She was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but it was in Los Angeles, where she lives since 2010, that she found fertile ground to develop her passion for filmmaking. Three films Gabby Egito wrote and directed in America - Synergy, Stuffed and Taken for Granted - received nine awards and three nominations at U.S. international film festivals in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Houston (Texas), Cleveland (Ohio), Atlantic City (New Jersey), Atlanta (Georgia), and Orlando (Florida) so far. In this exclusive interview to MODA COUTURE, Brazilian writer/director talks about living and making films in California.
How would you define film directing in one word?
Some people believe that a director is an artist that deals only with the movie shots and instructions to actors. Directors are leaders and should inspire their cast and crew though. They must create a collaborative environment. That entails managing people and, most of the times, egos. They are the beacon of the project. And their work is not done when the film is in the can. They must understand the politics of the market and master the media from an entrepreneurial perspective as well. Ok, I used a lot of words, not just one, I know! (laughs)
Did you know what movie you wanted to do in your first time as director?
Yes and no. I did a lot of studying back in Brazil [Gabby has a Masters in Film Studies from the University of Sao Paulo, one of the world's major film and television schools that is recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences] but had had few experiences in the actual making of films. So I decided to come to LA for a 8-week workshop at the New York Film Academy, located at Universal Studios, with the goal of getting hands-on skills. During that period, we made a lot of trial and error short stuff - mostly errors, to be honest. (laughs) So I wanted what I thought to be my last project in the U.S. to look really good and not just a bad home video. This came to be what I consider my debut short, called Synergy. I adapted a story that I had developed in Brazil to the American scenario. It's a dark comedy about two sales managers, a woman and a guy, competing for the same promotion at a company and things become ugly when they get stuck in a room together.
How did you feel saying “action” for the first time? How was it for you?
It was magical, although I didn't have much idea of what I was really doing at that moment. (laughs) But it was a great experience and it prepared me for my debut short. I learned how to do a solid shot list and I knew exactly what I wanted from actors and tiny crew. We shot everything pretty fast, in just 16 hours. The short is just 7 minutes long, but the coverage is fairly good. I had all the shots and angles I wanted in the editing room. That made me feel kinda accomplished, since I had set myself to at least avoid my previous mistakes. I only realized that I might had achieved more than just a well-rounded short when my instructors couldn't believe I had written and directed the whole thing. The film won a Platinum Remi Award at Worldfest Houston and a Merit Award at the Awareness Film Festival, in Hollywood. Synergy also granted me a scholarship to the New York Film Academy 1-year conservatory, when I showed it to the director of the school. I couldn't be happier about it.
Talk about technical aspects of your movies. Your films were all done in one location?
The first one, Synergy (IMDB), yes. I followed my instructors' advice to keep it simple and focus on the story that was being told. My other two shorts, Stuffed (IMDB) and Taken For Granted (IMDB), were shot in several locations although it's always easier, production-wise, to schedule the majority of scenes in few major places, even if we're using different sets.
How do you direct actors in your films?
My process is very collaborative. Maybe because I've been an actress back in Brazil, I know how they feel and what they need to know to bring their best. So I say just enough to make them comfortable, to establish trust and nurturing. I also give them freedom to make suggestions and talk about how they feel the scenes should be. Nothing is set in stone. There's a lot of room for experimenting, although I bring a very clear idea about how I want the film to look at the end. Good communication is key. Usually, my actors end up adding a lot of value to the project. Everyone gets happy. I'd say accurate casting is halfway to a movie's success, meaning not only choosing really talented people but also the most appropriate actor to live each given role.
Being a director who writes your own scripts is easier?
I wish! Of course, if you think that I don't have to deal with a director imposing an extreme makeover to what I wrote, it's awesome, right? But I truly believe making films is a collective effort. People can give you new insights on your work and make it better. I guess that's one of the biggest challenges when we're writing and directing: not to get lost in our own private little world. I really listen and appreciate people's input during development, production, post and screenings. As a director, are you able to relax and enjoy your work or that's not how it's supposed to be? I guess that's something you learn at some point. Every time I watch my movies, I know exactly where my mistakes are, on each scene. And sometimes it's not really a mistake but something that could've been done better if I had the knowledge or the resources needed. There's also a huge gap between what you first imagined and the final product, for better or for worse. That's part of the filmmaking process. So you have to learn to be malleable about things that are minor and stay picky about what's essential.
How do you react to negative criticism?
About my work? First and foremost, I never take it personally, so I think it's very useful. I'd rather hear something that I don't particularly like but can help me to improve than just get showered with empty praises. I do my films for an audience. So if more than one person tells me they don't like the same thing on the story or on a scene, I listen very carefully and, when possible, I try to make the changes that are needed. People will always dislike something though. The most important is to be able to understand the difference between what is their personal taste and what is correctly being pointed out.
How do you see Brazilian cinema today?
I think we evolved tremendously on the technical aspects of production. Brazilian market still needs more highly skilled professionals though. Our country has continental dimensions and there are a lot of stories to be told.
Is Brazil moving towards an industrial film production?
I believe so, not quite as the American though. But then, which country can seriously match the American entertainment industry?
Do you agree with the idea that the national cinema is returning to the good relationship with the audience?
Look, films that aim only entertainment will always have more appeal to large audiences than artsy and complex ones. We've been seeing a lot of these being produced in Brazil nowadays, especially comedies with telenovela stars, and they obviously have great box office results. Overall, that's good, because Brazilians should see themselves on screen besides American heroes. But I don't see significative changes in art house productions. Personally, I believe cinema can merge socially relevant content with entertainment and achieve financial success. We have great examples of that in Brazil, like City of God and Elite Squad.
Gabriela, I always heard that one of the most difficult problems of Brazilian films was distribution. Do you agree? What about United States?
That's a huge challenge anywhere in the world. Brazil is a huge market, with box office revenues amounting to $616 Million in 2014. It comes as no surprise though that 88 percent (or $542 Million) of that went to the 387 foreign releases (mostly from U.S.) in Brazilian movie theaters, against 12 percent (or $ 74 Million) for our 114 domestic releases. Among the 20 largest-grossing box offices of the year in our country, only one title is Brazilian (comedy Até Que A Morte Nos Separe 2), all others are American. So I don't think anyone could disagree that these figures show a humongous inequality. The question is how to lessen it. For instance, just The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 occupied literally 13 movie theaters from each 20 in Brazil. From a business perspective, it's clearly more profitable for distributors and exhibitors to invest in these franchises. But there's a finite number of venues to screen our films. So we must find common ground if we want Brazilian cinema to survive in its own territory. Films are not products like cars and smartphones, they represent a nation's culture, therefore they ought to be protected and nurtured somehow. Brazilian production companies, even the larger ones, are mainly independent, just like indie filmmakers in America, who face equal distribution challenges.
How did you prepare yourself to move to the United States?
To be honest, I didn't. I came to spend three months and I'm here for 4 years. I had to solve things on the fly. It helped a lot speaking fairly good English from the start though.
How's your daily life in LA, California, USA? Is it worth working and living in the United States?
I hope so, otherwise I wouldn't be here. It's hard to see the big picture when you're in a journey like this, without knowing what will unfold ahead. In 5 years from now, I might look back and realize it wasn't worth it. That's a risk we have to take though, since we cannot predict the future. I've done so many things in my life that I wouldn't do today. But I only know I would make different choices because I experienced the outcomes, I guess. I'm the kind of person who prefers to regret doing something rather than never have tried. So all I can say is that I try to be present in the moment and enjoy it as much as possible.
How much do you miss your family and friends in Brazil?
I miss a lot. But I lived in four different cities back in Brazil, so being geographically far from my family and friends it's not news to me. We get used to it. And technology has helped a lot to shorten those distances.
Where do you think you are going now in your career?
If only I knew! (laughs) I have some projects in development, one is a guide for Brazilians that want to study acting in Hollywood and the other is a documentary about the cultural differences in dating between Brazilians and Americans. I intend to make a feature film about the latter subject too, which I find fascinating and hopefully people will find my perspective on it too.
Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GabbyEgito