Mariana Silva: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

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First thing I would say is that most people before I started would tell me that making connections was really hard and people aren’t friendly in the industry, but I had the very opposite experience. I have been able to make great connections and people have always been so friendly, open and willing to teach me and share with me. I have met incredibly talented people who I still keep in contact and work with.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mariana Silva.

To reveal a behind-the-scenes view into the unseen work that happens in Hollywood inside the Art Department in order to make every film & TV show come to life, we spoke to burgeoning LA-based filmmaker Mariana Silva to shed light into how anyone can get their foot in the door to get the job of your dreams. Wearing many hats, Mariana has done it all in Hollywood’s Art Department, including Production Design, Art Direction, Set Dressing, Set Decorating and Prop Master to name a few.

Mariana was born and raised in Colombia and moved to the U.S. in 2013 to pursue a career in film. With no contacts and no experience upon moving to Los Angeles, she has spent the last decade navigating Hollywood learning what to do and what not to do to get hired. She has a deep commitment to filmmaking and creating meaningful designs through the art department. Here are some of her favorite projects on her website HERE.

The more contemporary the movie is, the more viewers will know if you’ve made a mistake. This is just one challenge that Mariana faces each day at work, and she is excited to help others not only learn what the various roles in the Art Department do, but how to actually put themselves in a position to be hired.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Sure, In some ways I grew up very typical but at the same time I didn’t. I was born and raised in a small city called Popayan in Colombia until I was 13. A city that felt more like a small town since everyone knows each other. I grew up with three older brothers, who have very much influenced my career choice and path. I guess what made my childhood not so typical and unique was moving so much, and embracing new cultures. Coming from a small city to moving to different countries made me very receptive to multiculturalism. When I was 13 years old my parents and I moved to Paraguay for four years before I moved to the United States. Pretty much my teenage years were lived in Paraguay, and for some time in Brazil. I think it was in Paraguay that I knew I wanted to study film. Ever since I was little, I have been very creative, I took painting and drawing classes, and I was part of the broadcasting club in high school where we were in charge of the news of the school, music and more. I feel all of these things have influenced me in different ways.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I was little movies and TV-shows were my most constant companion when I faced challenges and difficult situations growing up. I was somewhat introverted growing up so I spent many hours watching movies and TV. I was excited when the TV guide that came with the newspaper arrived each week. I would get my highlighter and go through the guide to schedule the movies and shows I wanted to watch. I was more into studying the guide than into my homework. I would cut off the movies that became my favorites and save them in my journal. This became a very fat journal. When I was 11 my oldest brother gave me my first video camera, it was a VHS camera. I took it everywhere and recorded everything. I got in trouble with my parents because sometimes I recorded over family memories, and also in school for not “writing” my essays but instead doing visual essays. The event that convinced me that I wanted to work in the film industry was when a friend of my mother’s dropped some books at our house in Paraguay. One of the books was a coffee-table book filled with images and descriptions of the behind the scenes of my favorite movie, Inception. When I read it and saw what it takes to create a film, the amount of people and creativity involved, I knew I wanted a film career. It was after that moment that I told my parents I wanted to move to the US and pursue a career in film… and here I am!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I have so many funny and interesting stories! But if I had to pick, it would be looking for the most expensive and random food all over LA. I was working on a commercial for specialized brand of water in cans as a set dresser and we had to find the most expensive food in LA, make it into a drink and served it in a generic can to the actors in the commercial. To give you some context, we gave them two drinks while they were blindfolded. One from the brand water and one crafted by us. The actors didn’t know what they were asked to drink. It was a whole adventure buying the most expensive caviar, looking for truffle sauce, squid ink, and then mixing them into drinks. We would seal the concoction in a fresh can and have them open and drink it, all while blindfolded. I remember thinking to myself, this is not at all part of my job description but it was very funny to see the reactions and creating the different drinks. If you want to see this commercial, I have the clip posted on my website to watch it.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Honestly this one is hard to answer because everyone is interesting and unique. What I can say is that a person I feel very inspired by is Rashi Jain a production designer I work sometimes. She has this incredible sets filled with color and texture, they are all so unique and different from each other. I admired how she brings her culture, India, and background as an architect into her designs which makes them stand out for me. I have learned so much from her sets and her ability to incorporation cultural elements that evoke sense of meaning and place. I want to emulate her ability to imbue a set with cultural elements, a set I can feel connected to.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think I have found several people along my journey that has helped me, and I’ve been very blessed with their advice and support. First, I’m extremely grateful to BA Laris, she’s my housemate, and she has been with me since the beginning of my journey, helping me, getting me in contact with people and providing me with lots of advice. She has pretty much seen all my lows and highs. And she’s family to me, I feel so at home in this country thanks to her.

Another person who I’m extremely grateful for is my close friend and production designer Cyrum Ramírez. She has given me great advice on how to navigate the industry, teaching me about production design and the art department. We have been together in several sets and she has recommended me to so many others too. When we first met, she hired me as the prop-master for a shoot called Aves, and since then it’s been a great journey working with her. She has challenged me in so many ways giving me opportunities on things I haven’t done before, and having so much faith in me. She has a very calming personality about her that it gets transmitted to everyone in her art team. I can’t begin to count the number of things I have learned from her and her sets. Even when I’m not working with her, I still text her for advice and questions, and her responses help me feel centered and creative.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The most favorite quote life lesson would be one my father told me. He says “ Eres una espada en construcción” which he explain to me to mean you are a sword still in the making, and we are meant to be like shinning swords. He would compare life to the way a sword is made. When he first told me this, I wasn’t ready to listen, but with time I realized that it’s true. We all need to go through some heat and hard hits in life to become a strong, sharp and brilliant sword. Whenever I’m going through something for some reason that phrase remains with me and makes things more bearable. I know that once I look back at something that happened, I’m stronger and better because of that.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

As a Latina, I find it sad and frustrating to see that we aren’t represented in cinema, and that when we are is very stereotypical and in a negative manner. I think it is important we have more diversity because I want to be able to relate more to characters in films, and see myself represented in different roles in the entertainment industry. We Latinos also have stories to tell and visions to share. Today we live in such a diverse community which is not adequately reflected in the film industry. Secondly, I want to see newer generations of Latinos seeing themselves reflected in film as the strong, independent and successful people we are. Why is it that we don’t have a Latina superhero or more mainstream successful professional characters? I hope that even the fact that I’m a Latina working in the industry might inspired other younger Latinos to aspire for a career in film.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

One that I just finish working as production designer was the beginning of a documentary/commercial for a futuristic home that’s in Santa Monica. It’s an amazing structure. A multicultural, multifunctional home, with the main goal of being zero-carbon emission. This house would host the first smart-flower in the US, a solar panel in the shape of a flower that would follow the sun during the day. It will have a vacuum elevator and Beko refrigerators known for their innovative system of lighting to prolong the durability of vegetables and fruits. We are preparing for the second part of the documentary once the house it’s finished. So, I’m very excited for this project and for people to see it come to life and link my previous experience as an environmental advocate.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I am most proud of my detailed ability to layer set decorations for the camera, and find solutions quickly to problems that inevitably arise on set. A great example of this was working on HIYA, an underwater set, in which we had to find solutions and brainstorm ideas on how to make a room look realistic in the bottom of a pool. We had to be extremely careful with the materials we used and think of possible outcomes once the walls and set decorations was pushed underwater. It was a trial-and-error kind of experience. Some of the wood glue that we used came off after being in the water for a while making the water very milky color. Thankfully we got everything we needed before it was too noticeable. We also had to keep bubbles from forming on the walls, since they were made with fabric.

Dealing with the stuffed animals was also challenging to prevent dust and lint from showing on camera, after having to cut them, weight them and attach them to the set to keep them in place underwater. So something that makes me proud of this one is that finding those solutions, learning in the process, and being able to have it all look good on camera.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

First thing I would say is that most people before I started would tell me that making connections was really hard and people aren’t friendly in the industry, but I had the very opposite experience. I have been able to make great connections and people have always been so friendly, open and willing to teach me and share with me. I have met incredibly talented people who I still keep in contact and work with.

Another thing is that degrees in films should advocate or require student to have more internships or practical experience on set and in creating connections to get experience. A degree helps and guides you but most of the learning comes from being on set. So, I wish that when I was in school, we had people, professors pushing us to get more on sets and start making those connections as soon as we started in the program. At least for me I didn’t have professors that guided me or told me how to look for practical opportunities.

In school, I also wish the education included more specific information on the roles and responsibilities of a Production Assistant (PA) as well as any other entry level job positions in film. When I got my first opportunity as a PA I conducted my own research and tried to learn as much as I could about the job before I started, but honestly it was a total discovery path. I don’t regret it but wish I had more guidance while I was in school.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

This one is a hard one since there are so many different stakeholders that have made an impact on me and what I want for my work. It varies so much from story to story. I usually want to connect with the story first, understand the characters before I can start to have an artistic vision of what that would look like. Once I figure it out my direction then I look for movies or production designers that have had an impact on my artistic vision.

My dream one day is to work as a production designer on a fantasy film. I have been inspired by Production Designer Stuart Craig who did an incredible job with the Harry Potter movies. His ability to envision and deliver a world that might have no other reference besides his artistic vision is amazing. He has such an impact in the type of artist I want to be.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I definitely I would go back to what we talked earlier about increasing exposure on diverse cultures. I would love to create and deliver more visual representation on and off camera to highlight diverse Latino experiences.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I think it would be Christopher Nolan, his work has influenced so much my decision on filmmaking. He has always been my favorite director, so as I was saying before, when I was in Paraguay, getting a book about his film Inception felt so much like a sign and the right thing for me. I would love to learn about his journey and his vision to tell and shape stories. Who knows one day I might work for him.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They can follow me on my Instagram @marianasgrh where I post more about my work and my website with my favorite projects:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Mariana Silva: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.