What made you want to be a filmmaker?
I’ve always been stirred by story. I was the kid who made up ghost stories around the campfire, who said, “Okay you guys you think that was freaky? This next story REALLY happened.”
I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a filmmaker until much later. I grew up in Colorado to a Brazilian mom and an American, mountain-man type dad and didn’t know a single person who was working in film. But I loved them. After seeing Star Wars for example, my brother and I made clay monsters, the four-leggeds vs. the two-leggeds, set them up on a chess board and filmed them annihilating each other in stop motion with my dad’s super 8. But more than anything, I was riveted by character and story.
I was the kid who snuck my mom’s books (she was a psychoanalyst) to read about people and their addictions, transgressions, challenges. I poured over my dad’s publications (my dad was a Communist) just because I was riveted, scared, ignited by what was happening in the world. I’d write stories, put on plays, I’d gather a group of kids together and tell a wildly embellished version of something I’d read. Since I can remember, I wanted to take what I saw and shape a creative version of it. So I guess I always wanted to be a filmmaker.
What kind of projects do you want to be working on?
I love stories that can do good work in the world, political stories, political thrillers, psychological thrillers, family dramas, coming of age dramas, urban stories, wilderness stories, adventure stories, survival stories, real life stories, stories that involve kids, stories that involve untapped subcultures, and tons more genres if the characters feel real and and stories feel authentic.
What are you most proud of in your body of work?
People think I’ll say Blackfish because it struck a cultural nerve. But I would have to say my first film, City Lax, shot mostly in standard def for no money, was revelatory. It’s the moment when I realized that I didn’t have to wait to get hired, didn’t have to jump into a machine that already had an engine and a directive. I could wake up one day and by sheer force of will, make a film. It was transformative.
What are your strengths as a director?
Character and story. I strive to make even the most wildly outlandish stories or characters feel real because that’s the key to making people feel something.
I can shoot big with lots of toys while remembering the scene is about character and story.
I believe I know how to make a story accessible.
I’m always editing in my head so I’m always tracking story.
I know how to bring out an authentic performance.
I’m always always always always listening.
What’s your favorite film from childhood?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jaws, Ordinary People, The Shining, Amadeus, Black Orpheus.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from another filmmaker?
The fear is real. And awesome.
That’s my advice to myself. Helps me remember that no matter how many times an artist’s heart gets trampled, we’re on the luckiest ride imaginable. So embrace it and be grateful.