Make movies early and often. Even if they’re bad. Even if you are doing it by yourself. Do what you know, and Google what you don’t know. Just create — people rarely get worse with practice!
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gabriel Caste.
Cuban American filmmaker Gabriel Caste started his career producing non-fiction, working with Cameron Crowe on David Crosby: Remember My Name. He moved into an editing and VFX role, ultimately leading post-production for Davis Guggenheim’s Concordia Studio. Since turning to a complete focus in directing, Caste has collaborated with emerging musicians, and directed commercial campaigns for Bumble and Purple Mattress.
In the height of the pandemic, Caste directed Love In The Time of Quarantine which “captures the nuances of the isolation experience.” (UK Film Review). The short, in which he also starred, was an official selection of Film Shortage and named one of “9 Brilliant Shorts Created During 2020” by Vmag. His new short Are You Awake? will have its world premiere at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Prior to directing, Caste had a successful career in acting, his first love. A graduate of Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies, Caste’s goal is to continue directing art-driven films for audiences hungry for something different. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thanks for listening to me ramble! I grew up in a very rural part of New Jersey. I went to a middle school of 100 students that shared a property with a cow farm. My childhood home backed up to hundreds of acres of untouched forest, and that’s where my creative brain was formed. Everyday, I’d rush home after school to aimlessly wander the woods. I didn’t realize at the time how formative the isolation would be for me. My family rarely traveled and there’s wasn’t anything to do in my town. Out of this lapse in stimulation, I became a dreamer.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I never fit in. I was smart but hated school. I was hardworking but hated being in an office. And like most parents who put their dreams away to provide for their families, my parents sniffed out my artistic sensibilities early and drilled into me the need for college and a secure job. So, I did. I went to college to be a history teacher. I’m fascinated by stories of our past, and teachers don’t have to be in a traditional office, so I thought this was a good path for me. But some of my best friends were musicians and actors. I couldn’t resist the call of the arts.
I went to school at Temple University in Philadelphia. Philly was such a great place to get started in movies because there was a very small pool of people who were really serious about making it a career. So, I ended up working on literally hundreds of projects before moving to Los Angeles. That includes working briefly with Pennsylvania-based filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan on the movie After Earth with Jaden and Will Smith. Okay, so I was an extra, but it was the first time I stepped onto a real movie set. The day I stepped into the studio to get fitted in my futuristic costume was life changing. I walked past a life-size spaceship surrounded by artists. No going back from that. So, when I moved to LA, I had credits already. It made things a bit more possible.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’m thankful I had the opportunity to join the producing team for the feature documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name. We spent a year hanging with the hippie legend in his home and on the road. I had a front row seat of Cameron Crowe picking Crosby’s brain. I’ll never forget that shoot.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Years ago, I took a gig creating motion graphics for a reality TV show. I taught myself After Effects in college and got pretty good at VFX compositing. But in a total rookie move, I had never thought about how vastly different compositing was from motion graphics. They were looking for something really sleek and dynamic. I basically delivered a PowerPoint animation of a spinning fish. That gig didn’t last very long. I’m cringing thinking about it.
I learned two valuable lessons. 1) Put yourself (and your work) out there. If things aren’t working, you’ll find out quickly. Don’t be afraid to make something crappy! And 2) Stay humble. Always.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My latest short film Are You Awake? will be premiering at Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February 2023. It’s a super nuanced thriller drama following a woman who wakes people up for a living. It’s not a Covid movie by any means, but the tone and themes definitely came from being trapped in my living room for a few years. I’ve been living in the world of Are You Awake? since 2020, and I’m very excited for it to be released to the world. If you’re going to SBIFF 23, give me a shout!
I’m proud to have three feature scripts in development. The first is the feature version of Are You Awake? The second is a film about AI, co-written by AI. The third is a thriller drama that involves addiction and time travel. They are all seeking partners that believe in a fresh voice telling great stories.
Beyond these, I’m directing a fully animated short film with animator Tom Loerch that will be completed later this year.
And finally, I’m directing a web series called Slice of Lonely. We have about fifty minute-long short films directed by me and written and edited by a diverse team of artists.
We are 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?
Yes absolutely! Diversity is how we grow and learn as a society. By offering a platform to diverse voices, whether that’s writing, directing, acting, etc., we are opening our minds to stories that may be entirely new to us. Perspectives that have only been consider niche until recently. And that goes for in front and behind the camera. As a Cuban American director, I can connect with my culture deeper without having to leave my couch. Making lesser-known stories more accessible is important!
Think about how much time we spend with our favorite characters. That’s an education. The words they say, the clothing they wear, the look in their eyes — we soak it up like a sponge. Entertainment shapes the way we feel about the world, and everyone deserves a place.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Make movies early and often. Even if they’re bad. Even if you are doing it by yourself. Do what you know, and Google what you don’t know. Just create — people rarely get worse with practice!
- You’re on your own journey. That journey might not involve any sort of commercial success. If you’re making movies to get rich, there are easier ways! Stop comparing yourself to others. Your work is important because it’s meaningful to you. And if others think so too, you’re on to something.
- Someone will always be better than you. This relates to the last tip. You’re not the best. You’ll never be the best because the best doesn’t exist. Work on besting yourself and your work will just get better.
- Be true to yourself. Make work that speaks to you. Borrow techniques you admire but bring yourself into the work. What have you seen before that worked? How can you expand upon it and make it your own?
- Don’t forget why you started in the first place. Most artists discover their passion when they are young, and it takes off like wildfire. You’re not doing it to get known. You’re not doing it to make money. You’re doing it because your soul is breaking without it. Then after a few years you start trying to make money from it, and you make mistakes, and you get rejected, and the whole thing feels like a big gray puddle. But it hurts because you love it. Don’t forget what that felt like and use that to guide your next moves.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burn out is going to happen. It’s unavoidable. You can’t make something good without putting in large portions of your time, mind, and energy. What I’ve found is, the best way to recover from burn out, and writer’s block as well, is to take a clean break from making anything, writing anything, thinking about ideas, etc.
If you are someone in the film industry, chances are you are a workaholic. And with that, comes a constant need to create new work. There’s nothing less inspiring than sitting in front of your computer while being riddled with guilt that you can’t think of the next big blockbuster. I find that stepping away, and truly letting myself do something just for fun — something just for me — ideas start to flow without even trying. Go organize your closet or sit on the beach! Or play some video games for that matter! Give that creative muscle a rest, so you can hit the ground running when you’re ready.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Okay, here’s an idea. What if we start trending the idea of phone-free Sunday? Hear me out — we need our phones. If you’re in entertainment, you need social media to stay connected and hear about opportunities. But what if we gave that part of our brain a break? Just for a day. Keep it plugged in. Set an away message. And just enjoy the gift of being alive. I think the world’s mental health will improve if this took off. LFG!
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?
Since starting my career, I’ve been mentored by five brilliant, very successful women in the film industry — Oscar-winning producers and agency owners. Beyond being total badass bosses, they were champions of my work and ambitions, each giving me practical advice and valuable connections. They broke down the intimidating idea of making it in Hollywood, giving me the courage to put myself out there.
A particular shout out to the late-great production accountant Susan Conradi. You are missed!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’d love to name-drop in this answer but the best advice I was ever given was from my dad. Like I mentioned, I’m pretty bad at not working seven days a week. A few years ago, I was catching up with my dad on the phone, telling him about the project I was juggling and the subsequent stress. His response was “Well, just make sure you’re having fun.” It’s simple, and I’m sure he didn’t think anything of it, but it’s stayed with me. We aren’t here for long, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d like to invite Nicolas Winding Refn to a midnight meal in the basement of a hospital illuminated by blood red neon exit signs and a sharp shaft of blue moonlight. After dining on rare steaks, I’ll hand him a green alligator skin suitcase, and he’ll never see me again. But I’m open to other ideas too!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram @GabeCaste is my only personal account. And my web series @sliceoflonely can be found across every major platform.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Rising Music Star Gabriel Caste On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.