Two Different Backgrounds Coming Together for a Single Cause: To Make a Movie! by Filmmaker Kenneth Castillo of Marigold The Matador
FILMMAKER -’Marigold the Matador’
Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Kenneth Castillo: I grew up in the shadow of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in an interesting part of Los Angeles called Wilmington. It’s also known as The Port of Los Angeles and if you’re from there — Wilmas! It’s very industrious and surrounded by refineries, trains and cranes. It has an odd beauty about it that I never appreciated when I lived there. I equate my childhood with hopping a lot of chain link fences. There was a lot to explore with all the rail yards and abandoned warehouses and open lots. The first house I remember living in we actually had a train that passed through our backyard. As a kid I was always fascinated with where that train was going. Often times it would get stuck and come to a complete stop. Sometimes there would be a flatbed in between two cars and I would climb on it and jump off in time before the train would get going. One time I tested my bravery and stayed on the train as it began moving. It takes a while for it to get going so I rode it for about 3 blocks before I could feel the train picking up speed. I jumped off and landed in a gravel pit scraping my knee really bad. I was by myself and I remember wanting to cry so bad but I held it in. I didn’t want my parents to find out so I had to keep my cool. I went to a friends house that I was suppose to be at and waited there till the bleeding stopped. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and it just matched all the other cuts and bruises I had from other adventures. I’ll never forget getting home walking through the front door and getting hit with a barrage of questions from my mom “Where have you been?! Have you been crying?, What happened to your knee.” I was 6 years old and I guess I wasn’t as slick as I thought I was.
Film Courage: Which one of your parents do you resemble most?
Kenneth: Everyone says I look just like my mom. I definitely get my work ethic from both.
Film Courage: Did your parents lend support toward creativity or encourage another type of career/focus?
Kenneth: They’ve been supportive. I was raised with the belief that I could do anything and be anything I wanted in this country as long as I worked hard for it. That said, they put a stress on education and not on the arts. I wouldn’t say that they encourage me or discourage me in pursuing my film career. I think my life is hard for them to understand and they don’t ask a lot of questions. I think it’s a thing with most people whom you tell you are a filmmaker, they are either waiting for you to give up or reach a level of success that they can understand. I wear the struggle pretty well so I think I make it look easier than it is. There’s no security in what I do.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school?
Kenneth: High school was not my thing. I did take a drama class and a shakespeare class and for a time thought I wanted to be an actor. When I graduated I applied to the Los Angeles Theatre Academy at L.A. City College where I got a 3 year completion certificate in acting and met my future wife.
Film Courage: How did you begin making films?
Kenneth: After I graduated from the acting academy The Wife and I produced theatre for a few years. I started writing my own material because we could not afford royalties. A few one-act plays ended up developing into a screenplay. Digital filmmaking was just starting to take off and I decided that we would shoot my 1st screenplay on a Canon XL-1. We got married in June of 2000 and began production on our first feature that Sept. It was called Who’s James Cagney and was about a grandson taking care of his grandfather who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. It was my first feature. It went absolutely no where but the 2 year experience was amazing and it was still cheaper than going to film school. It was a big idea for someone who had absolutely no idea what he was doing so I went smaller for my next project. A series of short films shot in the style of the serial shorts of the 20's and 30's. It was called The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin and it took place in the world of the Day of the Dead. All the characters were in skull face and I shot the first 3 of them on Super 8. History repeated itself with my current project. After shooting 6 feature films with budgets ranging from 50k-150k I had to think smaller for Marigold the Matador. I wanted to do a feature but wanted to challenge myself as a filmmaker. So once I had the story and characters fleshed out I decided I would shoot it without a script and with the most minimal crew that I could put together. On top of that, I would shoot it in 7 days to commemorate it being my 7th film. I also, wanted to change my process and hopefully do something completely original. I wanted it to be simplistic but significant. So far, I’m very happy with what we have but we still got post production. Ultimately, the audience will decide.
Film Courage: Your thoughts on taking a film related job for the money versus for the love of the project?
Kenneth: I think it depends on the project and on the filmmaker. I can’t fake passion for something I don’t believe in. I was offered a directing gig for a feature where I felt the script was uninspired and contrived. It would have been the first feature I directed that I did not write so I wanted it to be the best it could be. At the end of the day it was a vanity piece for two actor/producers and although it was difficult I had to walk away from that project. It wouldn’t have mattered what the money was.
Film Courage: Do you remember your first time on a movie set?
Kenneth: The first movie set I was on was for Michael Mann’s Heat. I got to see the shoot out scene with Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer when they exit the bank. My then girlfriend (now wife) was working at the coffee shop right next to the set and called me to let me know. I got to see that scene play out live! Looking back on it, the seeds were being planted that I wanted to be more like Michael Mann orchestrating that scene then DeNiro or Kilmer acting in it. Though they looked pretty bad ass.
Film Courage: Why are you crowdfunding?
Kenneth: The main reason we wanted to crowd fund was to generate interest for our film before it comes out. Even though all of my previous films were distributed, none of them had a P&A budget and it was solely on me to get the word out. This is a way for us to connect with our audience before the film is completed and also a way for us to be held accountable by our audience to do something special with the contributions from our campaign. It’s also a great way for people to have a piece of the movie. Our incentives are personal and directly connect people to the film.
Film Courage: You are currently crowdfunding with Seed & Spark. How did you initially begin working with them?
Kenneth: I really didn’t like the Indiegogo or Kickstarter models, so at first I was looking to raise funds directly off my website. Then I read something on Twitter about a wizard named Emily Best and this new company she was founding strictly for independent filmmakers. She was having a workshop in Santa Monica so my producer Nina Rausch and I decided to attend. Emily really broke down what you need to do to have a successful crowd funding campaign. We took a ton of notes and decided that was how we were going to fund post on Marigold. I’ve been extremely patient with this project and didn’t want to rush the campaign. I think we are in a good spot to move forward.
Film Courage: How did you partner with your producer, Nina Rausch?
Kenneth: We both thought it was time that Germans and Chicanos came together to make a movie. This movie is like a lowered Mercedes Benz with killer rims and an air brushed painting of the Virgin de Guadalupe on the hood. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but it will be interesting to look at. Actually, we first met at a restaurant that we both worked at. She was a waitress and I was a bartender. Although I am still there she has managed to move on and pursue acting and producing full time. A few years back she entered the 48 hour film challenge and asked if I would come on as a director. That sounded like a challenge so I said yes. During that production I was really impressed with her organization and multi-tasking. She and her friend and partner had put together a very cohesive production and were extremely organized. When it came time for me to direct my 6th film she asked if she could be a part of the production. I made her my assistant and quickly bumped her up to Associate Producer. She was an incredible asset in every aspect of that production. So when I decided to do my 7th I asked her to produce. This was going to be a much more difficult movie to produce because we had no script. To Nina’s credit she went along with it and as we started to get further into production, she as well as the rest of the crew, started to see the whole vision of the movie.
Film Courage: In Marigold The Matador, your wife and daughter have starring roles. How challenging is it to direct someone you know?
Kenneth: I absolutely love working with my wife. She’s been the muse for all of my female characters in all of my other films. Even though she is not a single mom, she brought such a strength, pride, and vulnerability to the role of Lily. She got the concept right from the beginning. She’s an intuitive actress with great instincts and great humanity. My daughter, on the other hand, was a challenge. I knew that going into it but also knew she’d be great. She was 11 when we started which was the age I was looking for for Marigold. I knew shooting was going to be sporadic and over a period of time, so casting an outside actress would have given me a lot of logistical challenges that would have cost me money I didn’t have. I wanted to capture her performance as she transitioned from little girl to young lady. My producer Nina who is an accomplished actress and acting coach was always amazed how Maia would seem to be so over it at times but as soon as I yelled ACTION! she would come alive as the character. It was instantaneous. The performance is all hers. I don’t believe in manipulation as a director. If I have to manipulate a performance out of an actor/actress then I’ve cast wrong and that is my fault not the actor’s. I’ve always worked with people I’ve known or known of. My wife and I knew Ivan from the acting academy we went to and he’s been in 3 of my other films. He’s an amazing actor and I was blown away by his work on this project. Lidia Pires who plays Marigold’s grandmother was an actress I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. I reached out to her and luckily she said yes to shooting her scene that took place at a restaurant from 10:00pm to 4am. When you put her, Karla and Maia together-they look like a family. I got to cast and work with Camila Banus on my fifth feature called Counterpunch. When we started, I knew I wanted her to play Marigold grown up but waited till we were near the end of production. She was fresh off her Emmy nomination for Days of Our Lives when I reached out to her. I new the story resonated with her and the only thing she had to go on for the character was the First Look video we had. Shooting her stuff was really cathartic for me. She had my daughter down. It was like shooting into the future.
Film Courage: What do you want audiences to gain from this story?
Kenneth: Marigold the Matador is a nostalgic look at childhood, hopefully, without being nostalgic. I know that seems contrasting but so was my childhood. I believe we all have a “train story” in us but it gets buried as we grow older. I hope this movie triggers that memory for the audience. At six years old, I stood on and jumped from a moving locomotive that was going 5 miles an hour. It wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve done since but it was the most freedom I’ve ever experienced in my life. The only thing that comes close to that feeling is being on set yelling ACTION! This movie was all about doing something so incredibly simple but significant. And hopefully, at the end of the day, our simple story will have a significant emotional impact on the audience.
Kenneth Castillo began his writing/directing career in 1996 producing theatrical productions at the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City. After producing, writing, and directing several full and one act plays, he turned his full attention to film. In 2000, along with his producing partner (and now wife) Karla Ojeda, formed a film production company called Valor Productions. Their first venture out was a series of short films entitled The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin. A series of silent short films shot in the style of the serial shorts of the 20’s and 30’s and set in the world of The Day of the Dead. Several different episodes went on to screen at film festivals across the country including HBO’s New York International Latino FF and the Los Angeles International Short FF. In 2007, Episode V-A Day at the Theatre was accepted and screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France and the following year won the Imagen Award for BEST THEATRICAL SHORT FILM.