I'm inspired by what the results of all this were. And I hope other other folks are too, we could keep talking for a long time. Well, but in the interest of time, we'll wrap up. Just a couple more quick questions. So one, in terms of the LatinX community, can you talk a little bit about the prevailing narrative that's impacted the community and what changes to that you hope to see?
- Yeah, I think to stop generalizing all the different experiences that the Latinx community has, you know, not every story is the same, not every, if you're a Mexican, Puerto Rican, a Salvadorian, you're just, you know, I feel like for so long, we've just been put into like, this is what you are.
- Like one Latino voice.
- This is who you are. And I think also the moment that we start being able to just exist within our stories without necessarily talking about how did you get here or being able to, you know, I think there's like a big step forward right now with the Blue Beetle movie, the Marvel movie, that's written by a Mexican guy from Querétaro who's super talented and a dear friend and just got cast, the first Mexican superhero, Latino superhero just got cast in this giant film. And I think that these are the steps into opening up the platform to sort of, being able to step away with that, like, generalization and when money like that goes into a film about a Latino superhero, that's one giant step that I think Hollywood has actually taken forward.
- Yeah, especially 'cause our countries and communities have seen violence for so long. We're in the violence every day, and you know, and I understand that why I think, to make sense of what has happened in our country, sometimes these works that depict the violence that we've gone through need to exist as a form of expression, but when they become sensationalized, sort of like in the US and then become how people see the rest of us, it's problematic, you know? And so it's time to give the reins of storytelling to Latin people that have, or are trying to heal through these, you know, complicated and tumultuous times that our countries have been through and are ready to just exist as people, as human beings, not as villains, not as drug cartels, not as, but rather like, you know, we want to see ourselves in the very heroic spaces that we also exist in and the very, you know, moving and human experiences that we live our lives in daily. And, you know, in the space of overcoming adversity, because that's what our communities do consistently every, every day, whether it's, you know, here in the US or in our own countries. So to just, I think it's time for us, for our dreams to also be shown in cinema and not just the devastation of our communities and be, you know, turned into like the evil people, where then the politics grow. And, you know, it's like, not to get into it, but suddenly it's like, everybody's a bad person from our countries and it's not the case at all.
- Well, as a final question, I always like to ask at the end, looking back over the time during the pandemic, is there anything that you all have seen or experienced that has left you with some optimism for the future?
- A lot of things, I feel like I've seen a lot of things that have on one side weighed me down, but others that have really lifted me up and the ones that, I mean, I think having gone through COVID alone was a really life-changing experience for me. It changed the importance of, it just gave a little bit of a heightened importance to time and what you do with it and what you can accomplish. And also the power of like, just being alive, you know, and yeah, kind of an existential maybe crisis that kicked in as I think a lot of us, you know, whether having gone through COVID or not, we've all been in, we're all in COVID in a way. And so, but yeah, I think there's a little bit of existentialism. that's come for me from this experience and it's positive. It's, you know, opened my eyes to a lot of things that I'm happy and, you know, while they're hard to see, I'm happy I've seen them 'cause I think then we can do something about them.
- I mean, I keep thinking of Black Lives Matter movement and sort of how even during a global pandemic, people showed up, even with the fear of like, the stakes were high, it's life and death. And I think that everybody that showed up put their life at risk to stand up and say, we're tired of this. And we don't care that we're in a global pandemic. This is us showing up and screaming that this needs to stop. And I feel like that moment gave me a lot of hope for the future of our society. I feel like since 2017 I have felt a decline, like our hope, because our parents taught us hope, has always been really high. And in 2017 that hope like seemed to sort of be diminishing and diminishing and diminishing. And I feel like for the first time, that felt a moment for me of outrage and an ignition that even ignited our mission as storytellers, even more because-
- And the urgency, the urgency sort of became, I don't know, the time is like a thing, it's a lot of people suffer for, you know, daily and we don't do anything to change it. And it's the urgency of like minimizing that suffering. Like how do we shorten that time? How do we take back time in a way?
- Which you can't.
- Which you can't, but if we shorten it in a way, you do, let's not prolong this much longer.
- And the importance of reparations and like to not be just a performative human, to act, the importance of action, you know? (laughs)
- Well, this was an amazing conversation. Thank you both so much for joining me, but really thank you so much for everything that you did to make this idea that we had, which was just an idea. And we had no idea how to turn into a reality to bringing this all to life in such an inspiring and powerful way. And I really don't believe it could have happened any other way. We're so fortunate to have had you as the leaders that you were throughout this and everything that you went through to help get it here. So thank you so much for being a part of that.
- Thank you.
- Thank you so much.
- For allowing for this opportunity that came to us to happen. Without it, you know, there be, we wouldn't have made 10 incredible short films and realized that the impossible can happen when you have such a strong, powerful mission behind it.
- Yeah. And recognizing the power of story. I thank you guys, definitely, for that.
- And for allowing the freedom.
- Yes as well.
- Thank you, Chris.
- And thank you for this time. It's been so lovely to get to chat with you. Thank you.
- Well, thanks again and look forward to the next time and thanks everyone for joining us today. As a reminder, all 10 Rising Voices films are available to stream today for free at indeed.com/Rising Voices. They're also on Amazon Prime Video. Just search for Rising Voices. I think you'll agree. These 10 extraordinary films and the stories they tell are proof of the power of opportunity, thank you.