Stress, Hard Work, and Obstacles
While public perception would have us believe that working in the entertainment industry is a glamorous affair peppered with limo rides and power-suit meetings, the reality of filmmaking is vastly different.
Every project, no matter how big, runs into problems and interruptions to the work that threaten to ruin the final product.
Just take a look at Hearts of Darkness, the famous documentary chronicling the making of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus.
The production was plagued by outlandish demands from actors, a heart attack, monsoon weather, and more than a few moments when it looked like the movie wouldn’t get made at all.
Fortunately, the movie was completed, and the world got to see it, leading to claims that it was, in fact, one of the greatest movies of the 20th century, and certainly one of the best movies about the Vietnam War.
It was years before moviegoers learned about the ugliness of the production. We’ve yet to accept that many productions encounter serious problems.
Filmmaking is a challenge, even when 100% of the crew is working toward the same goal. It requires both artistic and tangible skills, combining the real and the imaginary.
Down in the Trenches
Karla Luna Cantu and Antonio Salume are two talented Mexican filmmakers who draw from their cultural heritage to create heartfelt pieces that evoke a strong sense of humanity and solidarity.
Cantu is a Producer and Director. Her short films have earned awards from IndieFEST, the WCA Feminist Media Festival, and the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Salume is a Producer, Director, and Writer who has worked with A24, Big Beach, and Cinereach, as well as producing music videos for Grammy-winning artist Miri Ben-Ari.
Despite their success, both Salume and Cantu remain hard-working filmmakers who are always looking ahead to the next project.
We spoke with the two recently to help gain a more realistic view of filmmaking and the entertainment industry as a whole, which seems to be going through a transitional period.
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We’d love to hear how you both got started with film. Were your families interested in movies when you were growing up?
Salume: Ever since I was a little boy, the idea of making films excited me, yet, it always felt like a fantasy. I always thought I would end up becoming an architect. Although no one in my family works in the entertainment industry nor practices an artistic craft professionally, I was always attracted to those worlds. I am happy that the fantasy of becoming a filmmaker became a reality.
When I was a junior in high school, I took a literature class that changed my whole perspective about art, and life, forever. More than literature, this was a class about the complexity of humans. I loved my professor, who instilled many philosophical concepts in my head through incredibly sophisticated thoughts he would share with me during lunch breaks after class.
It was here that I read Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, which became one of my favorite books, and watched films such as Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders. Such pieces of art, merged with the class discussions, revealed to me the depths of their work, the beauty of human expression, and its power to connect with a multiplicity of people, which greatly influenced my decision to pursue a career in film.
Once I graduated from high school, I came to the U.S. to study film. The rest is history, I suppose.
Cantu: The first thing I said I wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. Since I was 5 years old, I’ve been in love with storytelling. I think storytelling is an incredibly powerful way to connect with others and transmit a message in a digestible way.
Stories show unique perspectives and create empathy for people who might be different. All humans are drawn to stories, characters, and emotions. I always saw stories and filmmaking as this language that would allow me to communicate with the world. I wanted to make something that had a purpose, and film just seemed the perfect way to do it.
I started making little home videos, and one day, when I was about 14 years old, I officially decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. One day our history teacher gave us an assignment to make a short film retelling the events of World War I. Everyone hated this assignment but I fell in love with it.
I was so passionate and excited about it that I wrote a script, casted my family and friends, produced, directed, and edited it. After submitting my assignment my teacher was impressed and for the first time I received a perfect grade in history. I was proud and immediately realized I had found my reason and purpose in life.
Additionally, my family would go to the movies every Sunday. Although most of the films we watched were commercials movies, they definitely ignited my admiration for movie making. Besides our movie collection and trips to the theater, my family and I knew nothing about the actual process of filmmaking, so when I actually decided to study and dedicate myself to film, I had to do a lot of research and work hard to discover my own path.
How important is your cultural background to your work?
Cantu: My cultural background is part of my identity and I always inject my work and stories with my identity. I don’t really think about it. It’s a subconscious process since we all write and create from what we know. My identity and the people surrounding me always end up being a huge source of inspiration.
Also, I really enjoy writing in Spanish and I believe that affects the way I think and write. In my opinion, every language brings a different form of expression.
Finally, I want my cultural background to always be important because I would love to inspire other people like me to make their voices heard in this industry. I want to make sure I help tell these previously untold stories and represent characters accurately.
Salume: I agree with Karla, writing in Spanish is a very different experience than writing in English. Each language places you in a different mindset, and as such, you end up creating different work.
I believe that one’s cultural background will always be present in any artist’s work, whether intentionally or intentionally, consciously or unconsciously. Belonging to a cultural group influences a person’s mindset and behavior in ways that the person may not even realize.
My Mexican cultural background, and growing up in a household with a family of Middle Eastern ancestry, is one of my biggest inspirations, not only in my work but in the way I see life.
When I create a work of art, I like to feel that it is an extension of myself in one way or another, and as such, it will contain some aspects of my cultural background no matter what.
The Nitty Gritty
Can you tell us about your most valuable asset as a filmmaker?
Cantu: I think my most valuable asset is a sense of patience and determination. The film industry is an industry of many no’s, so it’s important to continue fighting for your dream no matter how many times you fail.
Finally, as this is a medium of collaboration, it’s important to have patience when dealing with so many people. I think every time I lead a project, my patience has allowed us to set a good work ethic and positive mood. In my opinion, being kind and open with your team will always lead to a more productive working environment.
Salume: Adding to what Karla said, I believe that being able to connect and relate to people has played a significant role in my development as a filmmaker in many ways. Looking back, being empathetic is my most valuable asset.
Empathy towards others has sustained my passion and fascination about people’s stories and experiences, which has encouraged me to meet people from many places and challenge many of my preconceptions about life. These interactions and experiences have shaped my artistic vision and expanded my knowledge about fellow humans and myself. The bonds I have formed in the past are very often some of my biggest inspirations when telling a story.
Being empathetic has also played a significant while under pressure on set. It’s a skill that can only be developed through patient listening and a conscious effort to understand the other person.
What are some of the most common challenges during production?
Salume: To me, the word production means challenge. I know it sounds like a joke, but more often than not, whatever can go wrong goes wrong on a set. If there are chances of rain, assure yourself there will be a storm. Do you suspect that a noisy neighbor lives nearby? Expect that neighbor to sing the national anthem 50 times on the day of your shoot – each time in a different language.
In all seriousness, making films is always risky, and there are many things that one cannot control. It’s always safe to assume that things will go wrong, and that way you feel more prepared when surprises arise. Many times, the biggest challenges during productions are completely unprecedented and unique to the project, sometimes even in funny ways.
For example, I once produced a short film in a house we rented. We had the owner sign the location agreement and necessary documentation weeks ahead of the shoot. Later on, during the first day of the shoot, a man who no one knew showed up to set, complaining about us shooting a film at “his place.” When we showed him the signed location agreement from the owner, he then said he had bought the house just the day before and, as such, we were shooting in his house without permission.
Cantu: I agree with Antonio about how challenging productions can be. Every production brings its own challenges, but I have realized through the years that communication is the main source of most of these challenges.
I’m always looking to test new forms of communication in order to find the most effective way to collaborate with big teams. Misunderstandings cause the most difficult challenges. Additionally, communication is important because it allows you to express a vision and plan. Sometimes you might have a wonderful idea and the vision works very well in your head but then it fails in execution.
You have to figure out the best approach afterward by knowing how to problem solve, what to sacrifice, and how to use your creativity to find a solution and move forward.
Putting it All Together
Are there any major lessons you’ve learned since entering the field of entertainment?
Cantu: I have learned so many lessons, like how to talk with others, how to set expectations, and how to plan before you act. But most importantly, a lesson that has allowed me to prioritize my to-do lists and reduce stress is reminding myself that it’s not a matter of life or death.
I think the stress of a production can really get to you and it’s very important to learn and remind yourself that the entertainment industry is a field of passion and sharing stories. What we do is very important, but we are also not in the midst of saving lives, so if things don’t work out perfectly the first time, that’s okay.
Another major lesson is having confidence in yourself. Being confident has allowed me to be a better leader. The way you feel about yourself reflects on the way people perceive you. I had to make peace with my insecurities and be able to present myself as someone who knows what she is doing because I do.
Finally, I have learned privilege comes with responsibility. Being able to work in this industry and having a voice is a huge privilege, and I feel very grateful for the opportunity.
Salume: Working in film has taught me major lessons about the entertainment field. As Karla mentioned, patience and determination are always important when making films.
Another lesson I have learned is that, although it may sound silly sometimes, we are all human in the end. While critical acclaim, fame, and awards may increase a person’s value in today’s social landscape, the beauty of this industry is that, at its core, it has the power of connecting people to a diverse set of life experiences. Films have the capacity to remind us of our shared humanity.
How important is choosing effective crew members to a production’s success?
Cantu: Crew members are definitely a major element in a production’s success. Filmmaking is a collaboration so it’s silly to think the success of a production falls on a single person’s shoulders. No matter how hard you work, if your team does not follow the same work ethic, it would be very difficult to succeed.
Many directors work with the same crew members through all their projects. I think it’s essential to find the people you work with most effectively in order to maximize your productions’ success. Also, when you work with someone you start to develop your own creative language and understanding.
Good team members will add and contribute to the creative process. A good idea can come from anywhere, so when you have a group of passionate people all working towards the same goal, then you will most likely have a successful outcome.
Salume: I fully agree with Karla. As a collaborative art form, choosing effective crew members and cast members is 100% what dictates a production’s success.
The core of this idea is that your collaborators must be people with whom you can bond through trust and a passion and eagerness to bring a story to life. Few things are more fulfilling than the feeling of being in tune with other collaborators.
Do you have a favorite aspect of the filmmaking process?
Salume: This is a tough question since every step of the filmmaking process is unique and an experience in its own right.
Whether it’s brainstorming ideas alone or with friends, waking up in the middle of the night with the perfect ending for your story, seeing your project come to life on the very first day of production, it’s tough to choose one of these wonderful moments.
There are so many beautiful and emotional aspects of the filmmaking process. I think the process as a whole is my favorite.
Cantu: My favorite aspect of filmmaking is sharing the creative process and seeing things come to life. I love seeing a big group of people all working towards the same goal.
Also, I love seeing audiences react to anything I have been part of. I think you get a huge amount of validation when you make someone laugh or cry or smile. We make movies and share stories in order for people to react, so when that happens it’s the best feeling in the world.
Can you tell us about which of your projects you’re most proud of?
Cantu: Of my current projects, I’m most proud of the feature I’m writing with Antonio about a road trip to Mexico. Araceli, a closeted music grad, returns home to Chula Vista to find her family fighting over her mentally ill grandfather Nando, who strongly believes he is becoming a tree as he approaches death.
In an attempt to avoid their family’s disapproval, Araceli and Nando escape to a flawed Mexico, looking for their identities and roots. I’m incredibly proud of what we have done because this is the first feature we’ve written together. Also, this project is an exploration of identity in relation to culture, religion, gender, mental health, and age. These are all topics that I deeply care about and I hope we can contribute to these important conversations.
Salume: I am also profoundly proud of the project Karla and I are writing, and more so, I am proud of being able to collaborate with her. Aside from the feature, working with Karla has always been an absolute pleasure. We both met in L.A. one summer at an internship and, ever since then, we have stayed in touch through the years.
My pride in this project comes from the ability to talk about my culture authentically with someone who also understands it, yet has lived outside of it and knows how it’s perceived. By exploring the concept of identity, we are aiming to examine aspects concerning the creation of divisions within not only the Mexican society but the worldwide one. I believe that this story is coming from a very personal place for both of us while at the same time being universal.
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Karla Luna Cantu is a Producer and Director. Links to Cantu and her work can be found here:
Antonio Salume is a Producer, Director, and Writer. Links to Salume and his work can be found here: