João Dall'Stella is a Brazilian writer and director based in Los Angeles. His AFI thesis film "Dia De Las Carpas" won the DGA Student Grand Prize for Latino Directors and has been featured in prestigious showcases and festivals such as CAA Moebius, SAG-AFTRA Foundation and Oscar-qualifying film festivals.
Hi João thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
I’ve been good! Some days I really enjoy being alone while somedays I find it really bad! But after the crazy first two weeks, I’ve finally established a routine and was able to write and work on some projects I’ve been postponing for a while. I just pretend it will all end tomorrow! My sleeping schedule is kind of crazy so I’m answering these questions at 4 AM.
Is this time offering you with new creative inspiration?
I wouldn’t say that it is offering new inspiration but definitely time to work on yourself and on my writing that I had the inspiration already but the hard part is actually doing the work and sitting down in front of your computer! There is no excuse now...besides browsing youtube...watching films… or just lying in bed looking at the ceiling...
The attention you got for Día De Las Carpas has been amazing, did you imagine you would get such an incredible response to your film?
It would be easy for me to lie and say that all of this has been a surprise... but from the beginning, I knew this was a special project, and that made me work even harder as if I had to live up to its full potential. As a director, the film is the god who I’m serving to. But I never expected the specific prizes and accolades that we received. Me and Marina (The writer) have a saying that “you can only make the deadline” and that’s what we did and now the film has a life of its own.
What has winning Best Latino Student Filmmaker - West Region at the 2019 DGA Student Awards meant to you?
Speaking of deadlines… We submitted for the DGA at 4 pm of its 5 pm last day deadline! It meant a lot because I never won a trophy in my life and I’ve hated playing sports as a child so this made me very happy and proud of myself and because it is a kids movie it was a good f**ck y** to all the fear and sadness I had in those moments as a child. It also means for me that it’s worth pursuing my passion because slowly people are starting to notice my work. I could have never imagined that two years ago! It’s nice to add those words to your Biography!
What was it about Marina Kato Hoag screenplay that interested you so much as a director?
Marina is incredibly talented and we’ve worked on another project beforehand and once she told me about her idea I’ve pictured the movie instantly before my eyes. The movie was also a love letter for how I acted and viewed the world as a child and made me really tap into those memories and the message of hope was important to me because coming from Latin America, I want to see our positive beliefs that the next day is going to be better on-screen. Also, I always try to make the main character's version of myself, and in the film “Jonathan” had all those qualities I remembered having as a child. Fear, shyness but also curiosity and empathy towards others.
Dia De Las Carpas is your AFI thesis film, can you tell me how this project came about?
As mentioned me and Marina worked on a project together before and we really had fun doing it! Then she came with an early treatment for “Dias…” and from there onwards we build the world and story around it through multiple drafts. I was very just excited to work on it! We went through multiple steps like fundraising, forming a team and production, and finally making the film! It was a roller coaster!
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
There were a lot of production challenges due to the scope of the project and schedule with the kids working hours. I would say the most challenging scene was the ending because it IS a big scene. We had police officers, kids, giant fake fish, a pier that was still open to the public! Lots of wind and chasing the sun and only 15 minutes to film the sunset! Everything people say not to have but guess what... It was all worth it! Through intense planning with my cinematography Bethany Michalski we made it through the rain! (in fact, it did rain some days and we were in LA but that added to the uniqueness of the film).
What was the experience like working with such a young cast?
They were all so professional and talented that it was not that different from working with adult actors. We had a great experience on set and they were such troopers! I believe a director needs to treat the actors with ultimate respect and care so the fact that they were kids made us more aware of that. Ultimately we all became friends so that helped a lot! I can’t wait to see their careers unfold.
Since making Dia De Las Carpas what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you've taken from this film?
NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR FILM! There were so many challenges throughout this whole journey but you need to find the strength to fight for another day! I’m never forgetting that!
"Of course, the other 25% of the decisions are made on the day because not everything can go according to plan but then you just have to embrace it and follow your instincts."
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’ve been creating images since I can remember…I used to make an animated storybook on Microsoft PowerPoint windows 95 when I was 7! It really always felt something I was naturally inclined to and as I grew up I just had the curiosity to try it and I really enjoyed it and now I’m in love. My passion came more from doing films than watching!
Your other films Stalls & Q-Therapy have had a fantastic festival run, how different was your approach to Dia De Las Carpas compared to these other films?
Not much different because I still use the same process from my first short film! I’m very focused on planning how everything is going to look on screen! I would say 75% of the film is set on my shortlist! As you can see below I’m a huge The Sims fan and I use the game to shortlist my films! That way I can show my crew what we are aiming for and I can also try things without the pressure of being on set. Of course, the other 25% of the decisions are made on the day because not everything can go according to plan but then you just have to embrace it and follow your instincts.
What is the best advice you would offer an emerging director?
1 - Do a short with the resources that you have. For example, I’ve made my first short using a friend who had a very nice cinematic house! You only need a camera, a couple of lights, two actors and a sound man ( don’t forget the soundman!).
2 - Plan your goals 6 months ahead. That way you can have projects that you wanna do or write as a physical goal and you are always working on something new!
3- Don’t be afraid of failures or people saying no to you! The struggle is part of the fun. Two years ago I made a terrible short film at AFI as one of our class projects and though my career was over but it was essential for me to become a better filmmaker.
4 - Apply to AFI, I’ve had a wonderful experience there! (Make those deadlines!).
5 - Have fun! Celebrate your achievements! Take this career very seriously!
What are you currently working on?
My screenplay STEAM, a horror film, is going to be part of the NALIP Latin Media Market and I’m very excited to digitally be there! Very different from Carpas but just as fun! At the same time, me and Marina are finishing writing the feature version of Dia De Las Carpas! Spoiler alert: It is also just as fun :p
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Dia De Las Carpas?
I want people to smile and feel more empathy for each other. We are missing that in the world right now.