6 questions with Petro director, Josh Beck at the half-way mark.
Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
1Hey Josh! Congrats on another great film. First, what was it about Ani Easton Baker's short story that made you want to turn it into a film? Ani has been a friend of mine for several years now and she has one of the most amazing minds. I've always been a fan of her writing, whether it's a simple observational tweet, or a blog post about trying pizza for the first time in New York (I actually cried reading that one). When she self-published her first book, which is a compilation of short stories, poems, and other musings, I remember thinking one particular story stood out to me. Not only that, but it was one particular paragraph within that short story that caught my attention... it centered around a kid named Petro who was sort of dealing with a bit of an identity crisis. The cool thing about adapting a film from a single paragraph within a short story is that I actually got to expand the material into a full 15 minute script. I feel like screenwriters are typically forced to cut written material down when adapting.
2Most people make short films before they make a feature, but you made Petro after your feature. Why did you decide to follow up a feature film with a short? I've heard it said before that the best thing to do when you wake up in the morning is to tackle your hardest task first. I wanted to apply that approach to the larger scale of filmmaking, which is why I started with a feature. I've heard many stories about filmmakers getting trapped in an endless short film loop, so I wanted to avoid that common pitfall. The reason I followed up the feature with a short was simply because I didn't want to go too long without making something again. I used a lot of resources to make the feature, and definitely wasn't in a position to make another one right away, so a super low budget short seemed like my best option.
3I love how this film tells shows the rebirth of Petro, as the streetwise "dog" described in the book as Pedro. It's such a small story that works perfectly as a short film. I'm curious what your thoughts are of the strengths and weaknesses of shorts vs. features? Something I've noticed about my own filmmaking style is I tend to err on the side of subtly. I have this extreme fear of hitting the audience too hard with exposition, or hammering a theme home too obviously. This often leads to many confused viewers. People will say things like "Wow that was such a beautiful film, but I'm curious what was meant by the ending?" so it's always really great to me when people notice the little things. Features are good because you have more time to convey a subtle idea, which gives audiences more chances or more time to "get it." The downside is that feature story structures have more moving parts so there's more opportunity for your message or theme to get lost or muddled in the mix. That's why there's so much emphasis in the indie film world on make sure your script is solid before moving forward. For my next feature I'm going to really focus on finding natural ways to write exposition that is vital to the characters in the story, which has the bonus side effect of making things clear to the audience.
4The performances from the kids in this film are all great. Were these kids trained actors that had to memorize lines? How did you get such solid performances from them? We tried to hold a casting session for all roles in the film, but came up really short on child actors. In the end, Shereen Younes and I just walked around my East LA neighborhood and went to local skateparks. When we found Aaron and Luis, it was so obvious they had to play the leads. The dialogue in the script was already few and far between, but the kids took their jobs very seriously and came prepared. In the end I think some of the best scenes in the film were the ones where I let them improvise. I think in general filmmakers tend to overwrite dialogue for younger actors. If authenticity is what you're after, it's important to just let kids be kids.
5Your film EVER was our first feature film ever played on Fandependent. It also marks another collaboration with your wonderful cinematographer Micah Van Hove. What's the process between the two of you to achieve the look of your films? Do you plan everything out and storyboard? Do you reference movies before you shoot? Do you improvise on set? Every time I tap Micah for another project I always say "ok, we're going to do a detailed shot list and make a storyboard and we're going to schedule more days so we can take our time!" and of course, because of budgetary reasons, that never happens. For Petro, I think I at least had a rough shot list that we sort of stuck to, but for the most part EVER and Petro ended up being improvised productions. When Micah is doing handheld camerawork he has a very unique style, and I always edit my own films, so that's mainly where my sensibilities kick in the most. It's a complete stylistic collaboration between us. Also, since those two films take place in Los Angeles and have such similar styles, I like to think of them as sharing the same cinematic universe. I like to think that the character of Ever and the character of Petro are both having their birthdays at the same time in different parts of the city.
6What's next? I have a short film called Particles coming out later this year. It's a quick 10 minute sort of love story with a hint of sci-fi, that almost serves as a concept film for a possible bigger movie.
I'm also taking the next few months to get out of LA so I can put my head down and write my next feature. The script is still in a very early stage, but so far I'd describe it as a post-apocalyptic shakespearean tragedy centered around a primitive holy war a thousand years in the future. I'll need a really good producer for this one, but I'm very excited about it!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
The film with the most fans wins $1,000
For 2017 we are moving on from screening feature films and will be showcasing shorts.
For our Winter 2017 Festival, we are giving away $2,000 in prizes to the top three films.
The film with the most fans.
The film with the most views.
Our favorite film.
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