Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Carlos Ferrer
By Betsy F. Perry
With passion and deep intelligence driving his six year effort to complete the very dark, unnerving and captivating film, “RETINA,” Carlos Ferrer is a rare young talent who has practiced “Guerrilla-Style” filmmaking and taken it way beyond even the definition of the term. Using a team of two production assistants and a bare bones cast, Ferrer has pulled off the coup of creating a 92-minute film to match the professional standard of a “Hollywood” production and, by researching, learning and mastering every component technical part involved, he has completed a distribution ready film. Ferrer was generous enough to answer some questions and very tolerant when I wasn’t sure I understood that he really did this all by himself — a task that sounds hard to believe but one obviously driven by a belief in what he was doing and a goal of doing it to perfection.
Q. This is a very dark film for someone so young. Where did the idea come from especially when you seem so “normal” and likable with no serious gremlins in your background?
"I think it’s exactly because I have no serious gremlins in my background that I’ve made such dark films; it intrigues me to tell a story that I’m not necessarily familiar or comfortable with and brings me to places I never thought I’d go as a filmmaker. What’s most important is that I find something or someone in the story I can relate to and no matter how unreal or abstract the story that I can connect personally on some level."
Q. Why do I want to see this movie and how should I feel afterwards?
"More than anything my hope is that the story provides an experience you won’t forget and surprises you as well. The story is also driven by the amazing performance of Lindsay Goranson, who in many ways is the heart of the film."
Q. “Guerrilla-Style” filmmaking that looks “Hollywood.” How did you do that?
"You have to believe you’re making a Hollywood film even with a small budget and no real crew. Once you convince yourself that’s what you’re making — and you know how to handle all the technical aspects — you can do it. With very little money and the help of only two close friends, who assisted during production of the film, I still kept thinking we can make this something special. I knew what it had to look like and wasn’t going to settle for less."
Q. How many years did this take to pull together?
"The whole process took six years but five of those years were dedicated to post-production. I realized how little I actually knew and decided to educate myself when creating the music, sound, color correction and visual effects, to ensure the quality would be as good as I imagined it being."
Q. You were in hiding for six years, could you do that again?
"Not sure if I could. When I graduated from college I knew I wanted to finish the film. I was 23 at the time and had the support of family and friends so I didn’t have to worry about paying rent — which was lucky so I had the luxury to concentrate on this project. But, I never thought it would take this long. I got support during this lengthy period because people saw how the film was coming along and they believed in it and stood behind me."
Q. Is it tough as a young director to get people to take you seriously?
"I made my first feature film at 16 and at that time I felt it was difficult because I was young and it was hard for people to take direction from a young person. These days technology is cheaper and younger people have to be taken more seriously because they’re growing up with all this technology — when I was ten, we had VHS tape and film, which wasn’t cheap or easy. But now it’s possible to get your film viewed with outlets online like YouTube and Vimeo for almost no money. Actually distributors may have to rethink their process because it’s now a question of whether the distributor can do it better than the filmmaker because it’s getting easier and easier to do it yourself."
Q. Do you have friends making movies as well and do you sense competition amongst you. What do you think of their movies?
"I do have friends making movies and a lot of them are people I met at college when we were all learning how to make films. I think maybe during my freshman year I experienced a bit of competition when I realized other people were doing what I do, but the feeling didn’t last, I saw quickly that you benefit and are inspired by others so it’s a waste to get jealous or angry. I actually love seeing what my friends are doing."
Q. How could you possibly have worn so many hats - music, directing, filming, editing etc ? Most movies involve a lot of people but you’re kind of a one man band. The only help you had seems to be from two close friends during production.
"Well it certainly wasn’t about ego. It was actually more about collaboration than anything, being able to communicate my ideas and bring out the best in others in my work as a director. The process was humbling too. I would dedicate 3 to 4 months studying each aspect of post-production;. I’d work on studying music for a few months, then editing and mixing sound, visual effects and each time I switched hats I would see things from a new perspective. It’s often thought that by doing everything yourself, you lose perspective but because of how this process went, I was able to hold onto it. Unlike a lot of filmmakers who might leave loose ends to be tied up by others later, everything I did in post production is 100% ready for distribution — for instance, the surround sound mix is separated into M&E tracks for dubbing of foreign languages. I was very careful to put this amount of detail into everything I did on the film. I didn’t want to just do everything myself, I wanted to do it properly and professionally."
Q. So you taught yourself every component element during this process? Not everyone has the talent to do this or the time especially when it comes to figuring out the music. Don’t you think it takes a special talent or idiot savantness to do this?
"I think I am an idiot savant! During this process you have to be a little humble because there is so much to learn and so many mistakes to be made before doing acceptable work and my initial idea was never to do it better than someone who specializes in each field. My thought was to just touch the surface of the quality people expect from films these days. It became a huge challenge and I had to teach myself everything which involved a lot of reading followed up by calling professionals in color correction, visual effects, sound and music to be sure I was on the right track. I’m also dyslexic and you have to learn how to teach yourself because you learn differently than other people and that skill I developed may have helped here."
Q. You’ve been gearing up to make this your whole life? Whose movies have you been watching in the process and which directors have inspired you? Any favorite films?
"When I was really young, Spielberg, Hitchcock and Kubrick were my favorites because all three make totally different movies. You could watch one of their films without credits and still know who made it. I feel the same way when listening to a score by a talented composer — you just know who it is. I don’t have one favorite movie - I appreciate what makes each one different and enjoy learning from them. I might see one now that I love and then another later that I like even more so my favorites keep changing."
Q. What’s next on your filmmaking agenda?
"I’m writing a feature-length fantasy film called Zoey. It’s lighter than “RETINA”. I also have a short film in the works that I hope to make into a feature. I guess as I age and have more experiences in life, what I want to do reflects where the world is now. Maybe if there’s a common strand to my films it’s that they reflect the time that I’m living in."
Q. If you had endless pots of money, what would your dream be?
"I think if I had endless pots of money I’d put most of it toward helping people express themselves through art. Too many creative people do not have the emotional or financial support to do so. It would also mean freedom in how I make my films but I’ve produced my best work when I’ve had limitations, so I’d probably try to limit how much I spend on my own work."
Q. Do you think young filmmakers have any clue as to how many moving parts are involved or do you think it looks easy to them?
"I always thought making movies was fun but the prospect of making them for a wider audience felt far away and not so tangible and no, I didn’t understand the moving parts. But even on larger projects with more money and people, you can’t jump too far away from that original feeling of just having fun. In some ways, you have to put yourself in this imaginary world and not focus on the moving parts. I do, however, think it’s good to understand the principles. For me it’s about staying true to my vision. When there are a lot of people involved in making a film and the filmmaker doesn’t know all the moving parts it can be intimidating and hard to hold onto that original vision. I think this is why so many filmmakers are not thought of as “artists” because ideas are coming from all over while a painter will do his or her work alone."
Q. Let’s say the movie gets distributed but is criticized. Can you handle that?
"I’ve thought about this and what people are going to think when they realize I’ve spent the last six years of my life on this film. What no one can take away, however, is the knowledge I’ve gained and the confidence I now have as a director; I can now really bring out the best in the people who work with me. Of course I want the film to do great because it’s like having a child and no matter what anyone else thinks, I’ll stand up for it and never lose my love for it. I hope the audience can relate to the film emotionally and socially and enjoy it — other than that, it’s out of my control. (And learning from mistakes and improving is what life’s all about I think)."
Q. If you couldn’t make movies, what would you do to earn a living and still be happy?
"Even if people hate my films I don’t think I would actually stop making them. Maybe I would compose music to earn a living, which is something still related to my passion. But even if I was living in a hole in the wall, I’d still make films — it’s my language and how I communicate."
Q. Can you remember the first movie you ever saw?
“E.T.” and it completely blew me away; It was entertaining, touched me emotionally and was both exciting and intimidating and, as a kid easy to relate to. I have always admired Spielberg for his ability to entertain while also provoking serious thought."
Q. You’ve put together the most clever websites with teasers and special effects. Is this for distributors or were you making sure every base is covered and how many views are you getting from these?
"People have been responding pretty well, especially to the trailers and viral marketing site, The Truth Will Unfold. Ultimately, you make a movie for people to see so I felt it was important to get it out there, not just for distributors but for people who may want to see it. Luckily today, that’s possible even without having the money to advertise on TV and billboards. The trailers and websites are out there to gain interest without spoiling anything for whoever sees it."
"(Ms. Perry is a columnist for Niche Media, formerly Managing Editor, “Premiere Magazine” and Movie Reviewer for “Good Day, New York.” Additionally, Ms. Perry worked for “Cosmopolitan Magazine,” Bloomberg LP and was a contributor to “The Huffington Post.”)"