Reel Talk with Angeline Gragasin

Angeline Gragasin has always loved movies but she didn’t always know she wanted to be a filmmaker. She’s from Kansas City, went to college in Chicago, moved out to LA to give Hollywood a try and has finally settled in Oakland to pursue filmmaking in a slightly more laid back and creative environment than that of tinsel town. She acts and directs and has a keen eye for the quirky side of life. Color and composition seem to be a big deal to her, and we’ve enjoyed browsing through her catalog of work, both for its breadth and its strangeness. Here Gragasin shares some details on how she got over that feeling of being too old to try new tricks, what gear she likes to work with, and what kinds of stories she’s interested in telling. 

So you started filmmaking at about 25. I can relate to “feeling too old” to try new creative tricks. How did you talk yourself out of that? Was it hard to suck at it for a while?

When I first started making films, I didn’t think of myself as a filmmaker, so I never had to talk myself out of trying anything, because I hadn’t tried anything yet! I just just playing around and I knew nobody was paying attention, so I could make all the mistakes I wanted – without the embarrassment that comes once these experiments become more than just experiments – which is what happened after I came out as a filmmaker. Once I decided to dedicate myself seriously to filmmaking, I became much more focused but also much more self-conscious, and as a result, far less prolific. The more I improve, the more time I spend researching and developing. I’m still trying to find a balance between concepting and producing, trying to find that sweet spot where I can “go with the flow.” To effortlessly incubate and manifest ideas, one after the other, without letting them get in the way of each other, without tension or distraction. To get into a rhythm.

Do you get paid to make films?

Have I been commissioned to make films? Yes. Have I been compensated appropriately? Absolutely not.

After 2 years of driving myself crazy trying to “get paid” as a filmmaker, I came to the realization that I prefer to practice filmmaking as an art rather than an industry. It’s a completely different way of working and thinking; totally antithetical to conceiving of films primarily as commercial products, which are manufactured to conform to market values rather than human values. It’s very liberating. 

What type of gear do you use, video and photography?

I’ve shot on prosumer cams (DSLR) and procine cams (RED) and other HD cams (Panasonic HVX, Sony FS100) as well as toy cameras such as the Harinezumi and the GoPro. The only thing I haven’t shot on is celluloid (or acetate, if you wanna get technical), although I’d love to. I love the ubiquity and portability of DSLR, but I’m sick of the look of it – all online video is shot on DSLR, so any weakness in the cinematography really shows unless you really have consistently outstanding formal composition. The novelty of prime lenses and motion graphics has worn off, the playing field has been leveled, new directors can no longer hide behind shallow DoF and AfterEffects tricks to obscure their lack of cinematographic technique – myself included! That’s why I started studying photography – to be able to really understand firsthand how to identify and capture an interesting image. I’m in Mexico City right now and I decided not to take my DSLR with me precisely because I wanted to train myself to work with the two most unforgiving kinds of cameras there are: a phone camera and a film camera. I’m here shooting on a vintage 35mm SLR and an smartphone. So glad I left my kit at home – a light traveler is a happy traveler.

Are you interested in telling any particular story, or do you go where the inspiration takes you?

Lately I’ve been fascinated with origin myths. But I’m less interested in telling a particular kind of story, more interested perfecting my technique and understanding how to enhance certain themes or flavors no matter the subject. I think an important part of storytelling is decoding wisdom from the past and encoding it for the future. This is my current preoccupation when it comes to story.

Do you prefer to star in your own films? What are the challenges with that?

NO! But it’s been convenient insofar as I’m trained, experienced, and readily available. Apart from the logistical challenges of not being able to monitor and perform simultaneously, there are some larger psycho-social questions at hand. I once confided about how I felt pressured to “be in it” to a friend of mine who is a director and choreographer and also performs in most of her own work. She agreed to feeling this same expectation, although we both agreed we didn’t necessarily conceive of ourselves as the “stars” of our work, just that we know what we want and how to get it and often don’t have the budget to be able to hire qualified performers – apart from ourselves. My most popular videos on Vimeo are the ones in which I perform. Should I leverage that, or should I sabotage it? Ultimately I want my work – the ideas contained within the work – to be what sustains the viewer’s interest, not my physical presence.

Do you consider your filmmaking experimental?

I don’t know. What is experimental filmmaking? What isn’t? I’m still working toward mastering the basics – although what I consider the basics someone else might consider advanced. I don’t know. Is knowing how to consistently reproduce fresh and compelling narrative structures basic or advanced?

What is the most important job of the director?


See more of Angeline’s work here:

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