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: Best piece of advice you received about the entertainment industry? Worst piece?
Kenneth: That’s a tough one. I’ve had absolutely no mentors in this town. I’ve had to figure out a lot on my own. Most of the advice I get is from reading about other filmmakers. The absolute best I think comes from Orson Welles who said this-“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” Worst piece of advice is anyone telling you it can’t be done or to wait.
Film Courage: Where/when did the get the idea for Marigold The Matador?
Kenneth: It was a combination of things. I’m the head bartender at a restaurant in downtown L.A. and I have a giant window that gives me a great view of the street and sidewalk. Often times I would see women late at night walking back from the garment district having just got off their shift to catch the last bus home. They would have their children with them most of the time. That was the seed. I started there and then began to take the perspective from the child’s point of view. I started remembering experiences from my own childhood (like the train story above) that I never shared with anyone. Things that shape you in your youth that you never forget. I already had a script that featured a character I based on an uncle of mine who suffered from schizophrenia. I decided to modify that character and tailor it to Ivan Basso whom I knew I wanted to cast as the homeless man El Toro. The little girl is alone a lot and I came up with the matador idea as a way for her to manifest her courage when she felt afraid.
Film Courage: How long did it take you to write the script?
Kenneth: There was no script for Marigold. Only two scenes were scripted. One in the opening sequence and the second one is the restaurant scene. But I will say that when I am writing a script, I commit 4-5 hours a day 5 days a week. Usually in the time my kids are at school. In that time I may only write one scene or I could knock out an entire script. It just depends. I don’t force anything as a writer but I do maintain the discipline.
Film Courage: You say you’re “starting from scratch” with Marigold The Matador? How so?
Kenneth: For 15 years I had had this grand vision that I was going to provide opportunities to Latino actors and tell Latino stories. After 6 films, all of which had gotten distribution, I had found that very few from my own film community cared. I do have a handful of supporters who have been very encouraging and supportive and have been awesome in trying to get the word out about my work. This thing that I had built had become this sort of Frankenstein monster and at the end of the day where I was busting my ass and trying to protect and provide opportunities for people I loved and respected I found myself standing alone with nothing to show for it and no one looking out for me. It was a tough lesson but I needed to remove myself from people who were only interested in validation and there own narcissism. Where I had thought I was being careful and selective and only involving people I could trust, I found that what I had helped built started to rot from the inside out. Marigold was an opportunity to start fresh and surround myself with a much smaller group of people that I could trust and depend on. My DP on this project was my DP on my short film series. I’ve known Scott Daniels for over fifteen years and he has grown so much as a cinematographer. He’s had a tough job on this one and has performed beautifully. My Assistant Director Rachel Cross I knew from the restaurant and who was a big fan of my work. She had just graduated from the Los Angeles Film School when I started this project and I asked her to be involved. The rest of my crew and cast have been so incredibly dedicated and loyal to this project. They inspire me.
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: Was there a moment during, before, or after the 7-day film shoot that you felt it would not finish? How did you push through?
Kenneth: Oh absolutely! There were several moments where I felt that way. One day in particular I was living my glamorous life as an indie filmmaker and doing household laundry and I pulled out more money out of the pockets of my kids clothes then I had money in the bank. My rent was paid but I was negative in my account. That happened at least three times this year where I’m saying to myself-“What the hell are you doing? This is just silly. You have no business self-financing this project when you have a family to support.” The irony is, that day I get a call from Miguel Ordaz who is documenting our whole journey and asked if he could come by and get me on camera for a few sound bites. I said sure but it’s not going to be pretty. I don’t even remember what I said but it was definitely honest to how I was feeling at that time. Curious to see how he puts the whole doc together. I never censored myself.
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.
Film Courage: What are your plans with the film once it’s finished?
Kenneth: If our crowd building campaign goes well, I plan on distributing directly to the audience digitally through Vimeo and theatrically through the Tugg platform. I’m not going to rush it but if the movie comes out the way I want it and we can make the deadline then I’ll submit it to Sundance. Other than that I don’t think we’ll go the festival route at all. It’s something Nina and I disagree on but will continue to discuss once the film is finished. 6 films and the only film festivals I’ve ever screened at I was invited to. I’ve never been accepted to a festival through a straight submission. Hundreds of rejections and thousands of dollars in fees, I just assume use that money to promote Marigold and finance the next one.
Film Courage: Why is Marigold The Matador totally different from your prior 6 films? What prompted you to do something new?
Kenneth: It’s different in the approach and process but it’s still an urban story and fits in with the rest of my filmography. I just chose to focus on a different element of an urban neighborhood and not the criminal element. However, as in all my films, whether the character is a gangster, a boxer, a homeless man or a single mother, all of them have hopes and dreams and bleed and breath just like the rest of us. I have worked with a lot of people who have gone off and tried to mimic what I do and have poached ideas and crew from me. This film was about creating a process that couldn’t be copied even by myself. I don’t think I could repeat this again and will continue to develop my filmmaking in future projects.
Film Courage: Did you feel out of your comfort zone taking on a new genre film? How did you make certain you did not back out?
Kenneth: It was always the day before the shoot that I would feel out of my comfort zone. Mostly because there was no script or shot list or day of days. It was a location the actors and my crew. Once on set I was at complete ease. I knew the feeling I wanted to capture that day and I had all the tools I needed to accomplish it.
Film Courage: Was there a time in your life that you befriended someone who may have been shunned by society or your social circle, however, you had a mutual respect for one another?
Kenneth: All the time. I’m an outsider myself. I remember this one time in third grade. This kid use to sit next to me at lunch time. No one wanted to sit next to him. If he sat by you most kids would move, except me. Once he figured that out, he sat next to me everyday. This was the kid that smelled funny and always had a ring of food around his mouth after he ate. He use to get made fun of a lot for that so I would give him a napkin so he could wipe his face but that still didn’t work. So I told him to go to the restroom and use the mirror in the bathroom but when he did that some punks would go in there and pick on him. So then I said, why don’t you bring a small mirror to school. He ended up bringing his mom’s compact and he got made fun of for that. It was like being in a Jerry Seinfeld episode 3rd grade edition. Nothing I did was helping this kid. I don’t think it mattered though. He was just happy that I was kind to him and didn’t judge him. That’s just one example.
Film Courage: How did you secure locations for the film? Did you scout them beforehand?
Kenneth: We scouted all our locations so I could make a decision on whether or not we would shoot guerrilla style or get a permit. We ended up getting a permit to shoot at Union Station, Mariachi Plaza, and inside the L.A. River. Everything else was guerrilla style. For some of those locations their were loop holes that we exploited to be able to shoot (like on the Metro). We shot using a Canon 5D Mark III with a glide cam and that gave us a lot of mobility.
Film Courage: Why improv? How much pre-planning did you do?
Kenneth: I wanted to capture something fresh and uninitiated. All the characters, the scenes and the story were fleshed out before hand but my cast and crew didn’t know what we were doing till they got to set. It’s a testament to their faith and loyalty to me and to this project.
Film Courage: Toughest part about shooting improv? Advice to other directors undertaking the same? Will you do it again?
Kenneth: Making sure you’ve got enough coverage. That said, if what the actor is doing is interesting and true to character I have no problem staying on them in one shot and not cutting away. Once you have the idea, it’s about hiring actors that can execute your vision. It’s planting a seed in there head as the character and then trusting in their instincts to deliver. I definitely would work this way again but maybe not for the entire movie. The first time I tried this was with Danny (Machete) Trejo in a film I directed called Counterpunch. We had two cameras and shot all his scenes in sequence between him and the lead actor Alvaro Orlando. I would talk to them about the scene and then just let them go. Alvaro is an incredible improv actor who is always in the moment and gives a lot to the person he is working opposite and Danny was incredibly receptive.
Film Courage: Upcoming creative plans?
Kenneth: The goal is to have Marigold finished by the end of Sept. After that, I’m going to be prepping for my next feature film to begin shooting Feb 2016. Other than that, I’m just going to keep riding on this train and try to get back to that feeling of freedom I had at 6 years old. Only this time I won’t be jumping off and if it only leads me to a coastal refinery then so be it. At least I’ll make it to the end this time.
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.
That same year Kenneth was featured on American Latino T.V. as an up and coming Latino filmmaker and caught the attention of Plus Entertainment. Since July of 2008, Kenneth has written and directed six feature films in the urban Latino genre under the title of The Drive-By Chronicles feature film series. All of which have been produced and distributed by Plus Entertainment. His first two features in the series Sidewayz and Ghostown are currently available for purchase at Walmart, Target, and Blockbuster stores across the country. Ghostown was recently awarded BEST DRAMATIC FEATURE at the 2010 Reel Rasquache Film Festival. His third feature in this series is entitled Confession of a Gangster and was released in the fall of 2010 along with 10 new episodes of his short film series.
In June of 2010 all three films in Kenneth Castillo’s Drive-By Chronicles feature film series were picked up by Comcast and Time Warner Cable for VOD distribution. In 2011 Kenneth shot back to back indie films. A crime-thriller entitled The Hearts of Men and the boxing drama Counterpunch which featured Danny (Machete) Trejo as a crisis counselor to a bi-polar 2 Cuban Boxer. Counterpunch was picked up and released by Lionsgate in January 2013 and was featured on Netflix for two straight years. His next project and 6th feature film was entitled La Gaupa and he is now currently in post on his 7th feature film Marigold the Matador.