What made you want to be a filmmaker?
My parents are both novelists so I grew up around storytelling. When I was a kid I fell in love with movies. Billy Wilder, Nora Ephron, Preston Sturges – these filmmakers made movies that were just about people hanging out, in a heightened environment, and those are the kind of stories I’ve always been drawn to. I remember watching “Mary Poppins” when I was little, and during that scene where they clean up the room, I remember thinking, “someone did that”. It’s someone’s job to create that magic, and I was so fascinated by that. But then being a filmmaker didn’t really occur to me as a real job until I was 13 or 14.
Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
How do you feel about working on Spanish language vs English language films?
My favorite stories have always been very universal stories, and I think that transcends language, so I don’t really have a preference for working in either language. As long as the story feels universal in its specifics, than that’s what I’m interested in. My movie “Everybody Loves Somebody” was originally meant to be set entirely in California, with the parents living in Ojai. But then we realized we could get great incentives to shoot in Mexico, so we thought, “let’s make the parents Mexican!” But the core of the story and the majority of the script were exactly the same. Ultimately that decision gave the characters even more specificity, which turned out well.
What kind of projects do you want to be working on?
I want to do relationship movies, that tell stories about why people love the people they love. The mystery of why we are drawn to the people we are drawn to. Not necessarily romantic comedies, although I do love that genre. I think romantic comedies have been very maligned in the past decade. It’s the most difficult type of movie to get right because people can call bullshit on them so easily. The genre comes with a prejudice that I think as filmmakers we need to embrace. Stories teach us who we are, and ultimately they make us feel less alone. If they come from a source you don’t expect or a filmmaker you don’t expect to speak to you, but they say something profound, that can truly break down barriers.
What are you most proud of in your body of work?
Probably “Everybody Loves Somebody”, but I love my first film too. People see them as very different – the first is about grief, the second is a romantic comedy -- but they are both about family love, and ultimately very similar.
What are your strengths as a director?
My ability to work with actors is probably my greatest strength as a director. I’ve been very lucky to work with great actors. But it’s hard to make sure that everyone is in the same movie and working in the same tone. That’s very hard to do, and I think I do that well. I try to always look for the honesty in moments, and I think that’s a very difficult thing as a filmmaker. I love finding those moments.
What was your favorite film as a kid growing up?
“Mary Poppins” when I was little little, like six. When I was a teenager it was “Annie Hall”. And then a universal favorite is “When Harry Met Sally”.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from another filmmaker?
When I was at AFI they brought in Steven Spielberg and John Williams to give a talk to the film school, and John Williams said “don’t try to be Steven Spielberg”. And what he meant by that was - don’t try to be the greatest thing ever, just enjoy the process and find your own voice. If you don’t enjoy the ride, you’re only going to make bad work. A lot of my classmates were disappointed by that answer, but I found it very compelling. Everyone wants to be Steven Spielberg, but not everyone will be, and if you try it can be a recipe for failure.