Gabriel Caste is a film director, creative producer, video editor, and visual effects artist who has worked on projects like American Horror Stories. Here he talks to us about his path into filmmaking which has been, to say the least, unconventional. At the time of the interview his latest short film, Are You Awake? is due out very soon!
Understanding how filmmaking works: it’s a journey
FF: It seems you’ve worn many hats within the film industry including actor, director, producer, writer and VFX artist. What has been the hardest to master and what came more naturally to you? Any particular struggles along the way etc.?
GC: My journey in the film industry has been non-conventional for sure. It comes from a deep love of the art form, and a desire to understand how it all works.
I started teaching myself VFX before anything else. I needed footage to practice VFX work, so I started directing and acting in dumb little movies. I never stopped learning VFX, but my interest in acting is what brought me to Los Angeles. I was auditioning and/or shooting something every day for several years, and was fortunate enough to lead two feature films.
After a while, the itch to create my own projects started to take control. I worked in the production and post departments for Concordia Studio and PCH Films, before going fully independent to direct.
Everything in the film industry is hard to master. Editing is my most sharp skill at this moment. I edit projects every day. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it came to me quickly. Realizing there’s an indescribable rhythm within footage was very eye opening. While the hardest skill for me is writing. I love writing and have an endless well of ideas, but it’s hard for me to sit down and knock out a full script. It’s a diligence thing, I’m getting better.
Film School? Well, not exactly…
FF: Did you go to film school? If not, why not – but if you did, what did you take from that experience that you likely wouldn’t have learnt otherwise?
GC: Technically no. I studied performance at Temple University in Philadelphia, back when acting was my primary hustle. But all of my friends were in film school at Temple or Drexel, and I ended up producing and writing some of their senior films. Philadelphia was a great city to start filmmaking. Cinematic locations were often free, and people were really trying to make quality stuff – not just trying to be famous like here in LA. Being exposed to film school was valuable because it provided a consistent stream of people making stuff, in an environment safe to experiment and fail.
The best way to learn is by doing. You learn out in the trenches. Things go wrong, and you’re forced to problem solve. You learn how to make a lot with a little. These things are invaluable. You don’t need film school to make movies. But it’s harder to meet other people who are serious about the craft.
American Horror Stories: ‘TikTok’ opening titles
FF: When you’re producing and editing for something like American Horror Stories, can you describe how you approach that work? Were you given much of a brief for the title sequence?
GC: American Horror Story is a legacy show. Even if you haven’t seen an episode, you probably know what the opening titles look and sound like. There’s an incredibly skilled graphics company called Elastic. They’ve done the opening title sequences for practically every great TV show, most notably the continuously-emulated titles for True Detective.
Well, Elastic hired me to produce and edit for a few episodes, including one about prank TikTokers messing with a mall Santa, but Santa is actually a serial killer played by Danny Trejo. Classic.
They had the smart idea of creating TV’s first vertical ‘TikTok style’ opening title sequence, and my job was to create footage that was both Christmas and horror themed. Best of both worlds! This included staging a frat rager with beer pong, ugly sweaters, and throwing a Christmas tree off a roof. I also really want to burn a Christmas tree. The permits required to do that in California were out of our scope, so I hired a production designer and miniature artist to build a tiny living room scene, then we burnt it to the ground!
Are You Awake – short film
FF: At the time of the interview you have a short, ARE YOU AWAKE?, due out very soon. Can you tell us what it’s about?
GC: Are You Awake? is a strange little arthouse thriller that highlights the familiar dread of being a human. It follows a woman named Dale, played by the powerhouse Ellyn Jameson.
Dale earns a living by waking strangers up in the morning. She spends her day making house calls, after agreeing to stand-in for a colleague. Dale enters the home of Bradley, a patient played by Paul Archer. Bradley explains he’s been plagued by nightmares, and refuses to get out of bed. Though Dale feels obligated to convince him otherwise, she can’t help but form a pitiful kinship with the man paralyzed by his own dreams.
The film is just beginning its festival journey, and I have a feature film version ready to be made!
FF: What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers that perhaps you wish you’d been given when you started out? Perhaps mistake(s) to avoid?
GC: Your network will be the single most important thing in your career. Your filmmaking peers will be the people you can lean on for jobs, advice, resources, etc. Filmmaking is a community effort. Don’t have such a big ego that no one wants to work with you. And if you really want to work in movies, you can. You just have to move to a city where films are being made, and be ready to grind.
It’s all about Lanthimos and Tarkovsky
FF: And finally, if you could sit down with 2 directors, one living, and one from the past, who would they be and what would you ask them?
GC: Ah, that’s gotta be Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favorite, The Lobster) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker, Solaris).
Lanthimos is one of the most unique working directors right now. My biggest question for him: ‘how did you find the right producing partners to believe in your early films?’ In a world full of Marvel movies, it’s incredibly tough to find success going against the grain…
Tarkovsky made cinematic poetry. His films are driven by feeling rather than plot. I would ask him how he prepared his mind for writing in his particular style. Almost stream of consciousness and so dreamy. I would need a translator to ask him though.