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UPLIFTT | January 24, 2018

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Kenneth Castillo: Exclusive Interview

Kenneth Castillo: Exclusive Interview
César Vargas

Kenneth Castillo is one of the most prolific, and perhaps underrated, Latino filmmakers at the moment. One of the things that I admire the most about him besides his portfolio is his sage-like bluntness when it comes to the film industry. Not very many people have the courage to tell it like it is for the obvious fear of a backlash or being put in a box, but like he’s stated before during previous interviews, no one in this industry has the power to make or break anyone’s career. I wanted to pick his brain on his latest project, La Guapa, his creative methods, the film industry, and got my wish a little more than I bargained for, but I’m not complaining. I welcome the gems of wisdom.

How did you come up with the concept for La Guapa?

It was about 5 years ago. It started with just the main character. I based her off of a lady I met at the bar I worked at in Downtown Los Angeles. I remember noticing her the moment she walked in. She was wearing $600 shoes with 4 inch heels. She had her blond hair in a tight high ponytail. She was wearing a low cut form fitting blouse that accentuated her cleavage and especially the tattoo she had written across it. It was a string of roman numerals that wrote out the date of her two kids’ birthdays. She was tough, intelligent, and beautiful. She was the classiest Chola I’ve ever met. As we got to talking I came to find out that she was born and raised in East L.A. but had opened a salon on the west side of town. When I asked her why she didn’t open up one in East L.A. she said it was because she wanted to get away from her ex-husband. At that point some friends she was meeting showed up and they all went to a table. I immediately began writing notes and by the end of my shift I had her whole story crafted. I didn’t start writing the script until 3 years after that, when my producer asked me, “Whatever happened to that story about that salon owner/assassin you were working on?” That was code for “we have a budget.” I started writing the script in Oct. 2012 and finished it three days after Counterpunch screened in Jan, 2013.

Is La Guapa an alternate title for Thou Shalt Not Kill? Why that name?

Actually, Thou Shalt Not Kill is the alternate title. It was my second choice with La Guapa being the first. I like the way La Guapa sounds when you say it. I also find it to be an elegant word and I felt the character matched that elegance. Even though she’s a killer. I liked that it is a Spanish language title but the movie is in English. My distributor liked the title but wanted a more mainstream title for Walmart and Redbox. So I gave them Thou Shalt Not Kill. When CineLatino picked it up, they translated the movie into Spanish and kept the title La Guapa. Compromise is always going to be part of the equation when dealing with a distributor.

I noticed a few shakespearean themes in the film: Betrayal, revenge, being your brother’s keeper. Were you influenced by any classical books? Any Greek tragedies?

Absolutely. Although I choose to set my stories in the urban world, my biggest writing influences come from works by Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. Tragic and flawed characters and complicated multi-layered relationships. Trying to make all that come from a real place that the audience can connect to. Not comparing my work to them but they are definitely influences.

There’s also motif of six degrees of separation. Most characters are interconnected somehow however improbable it might seem. Be it through love, vengeance, or crime. What appeals to you about this connection?

The biggest point I like to make when having all my characters connected in some way is that we all don’t live in a bubble. Every action has a consequence or creates a ripple that affects other people in some way. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a miniscule way. As long as the connections are organic and genuine, I try to incorporate that in all the relationships of all my characters.

You are one of the few Latino filmmakers actually making films out there. You have a few films under your belt: Counterpunch, Confessions of a Gangster, Drive-by Chronicles: Sidewayz, among others. How difficult has it been for you to produce these films?

Each one of them, at some point, always seemed to be impossible to make. Each one is a small miracle. I never take for granted that I’ve been able to get 6 films funded and distributed, but it has not made it easier to raise money for the next. If your readers take anything away from this article is that you always have to be hustling and not relying on your past accomplishments. This business is constantly changing because of technology and different distribution models. You have to always be learning and adapting. Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the “I’m Latino and can’t get a break in this town” philosophy. It’s difficult for anyone, including celebrities, to get a story that you are passionate about financed.

In most of your films you seem to have an all-Latino cast. Is it because you see it as a responsibility to cast mostly Latinos or do you just write what inspires you and cast Latinos?

Both. I always write what inspires me. My approach to screenwriting is to start with a good story and then develop the characters the best that I can. My first draft of a script is never “Latino” but I do know that I’m going to cast a predominantly Latino cast.

Indie or mainstream?

I like to say that my movies are independently made for a mainstream audience. I never get into film festivals and quite frankly my movies are not for that crowd. But all of them have been distributed on mainstream platforms like Redbox, Netflix, and DVD distribution at Walmart and have done well. Counterpunch was distributed by Lionsgate and is still streaming on Netflix after have been released in January of 2013 and my first feature, The Drive-By Chronicles: Sidewayz, is getting a second distribution run and just made it’s Redbox debut.

Favorite film?

That’s a three way tie between The Godfather II, The Sandlot, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those are three films I can watch over and over and never get sick of.

What advice would you give any aspiring filmmakers?

The best advice I can give any filmmaker is to create and follow your OWN path. You can’t mimic or piggyback on someone else’s success. You need to find your own way. Fight for a career- not just for relevance or validation. For Latino filmmakers specifically, always focus on story and character. Too many of my colleagues are pushing an agenda or message with their films and wonder why they aren’t getting distribution. If those two things are bigger than your story, the audience will not be there and neither will distributors. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an agenda or message, but if the reason you made the movie is more interesting than your actual movie, you are going to have a difficult time getting distribution.

What’s next for you?

Currently, I’m promoting the theatrical summer tour of La Guapa. People can stay posted on that and sponsor a screening through Tugg if they wish to screen it in their town. I write almost everyday and am completing three different scripts right now. Whichever one I can get financed first is the one I will be shooting next. Other than that, I will be enjoying the summer with my family.

La Guapa-trailer from Kenneth Castillo on Vimeo.

There you go. Make sure you ask for a screening of La Guapa near you. Follow this link: Consume Latino content and spread the word by ‘liking’, sharing, and tweeting this piece.

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