a film by Fabian Euresti

When did you first realize you wanted to make films?

I got into filmmaking because of acting. I was a junior in high school when I was given a small role in a production of “Krazy Kamp.” It wasn’t until my senior year at Cal State Bakersfield that I would perform again. I then double majored in English Literature and Theatre and was considering graduate school as an actor. However, I then thought of the representation of actors of color in film and television. I don’t think the numbers have changed too much since then. And the numbers of Latino directors in the DGA are even worse. Only women have it even worse when it comes to being in the DGA it seems.

I knew that I didn’t want to spend twenty years chasing a dream wherein I might never go to sleep, and thus be ever awake in this reality. The pragmatist in me knew that I needed to make a living. I couldn’t really count on much economic support from home. My father and mother earned the minimum wage their whole lives as farmworkers, so their help was quite limited. I wasn’t exactly wanting to be a burden either.  That said, I am extremely grateful for all they sacrificed in raising me.

I knew I had to be a story teller in some fashion, even if I wasn’t on stage or in front of a camera. In the mid 2000s I found myself drawn more and more to independent American cinema. I started thinking about film. I thought I could write my own screenplays and direct them. I applied to UCLA, NYU, and Cal Arts. I didn’t know then about AFI, Columbia, or The New School. I was accepted to Cal Arts and I haven’t looked back.

What has been the most difficult challenge for you as a filmmaker?

For me the most difficult challenge as a filmmaker is staying creative and making new work under the yoke of crushing debt. Between earning a living and being creative the choice is often not mine to make. Walking a precarious line between practicality and art making is something I do every day. I’d say many fellow film school alums are in this position too. And not that school loan debt is anything new, but given the chosen field and the economy, well…

Are there any films that you return to again and again for inspiration?

Since Everybody’s Nuts is being shown, I’ll concentrate on non fiction filmmakers who I turn to, time and again, for inspiration.  I am ever inspired by my Cal Arts mentor. In the fall of 2008, Lee Anne Schmitt premiered California Company Town at REDCAT, and my life forever changed that Monday evening. I was witness to a completely different film form. In brief, her first feature meant that I could marry my two earlier loves: writing and performance. I maybe didn’t know it quite then, but seeing those images and hearing her voiceover allowed (and encouraged) me to think of film in a completely different manner. I felt freer. I felt I was home. She made a hauntingly beautiful film about California company towns, and mine would be about a California company house. Not to be too Cal Arts centric, but James Benning and Thom Andersen’s work is also really inspirational. I think (hope) it’s safe to say those great minds inspire Lee Anne too.

Everybody’s Nuts delicately treads the line between personal and collective, the socio-political and the metaphysical. Was this your intent from the onset or was it something that organically emerged in the process of making the film?

In the spring of 2009, I purchased a Canon point and shoot camera to take location scout stills for my upcoming thesis film. I’m not sure I had taken location scout stills for my first and second year student work, and thought it was a good idea to finally do so. During the summer of the same year, I was at my parents’ home just north of Bakersfield when I was playing with the camera. After taking a few snapshots of a dirty, beige wall I discovered an icon on the back that looked like a film camera from the 1920s. Having had the camera for a few months, and it was only then that I made the discovery. I asked my sister if she could help me and buy a tripod and I “went into production” soon after. I shot over a period of three days in early July and reshot some stuff a week later. My shooting ratio on this project was pretty low. I used most of what I originally shot. However, those first shots were really my attempt at staving off boredom, if anything. I couldn’t afford to go anywhere and so I made the best of it, and I made a film. Me shooting the film was very organic as far as processes go. The more I shot, however, the more I started to think about my parents and how long we had lived here in a company house. I thought of why they might have moved there from a small nearby town nearly twenty years before. The more I shot, the more I thought of what other images I should shoot and why. In the end, there was definitely a specific intent from the onset concerning the wording of the voiceover. I did not write anything prior to the second day of shooting. After the second day I started the first rough draft. So monologue was a direct result of the images I had shot, originally, just for fun. I had to shelf the project when fall came because I needed to go into pre-production on my thesis film, a narrative short.

Your film relies on an economy of means that elegantly matches your subject. Would you like to continue making films on a shoe-string budget or would like to be involved in bigger productions?

The writer/director in me wants to eventually have a decent budget with which to work. Writing and directing a film requires one to wear enough hats without being a de facto producer. Of course with bigger budgets come a new series of challenges. This may be best exemplified by Lynne Ramsey’s recent departure from Jane’s Got a Gun. Then you have the Duplass brothers who seem to have have had an easier transition from a micro budget DIY approach to their projects now. I suppose B.I.G. was right when he rapped about “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

I still want to make smaller more personal projects on HD, and maybe even on 16mm. I can do this by myself or with a friend or two. But for fiction work I would much rather concentrate solely on the story and my actors.  Ultimately, what ends up in the frame is my responsibility. Not that other on set, off set troubles are not mine to assuage, but the audience would never know, and thus could never care about any of that. They should only care about what’s in between the credits, and that’s on my shoulders. Ultimately, what ends up in the frame is my responsibility. If this weight can be less heavy by having enough proper hands on deck, well…

In terms of my creative spirit, I should add that traversing between the land of the haves and have nots would be best. If a micro budget is all I get my hands on though, well I’ve never been afraid to roll up my sleeves and get a bit dirty.

Do you see yourself returning to the themes of agriculture, migrant labor, and Mexican-American identity in your work?

Yes, I do. To me art is ultimately about change for the better. What is going on in the world around me and can I do anything to affect even a modicum of change? In a sense, it’s maybe not so much about me returning to themes of agriculture, (migrant) farm labor, and Mexican-American identity because that is, in large part, who I am, and where I come from.  And this is a very immediate reality for me.  This is not me saying, “Oh well, I come from a humble background.” I’m living a humble background now.  My dad is sleeping 10 feet away from me as I write this. He’ll get up in five or six hours and work outside until 5pm.

Also, I am reminded of the writer’s adage of “write what you know.” So when it comes to either fiction or non-fiction work it’s important that I stay grounded in realism, and what I know. What DO I know? Born and raised here, I know Kern County; I know its fields. And being a first generation Mexican-American born to working class parents, I too, know this for I am this. Having attended an amazing art school, I know I’m in a position of great privilege now because of that education. And yet the poverty of childhood is very much present. Despite this, I am alive, making new work, and I shouldn’t complain.

Having acknowledged this privilege, I want to help share the countless stories because no one else might. And our stories are important too. They are. So many wonderful stories are born here and die here. They need a larger audience.

Would you like to make another film in the same location?

I sort of have made another film in this location. I directed a feature length documentary titled Camp To Campus that was mainly shot in Kern County. This feature was made possible by a generous grant from Cal Hum. CSUB provided matching funds. In short, this film sheds light on the lives of a few first generation college graduates whose parents did migrant farm work. Dr. Marit MacArthur wrote the grant proposal Cal Hum eventually would fund, and she brought me on board the project. When I was under the impression the project would be a student production, I thought about maybe producing or consulting. I even filled out a survey in case my own story might be beneficial. Thankfully I was able to be more hands on.

Also, I have like four short films I have yet to finish that were shot here in Kern County. I very much want to make a feature narrative film this area soon. I would love to shoot in my hometown of McFarland and surrounding communities like Delano and Bakersfield.

What are you working on now?

I am currently editing some video installations for a local group exhibition. I am very much new to the installation world, but it has been very rewarding creating video that address homelessness in Kern County. Under Nicole Saint-John’s leadership, I am very lucky to work with other visual artists like Claire Putney and Eileen Ettinger to name just a couple.

I am also editing a more personal version of Camp To Campus in order to include some footage I shot of my older brother and sister. I did not include their stories in the version that now exists. So, I look forward to making a new film from the existing footage that I can more call my own.

I still have a few short films that I desperately need to finish, but again, making a living seems to get in the way.

Of course, continuing to develop a narrative feature is still very much a priority.

What excites you the most about contemporary cinema?

My excitement in contemporary cinemas certainly lies in technological advances in production. I am excited to see where this digital revolution takes us all. On the distribution end, there are now more choices than ever. As a filmmaker, this is good. As an audience member this can be not so good. I’m not sure about 4k television sets, however. Where does it stop?

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your film?

I hope you like the film!

Fabian Vasquez Euresti was born in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He holds a M.F.A. in Film Directing from California Institute of the Arts and a B.A. in English Literature from California State University, Bakersfield. His thesis film DOS, POR FAVOR (TWO, PLEASE), screened at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. Both DOS, POR FAVOR (TWO, PLEASE) and EVERYBODY’S NUTS were official selections in the 2010 Viennale. He is currently editing two new short films and has a feature-length script in development.