Lady Filmmakers Festival honoree Risa
Bramon Garcia is a leader and a living example of excellence for women in the
world of film. Her experience and
wisdom comes from 35 years as a director, producer, casting director, writer
and teacher. Her open mind, hard work and versatility has resulted in an
amazing career in film, television, theatre, and explorations in new media.
Her seemingly endless list of
accomplishments span from directing dozens of plays in New York and Los
Angeles, “200 Cigarettes” and “The Con Artist”, to casting for more than 65
films including “Desperately Seeking Susan”, “Fatal Attraction”, “The Doors”,
“Benny and June”, and shows including “CSI: NY” and the new Showtime series
“Masters of Sex.”
Risa shares her journey and
perspective on how to approach mentorship as a filmmaker.
How did you begin your film career?
I came to film later than
most filmmakers do, because I came via my theater life. I always dreamed and
imagined that my life as a director would be in the theater. What was interesting
is that I started casting in film while I was directing theater – casting was my waitressing job and frankly, it still is. It’s
something I’m good at, and it helps me to make money. It allows me to stay a
part of the business, so I can support myself and do the things that I love – which
is really directing and running my studio. The studio makes me much happier
than I ever imagined would be possible.
I always thought that if you teach, you’re at the end of your career and
it has failed. That’s what I always believed it, but it’s not at all true.
Regarding film, I studied
theater in college, dipping my toe in film, but devoted myself to the theater. I ran to New York for the theater. In my early New York days I realized that a number of people I worked with were casting movies, and that seemed like
a good way to make money. And I wouldn’t have to tough it out all night at a
rock and roll club called The Bottom Line in the village anymore. I could
actually support myself in the business. Things started working with “Desperately
Seeking Susan”, the first film that Billy Hopkins and I cast. It didn’t fall in
our laps, but it was one of those “put it out to the universe and the universe
answers” kinds of things.
We knew some people who were
big casting directors in NY who relied on us for fresh ideas. They recommended
us for “Susan” when they couldn’t do the film. That was a real break and my entrance
into the film business.
In the beginning of my casting work I
was lucky enough to be mentored by some big filmmakers who allowed me to be on
set and to be in process with them in a way that most casting people aren’t
allowed. I didn’t know anything different. I didn’t know that you weren’t
supposed to go to the set everyday. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to
be in rehearsal and work with actors on the script, but that’s what I did
because that’s what I did in the theater as a director and producer.
I was lucky in that they
allowed me to do that, and it taught me everything about movies.
The thing that I didn’t develop as quickly was visual storytelling. I’m incredibly intrigued by it, but
because I worked with actors and new scripts in the theater, those areas were my first strengths. I
learned to tell stories through people and words.
How did you find your mentors?
I always found mentors
because I went to the work first. For me, if you’re the last one standing and
working incredibly hard, if you are willing to put in 150% and do what no body else
will do, and be smart about it, mentors will find you. Because you’re the one
doing the work, and often strong work.
That’s what happened to me. I
just showed up, worked hard, and was always the last person to leave. The
mentors found me. I never really thought, “Oh, you’ll be my mentor.” That’s
what happened at the Ensemble Studio Theater, which was the theater at which I came
up in New York. The artistic director there saw something in me and decided to
mentor me. I didn’t know he was mentoring me – I just knew that he believed in
me, schooled me, challenged me to do my best work.
My mentors were mostly strong-minded,
somewhat misogynistic men, but I just felt like they were giving me an
opportunity. They were taking me seriously. They were willing to teach me, and
they all gave me the same message – don’t wait for someone to hire you. Go out
and make your own work. That’s how I’ve done it, and that’s what I’m doing now.
It was always the way that I found success. I created it.
When I was casting, directors
like Oliver Stone and Adrian Lyne were really generous. They allowed me to be
on set and learn from them. They took me seriously and asked for my input. I
was able to watch and learn from amazing cinematographers at work like Bob
Richardson. Funny enough, when I did Desperately Seeking Susan, it was Ed Lachman,
the cinematographer, who I watched and learned from. I so crave that mentorship
I don’t know what that means
when people come to me and ask me if I’ll be a mentor. Show up and work hard.
Show yourself and rise up to it, and when we’re in a working relationship, then
I can mentor you. I don’t know what it means otherwise. I think young people
make the mistake of thinking they’re going to go out and find a mentor. Do the
work, and a mentor will find you.
Is there any other advice you have for new filmmakers?
Just keep making your own
stuff, but also make things that are also going to be commercial. I don’t mean
commercial in a slick way. Tell a story that you think the world wants to see.
Be provocative; be commercial in that you’re trying to reach an audience – even
if it’s a specific audience – work that’s going to be both provocative and
entertaining. Entertaining doesn’t have to be ‘fun’. It can be something that’s
emotionally challenging, but get in there and don’t be afraid to do something really
thought-provoking. Many people either play it safe, or do something that nobody
is interested in. Just keep making stuff, over and over… because every good
filmmaker made a lot of crap before they got here.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been casting, which has
been great. I have a few films that I’m developing as a director, but the thing
that I’m most interested in is the work I’m doing with my partner, Steve Braun,
in the studio that we have – The BGB Studio (see website here). It started off with just a few
acting classes, but now we’re doing a lot more. We’re creating an artistic
home, a safe haven for actors in Los Angeles, where they can come and explore
their artistry in a number of ways. A lot of our actors are taking our writing
classes. We’re doing everything from yoga, writing classes, intensive Meisner workouts,
to high-end rehearsal and audition classes. Steve and I are writing a book and have
launched an online training business. It’s exciting and very rewarding. Really,
for the first time in my career, I’m my own boss. Writing is really interesting
to me now, and that’s where my heart is. And being able
to be in the work with fellow artists every day.