Being Filmmakers: A conversation with Selen Flores and Hannah Smith
For those of us who want to create, we will find ways to create. We live in a generation where if you have the passion and the determination, permission to work on a project is obsolete. We can forge our own film career path, and that is indeed what we do. I love meeting and chatting with filmmakers, there is an energy that is present that is unmatched by anything in everyday life.
At a local eccentric pub, during a relaxed and open evening, I got the chance to talk to filmmakers Selen Flores and Hannah Smith. Friends and filmmakers, they came together to create a film; not because they could or wanted to, but it was something they were born to do.
These talented ladies met each other, as well as third Musketeer Rachel Immaraj, while they attended film school at UT in Kat Candler’s class. Candler, a well-respected filmmaker in her own right, allowed Flores and Smith the opportunity to explore their creativity in a way that wasn’t limited by genre, role on set, or gender.
The class became an environment of endless possibility, connecting each person to the production roles they were meant to be in. Flores immediately became attracted to cinematography and Smith found her strength in directing. It also helped cultivate a priceless relationship between Flores and Smith, leading to a balanced and complimentary working relationship.
These ladies find stories in different ways, but what makes them such an amazing pair is that their individual way is exactly what the other needs. Their complimentary working relationship allows for the story to unfold in ways that unleashes something deep from within the plot.
“I have always had a passion for stories. I am a casual artist and I enjoy music; film is a combination of both of my loves,” Smith says. “Selen tends to be a bit more tech savvy than me. She has a fire underneath her that will get stuff done, and I’m more flighty and have the emotional ideas.”
“I want to tell a story through the visuals, and the best way for me was having control of the camera and lighting, and working closely with the director and production design to accomplish that,” Flores says. “Hannah knows how to talk to actors about getting the emotions we need from them. I get the camera up and the shot done, but she comes in and incorporates the emotion we need.”
With the tools they learned and the bond they formed, Flores and Smith completed their second indie project together, a short film, Margot, that was shot in Paris in the fall of 2015. This project has been something that had intrigued Flores’ long after a trip to Prague in 2012.
“There were these kids at like at 5am , and they came out of the club walking down the street and my window was open. I heard one of them say, ’Hey guys, has anyone seen Margot?’ I couldn’t fall asleep after that, I kept thinking about Margot. I went to a cafe and started writing the characters for this script.”
The following semester, a script was needed in Candler’s class, and Flores brought it out and began revising it. The more time that was spent on the script, in and outside of the film class, Flores realized that the film would have to be shot in Europe, there was no way the atmosphere and energy would be able to be replicated. So began another long process of applying for Austin Film Society’s production grant for indie filmmakers, in which Flores applied 3 times. In the end, the funding was allocated, but the process they went through to apply for the grant solidified their passion for the project.
“The application process is preparing you on the production side, but it’s also causing you to be so invested in your project,” Smith says. “I feel that going in and doing the grant stuff, it made it much clearer that in the end it wasn’t a matter of whether or not you got the money, you were prepared and the film became more real, more feasible.
“Putting the details on paper, you get the big pictures, it makes it more complete for you. They make you care about your project,” Selen adds. “It helped me to really hone in on why I’m making this, who I wanted to be on board for this, and it solidified everything for me.”
With the passion of this film burning deep inside their souls, pre-production began at the tail end of last summer. They launched a fundraising campaign, that not only exceeded expectations, it was extremely successful. This means that the film that started as a story in Prague, was going to be able to be filmed in Paris, where Flores is currently living.
Most of the crew was based in the states while casting out of Paris and London; Smith had an interesting and entertaining time working on the casting calls. Using her background from working with Vicky Boone (local Austin casting director), Smith was able to navigate the international waters with ease.
“It was really freeing, because casting is very different when you’re working on your own project. I’m used to doing the labor for all these other people’s creative babies,” Smith says. “I’m sitting here casting out of Europe and I’ve never been there. I was like holy shit, this is for a movie that I'm making with my friends, and there are people interested in it and I know how to do this.”
The production went off with typical technical difficulties, but they braved through them like the powerful filmmakers they are. The important component that brings inspiration for these filmmakers is story. The spark may be ignited by different means, but these ladies always come together in the end to collaborate on an inspirational piece of work.
“Hearing that line I thought, who is this Margot, what happened to her? For me, it was that situational thing that could have happened to Margot and jumped off from there,” Flores explains. “The place, too, really influenced me when writing Margot. Being in a foreign place and the possibilities of what can happen in unfamiliar environments, these mixing of different cultures coming together brings something authentic to film.”
“It’s moments of random inspiration, you see something or you have a vision of something, and from here on you bring your experiences and influences to it to round out the world and story,” Smith adds.
In the current film climate, things aren’t being presented in the ideal light. The access and variation in the main players aren’t as speckled as we would have hoped they would be in 2016. When there are films that are open in their representation, these films tend to be publicized for their shocking diversity. The problem is not that they don’t deserve the praise, but that the praise is being publicized on a grand scale.
Filmmaking in the grand scheme of things is an almost impossible feat. There are so many moving parts within a production that has to move just right, that its a miracle when a film reaches completion. Should it really matter if the people behind the scenes are women and multicultural?
“My thing is that it is important to have all perspectives on film. The reason why we tell stories is because we have experiences. If you aren’t validating other people’s stories and experiences, there is something inherently telling them that those aren’t valuable,” Smith says.
“It is a double edged sword and it’s hard to tread the line of labeling things too much, but I would say that I am all there to empower women because we do need the extra boost,” Flores says. “I’m proud of us being women and doing this, with all the challenges. I’m proud of us that we were able to pull this off.”
“This is who we are, it’s not that we’re women who wanted to make a movie, it’s that we’re people who wanted to make a movie and we did it,” Smith adds. “It’s all anyone can ask to do, to have the opportunity to do what they feel like they were called to do.”
That calling is not staying quiet. Margot is currently in post-production and once again the possibilities are endless. Not only for the future of the short, but also for Flores and Smith’s budding careers.
Written by Lisa Mejia