This article was originally published on the Film Independent blog and has been republished here with permission.
This week, while the rest of us are wistfully looking at photos of glamorous movie stars and celebrated directors parading the red carpet on the French Riviera, one of Film Independent’s Project Involve Fellows will be there. Only a year after emerging from the Project Involve program, Carolina Costa is at Cannes with the film “Las Elegidas.” During her early days as cinematographer, she would joke with her friends about having their films in Cannes. When the news broke out, a fellow DP called to say: “I hate you, I didn’t think you would be so quick.”
Congratulations on “Las Elegidas”‘ inclusion in Un Certain Regard! Where were you when you heard the news?
I was in Mexico wrapping the reshoots for “Las Elegidas.” We wrapped four hours ahead of schedule and my director called me into a corner and said, “I have to tell you something.” I thought, “Oh no, are we going to have a fight now that we finally finished?” He just flipped his cellphone and I saw the symbol of Cannes on the screen. I couldn’t believe it; I thought he was joking! I went back to the hotel in Tijuana and I was lying on my bed like, WOW! The first person I wanted to call was my mom but it was the day before they released the official announcements in Cannes so I couldn’t tell anyone. I texted her:”“Mom tomorrow you are going to be really proud,” and she said “I’m really proud of you already.” I said: “No Mom, this is different.”
How did you get involved with this film?
I did a short film as soon as I left AFI called “Contrapelo” and it did very well in festivals. It premiered in Tribeca. Someone recommended Pablo Cruz, one of the partners of the production company Canana, to watch it and he was really impressed with the cinematography. He asked his assistant to contact me. I was lucky that his assistant at the time was a good friend of mine so I started to be connected to Pablo. Later on, Canana lost the original DP for “Las Elegidas” and Cruz dropped my name. The director looked at my work and we started chatting via Skype for a couple of months. He finally invited me to go to Tijuana during the callbacks for the actors and we got along very well.
What were some of the challenges of shooting in Tijuana? How do you compare that to shooting in the U.S.?
I could understand Spanish pretty well but I couldn’t speak much, and I definitely didn’t know the technical terms. During my first week everyone was speaking English for me, and then the second week everyone was like, “Fuck it, she’s the only person that doesn’t speak Spanish!” So a huge difficulty to begin with was the language. Another big thing was that in Mexico shooting is very different. In the U.S. there is a more rigid set of protocols on-set. People are more concerned with safety. In Mexico they are not concerned with going overtime or safety. People were like “Yeah, let’s put the camera on the roof.” And I was like “No, let’s assess this. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. This is just a movie.” That was tough because it felt like I was going against the system. But I knew that it was the right thing to do. And overall as a team, the whole set worked so smoothly that it wasn’t a problem in the end.
What was your experience like in the 2014 Project Involve program and how did it help our career?
My experience in Project Involve was very positive. Some of the fellows were from AFI so we knew each other, but I came out of there with so many amazing talented new friends. I actually made one of my best friends at that program and we did our short together in Project Involve. The program opened a new pool of collaborations and interesting people to learn from. The workshops were amazing but the best part for me was the family experience. Everyone had such different backgrounds and stories. Now we continue to communicate with each other and when people are looking for work, we help each other.
You started out in journalism. How and why did you transition to cinematography?
My grandfather was a journalist and he worked during the dictatorship in Brazil so I always had a romantic view of journalism. But when I started college, it wasn’t really how I pictured it. When I was 15, I started photographing and I worked as an assistant for a photographer. When I started doing journalism at the university, I began photographing more and writing less. So I thought I’d do photojournalism. Later on some friends introduced me to still photography on-set and that became a natural progression into filmmaking. Then I decided to do a short filmmaking course in London. When I finished the course, it became very clear that what I wanted to do was cinematography.
What was the first film that made you interested in filmmaking?
When I was a kid my mom showed me a movie called “Before the Rain.” It is set in Macedonia and it has a lot to do with philosophy. It questions time and asks if time is linear. It’s always been hard to accept that time is linear. For me it’s much more of a mix. That movie talks a lot about that in a very poetic way.
Cinematography is a very male-dominated field. Have you faced any challenges being a woman cinematographer?
Yes, especially at the beginning when I was still a camera assistant and moving up to becoming a DP. In England it was very hard because I was a foreigner and a woman. But it was very clear to me that that was not going to be an excuse to prevent me from getting where I wanted with my work. A lot of times I had to confront difficult situations. but I tried to respond with a good attitude. If someone was rude to me I would answer with something so nice that the person wouldn’t have anything to say. And I really did notice how that made people around me change.
What’s scarier is that as women, we are offered a much lower rate than the guys. And that’s kind of a domino effect. But I think AFI and Project Involve stimulate a lot a change in that. Now we have many more hero DPs to look up to. We have Reed Morano, Rachel Morrison… all these girls rocking out!
What is your advice for emerging cinematographers?
You really have to want it. It’s a business that beats you down all the time. It’s extremely competitive and it’s tough. You have to make the decision that you really want to do it and that you are willing to go all the way to make it happen. And study! I’m constantly looking and thinking about light. Now, I’m not shooting anything but I’m researching for my new movie. I’m not only looking at images but I’m reading, constantly learning.