Clarissa De Los Reyes is a woman of many talents. She’s a writer, director and a veteran cinematographer. Her short film Nanay was a featured short on the National Film Society channel. Here she discusses her process on that film, plus remembers the good ol’ days in NYU’s film school, where a certain other filmmaker we all know got his start.
Courtney: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking? I mean you are adept at so much, so what is your specific favorite?
Clarissa: My favorite is directing, and after directing, cinematography.
CJ: Wonderful. I know you went to film school with Stephen.
CJ: So what’s the most invaluable thing you’ve learned from film school?
CDR: I think it’s working with other people. And the biggest advantage would be the networking. And also having that block of time to really focus on film. You’re going there for two or three years and you really have no time to do anything else. Like, take on a job, maybe in the summer, but really, you’re not doing anything else. You’re making films for a set amount of time, and it’s really great.
CJ: What’s something you’ve learned on set? Or during the post-production process? Something you didn’t necessarily gain from working in film school, or maybe you did, but something that was on the job practical experience, and helpful?
CDR: That’s kind of tough. Outside of film school, I really learned how to direct actors. And realizing that every actor is different. It’s funny because there was one time when I was directing my thesis, I specifically cast someone because she was very much like the character I had in mind. And when we went to filming she came to me and was like “Do you have some direction? How do you want me to play the character, etc.?” And to me, she was fine, her performance was great! It’s interesting because in school, you have all these exercises, where you break down the scene, and you direct your fellow classmates.
But, you know, it’s almost psychological. And with actors it’s not just one point of attack. You really have to ask yourself, what does this person need? Really, sometimes, they just need to know that they’re doing fine, and that they are turning in a good performance for you.
CJ: Since you said that your second favorite part of filmmaking is cinematography, what advice do you have for aspiring cinematographers?
CDR: Be constantly working. Be on sets. Just keep learning. There’s so much to learn. It’s a pretty technical job. I won’t say I’m a technophobe, but I’m not as techie as some people are. And I find myself needing to learn more than I’m used to. So don’t be afraid of the technology.
CJ: Your film Nanay was a featured short on the National Film Society channel. Can you talk about your experience working on that film?
CDR: That was actually my first narrative short. It was the first short I did in film school. It was literally three months since I started film school. They gave us a 16mm camera rig, and they told us, “For the entire semester this is what you’re going to be shooting all your films with.” So for the first semester, we’re lugging around this monstrous thing around. When I think about it, it was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. There was a lot of pressure. For the first time it was about showing people what you could really do. And that’s what it meant to me.
CJ: How did you break through that pressure?
CDR: At the end of the day. I worked with a very fun crew. It was just fun. At the end of the day people were goofing off and having fun. And too I always remembered what a friend told me. “It’s only a film.” And there were a lot of funny moments, while we were shooting. We had two babies, twins, and it was cold. One of the rules of shooting was that you couldn’t shoot indoors, you couldn’t use lights, and there couldn’t be any dialogue. It was very challenging. So it was one of the coldest days, ever. And we had these two babies, so we had to run back and forth to the car to keep them warm. And sometimes one was in a better mood than the other. But those were great days because it’s before we were jaded, and everyone was excited to make a film! There was excitement. They were good days!
CJ: What’s coming down the pipeline for you? What’s next?
CDR: In terms of writing/directing, I’m working on a longer version of my short Johnny love Delores, which has been showing at a few festivals.
CJ: Great! And congratulations.
CDR: Thank you!
Courtney Jones is a writer and book reviewer in Chicago(land). Follow her on Twitter @shymoxie.