An Interview with Federica Alice Carlino About The Monster's Club
Let us begin with the basics. What made you want to be a filmmaker? How or from whom did you learn to make films and what were the projects you worked on before The Monster's Club?
I was 3 and my family and I had to move from Italy to The Netherlands, my parents just teached me about dinosaurs being extinct, so when I first watched Jurassic Park by Steven Spielberg, something wasn’t adding up. I asked my parents how they filmed dinosaurs, if they were gone forever. They explained to me that it was called Cinema and that it was all fake. They then proceed to buy a special VHS with behind the scenes to show me about animatronics and special effects used for the saga. I was speechless and fascinated, that’s when I told them “Okay I wanna do this when I’m older”. I started very young, with my mom’s camera, filming myself and a few friends with the same passion, some of them are still making short with me. I studied languages but after highschool I started to study filmmaking in Milan. In 2016 I got a scholarship from New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA and I learned the “American way”. I discovered another world.
The beginning of the film shows how the visual language can evoke feelings and emotions that words can't fully describe. Everything depends on the way the characters look at each other, and the pauses between the dialogues. Please talk about the casting process and getting the cast ready for their roles. How long did it take and did the actors add anything to the characters that wasn't already in the script?
The casting process was long and fun, I’m also an aspiring casting director, I started three years ago and I fell in love with the profession, so that’s also a step I look forward to: when the characters finally have a face and an identity. I started in February 2019. Max Vector, aka Dumpster, was the one I casted first, he was so genuine and fun and I decided on the spot, he is also the youngest, and yet he was very mature for his age. Then I chose Hechan Dasilva aka Colin, he was very charismatic and he followed my direction so easily, he immediately delivered what I asked for. Lastly, I casted Germano Blanco aka Jackson, the leader of the Club, he had the look I wanted for the character, dark and mysterious, and I liked how he expressed emotions through his eyes. Then I casted everyone else, finding Jackson and Colin’s adult versions was very hard, because I was looking for the same mannerism and eye language, but I found them and I was very happy with the outcome. The adult versions are played by Mark Stancato and Tank Jones, great actors, they have a long portfolio and I loved seeing them at work and getting into their characters. I'd like to continue this story also because I wanna see more of them. Regarding the chemistry, we had a lot of meetings, from tablereads to photoshoot and rehearsals because I wanted the three of them to become close and it actually happened. For the first scene I told Tank Jones, aka adult Colin, his backstory, what his intentions were and what Colin wanted from Jackson, after 20 years. The awkwardness of that scene is what will make sense by the end of the short.
How did the idea for the film come to you? How long did it take you to develop it into its final version?
I was reading an article about Bird Box, Netflix sensation that came out in 2018. There was a challenge called “The Bird Box Challenge,” where people were doing everyday activities but blindfolded, like in the movie. Few people died and it was all for an internet post, to feel cool. That made me think about what society has come to: being viral and funny for those “15 minutes of fame” that now have become a few seconds on social media. I thought about what I used to do when I was younger, about 8 years old, I used to record some pranks on strangers or neighbors with some friends of mine. One of my friends got injured, he is fine now, but he still limps from the injury, this was in the 90’s. There was always that desire of being famous, social media enforced it, for sure, but we all made mistakes back then too. It took me probably 20 years to bring this idea to life, I always wanted to talk about it.
The Monster's Club is full of visual ideas. From unconventional POV shots to moving between different timelines. What strategies did you and your cinematographer discuss as how to approach the film visually?
I’m a big fan of transitions and POVs and my cinematographer Brahmma Wijaya, loved the idea instantly. I drew a storyboard to express my ideas as best as I could and he started to work on it during our rehearsals, recording the actors and showing me the outcome. I wanted people to instantly understand that we were seeing the same characters but in different moments of their lives. In the beginning we see an adult version of Colin and I used the glasses that characterize him, to transition to his younger self. I wanted Dumpster to be characterized by his constant hunger, the POV in the cookie jar was what worked best for him, but also by the transition to the monster’s costume, that is a little foreshadow for what is gonna happen to him later on. Jackson is more complicated, his character is hard to read but the transition this time was the music that his older self will listen to, 20 years later, in his fancy house. I wanted transitions to be additional characters of this short.
The film revolves around a game, a game that was supposed to be fun for these young men but it leads to a catastrophe. Do you think it can be interpreted as a moral lesson for the viewers? What were the themes you wanted to focus on?
As I said before, we constantly look for fame, for those few seconds of glory, forgetting about our safety for the sake of being viral. That’s why when Vine was still a thing, people used to say “Do it for the Vine” or later on for Instagram “Do it for the Gram”, meaning: if I get hurt, at least I did it for my audience and for fame. I think that it is totally fine to have fun, still, thinking about your safety would be a great point to think about, before anything else. Also friendships, how fragile they can be and how they revolve around growth, they all become men by the end of this tragedy, it happened to teach them a lesson.
When the film ended, I thought about Michael Haneke's Caché (2006), because of the bitter memory left from the past, the VHS tape that is sent and etc. Which filmmakers have influenced you? What about Haneke?
I totally forgot about that movie, and now thinking about it, I see it too. I was 14 when it came out and I haven’t watched it since. I watched Funny Games, very suspenseful, it reminded me of “A Clockwork Orange '' . It's that kind of cinema that I respect, but is not what I aspire to do myself. After reading my script, my directing teacher suggested to me “Benny’s video” another Haneke’s movie, surely gory and disturbing, very far from what I wanted to create, but I wasn’t aware of the existence of that movie. I was influenced by “Stand by Me'' by Rob Reiner, a movie that is dear to me, I loved the connection between the characters. They made fun of eachother, like real friends do. The difference between them and my characters is that one of them will put himself before anything else, just to not be in trouble, so there’s no happy ending for these friendships. I wanted to bring back some nostalgia because I personally miss movies like The Goonies, E.T. or Explorers and I was looking for that kind of vibe. Another filmmaker that I truly admire is Alfred Hitchcok, the wine cellar scene in “Notorious” helped me think about the right tension for the scene where the police officers question Jackson and Colin about Dumpster’s accident. One of them might decide to tell the truth, or the police officers might decide to open Colin’s backpack and find the camera.
Tell us about your festival run. What do you think about film festivals and their role in promoting independent films to a larger audience?
Festivals are going pretty well, we are getting into some interesting ones, I wished I could experience them, I can’t really talk about this particular project. I could attend some Zoom events and I could talk with other creators around the world, and it’s always very inspiring and for sure it drives you to create more. I attended festivals in the past, but never in LA, Covid has taken away that experience for me, but I’m confident I will experience that one day, maybe with another project, who knows?
What about the reaction of those who have seen the film? What did they think of it?
I had a few screenings before Covid hit the industry and I heard people laughing at the beginning and gasping when Dumpster gets shot, I also saw their eyes being glued to the screen when Jackson and Colin are being questioned by the police. I honestly looked for those reactions, so I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted with this short.
What are your plans for the future? What are you working on? Are you going to make another short film or are you planning to move to feature films?
I hope to translate this story into a series. I have so many ideas for Colin and Jackson’s lives after the accident. I also have a few feature scripts that I’d like to work on. In the meantime I try to fly back home, from time to time, to Milan to continue a web/tv series called “The Rise Of The Villains” that is doing pretty well. Since Covid started, I had Skype meetings with a friend of mine but also co-creator of this series, Giulia Vada, to start a podcast and talk about filmmaking in general, but also as female creators, acting, directing, casting, projects, experiences on set, influencers and media, social media, Covid19’s impact on the industry and filmmakers, and so much more... This pandemic has influenced our lives radically but we can’t stay still, so this podcast will help people like us that are struggling a bit, but still hope for a better future. There will be also fun bits, the goal is to make people smile in this uncomfortable situation that 2020 has “gifted” us with. The podcast is sarcastically called “No Experience Needed” because for some people it’s all about luck, even if they have no clue of what they are doing, they still make it, people that have experience, sometimes see other people living their dream life, but their time will come to shine one day, don’t give up, especially in these difficult times.
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