Or Die Trying's Claudia Hoffman caught up with indie filmmaker Bri Castellini to discuss her experience in the film industry and her award-winning web series, Brains.
ODT: How did you begin to establish yourself in the film community?
Bri Castellini: Twitter, almost exclusively. And it didn't happen until well into production for the second season of my web series, because all this kind of happened on accident and I severely underestimated how difficult marketing was. Basically, I started following a bunch of web series creators and web series bloggers on Twitter, and noticed that every Wednesday a lot of them participate in an hour long hashtag conversation at #WebSeriesChat.
I started joining in around September of last year, and every week we cover a different topic specific to creating content for the web, and it's an awesome opportunity to meet people and to discuss/share horror stories about being a web series creator.
ODT: What challenges did you face while starting out? How did you overcome them?
BC: Probably the biggest challenge I faced when I first started filmmaking was the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Before moving to New York for grad school (I have an MFA in Writing and Producing for Television), I was a prose-focused creative writing major. I could tell a story and make people chuckle, but I had no idea what it was like to be on a set, to be in charge of a production, or to have up to thirty people asking you questions for problems you didn't realize could possibly exist. Plus, the summer I started out, we weren't just filming my web series, we were filming two others as well, and I held a variety of roles in each. There was one week where we were on one set or another for eight days straight, all while having full time jobs elsewhere.
As with most things, I overcame not knowing what the difference between a director and a producer was with time. That three production summer was hell, but it was also a crash course in everything that could go wrong and right on a film project. I learned what a production designer was and why they were so vital, I learned that you have to schedule things weeks in advance and then send reminders frequently, I learned that you always have to have fruit snacks on set, and I learned the importance of delegating, because no film project gets done without help.
ODT: What are the obstacles you face being an indie filmmaker? What are the perks?
BC: Honestly, the biggest obstacle I face is money, and the severe lack of it. Every project I've made so far has been done largely by volunteer effort, which is incredible, but which is not sustainable.
We're young artists in New York City, and there is only so much you can ask of or expect of people without them getting paid. If they're losing money by working on your project, because they had to switch shifts at work or decline another job, that's not a great system. It also means we have to make a lot of sacrifices with quality and certain stories, because we can't afford a location, or a full film crew, or more than two hours with a particular actor.
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and Seed&Spark are great services, and work for a lot of people (ODT included!) but the market is absolutely flooded with creative people needing funds, and success in that arena is hard to do once, let alone over and over again, without a massive audience willing to help out on a continuous basis.
The perks are that I'm in 100% control of what projects I do and what stupid things I make my friends say on camera. I've seen how long it takes for an idea to get to production at a larger, more traditional company, and I've seen how often ideas get thrown out at literally any stage of development for no good reason. At the indie stage, though, if I want to make a thing, I can and will make a thing, and no one can stop me or tell me it isn't marketable or decide I need to work on something else that will make them more money. With indie film, I don't have to worry about swearing too often, or including more representation, or being advertiser friendly- I just have to worry about making something I'm proud of.
ODT: Tell us about your award-winning web series, Brains. How did this come about?
BC: The decision to start filming Brains, my first project, was the most casual decision to become a filmmaker ever. I'd written a ten episode web series script for a class I knew I'd be taking in the next semester, and my friend with more (see: any) film experience was like "we could totally film this." And then we got a couple people together and did it!
Brains came from a 5 minute play I wrote in college, also called Brains, set in a piano practice room during a zombie apocalypse. Ever since that play, I couldn't stop thinking about the zombie concept I'd come up with, or the way the lead female character was soooo over the zombies around her. It then became a short story, a version of which was actually published in a literary magazine a couple years later, and finally, after watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Frankenstein MD, it became the web series it is today. Now, we've got two full seasons online, two "extended universe" spin off projects made in LA and Wales, and a small but fierce fan following. I've actually written 5 and a half total seasons (season 6 should be complete in a few weeks), and because we're unlikely to produce any more of it due to costs, we'll probably do a series of filmed table reads with the cast so that we get a little closure.
Or someone could give us a bunch of money. I already have my eye on a few good locations for season 3...
ODT: What do you think is the best way for the industry to go about closing the gender gap?
BC: I think a good place to start is actually in front of the camera- they're the most visible to the general public, and seeing women on screen doing more than one or two things is incredibly important to the way culture views women and their worth. Media shapes culture, and tells culture what's important and what's normal.
Without seeing women on screen, which is to say without seeing women as frequently on screen as men particularly in positions of power and complexity, it's easy to think they aren't contributing and that seeing them around is abnormal. Then, more men will see women as equals or at least as viable human beings, and more women will learn at an earlier age that they can do whatever they want.
ODT: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
BC: Don't overthink it and just start making things. The first couple things you make might suck, and honestly, they probably will suck, but do them anyways, because how else are you going to learn and find your voice?
Also, learn as much as you can about as many facets of the filmmaking process as possible, even if you only really want to write or act or direct. The more you know, the more you can make educated decisions in your own position and the more valuable you are on an indie set where everyone has to help out with everything and not just stick to their departments. Understanding camera angles has drastically changed and improved my writing, for instance, and knowing how to edit was vital when my original editor dropped out and I had to edit the entirety of my web series on very little notice.
ODT: Where can people find you?
BC: Online as @BrisOwnWorld on most major social media sites, particularly Twitter, where I am basically 24/7. Also, @BrainsWebseries on every platform. My personal blog is BrisOwnWorld.com, my professional film portfolio is BriCastellini.com, and my web series can be found at BrainsWebseries.com. But mostly you should just tweet at me.