Photography by Claudette Tan
Are you ready to be inspired? Then look no further! Claudia Elizabeth Duran, a young actress, writer, director and producer of Mexican and El Salvadorian heritage, has been using her 5 younger siblings to practice directing since she was 6. You can’t beat that kind of experience! Since then, she’s directed numerous short films and theatres and doesn’t plan to stop there. Don’t let her young age fool you. This girl has a lot to offer the world of film. And she makes that vividly clear. Here’s what she had to say to ReVista Magazine…
1. How long have you lived in LA?
I've officially lived here in LA 6 years this summer. I love it here.
2. Do you think living here has influenced you in ways that you wouldn’t have been influenced if you’d lived somewhere else?
Absolutely! Entertainment and Film is why I moved here. I wanted to be infused with the culture and spirit of it all. Friends and people I knew would say: "Yeah, but EVERYONE in LA is in entertainment." But that's what fascinated me. I love it.
3. Did your family support you when you realized you wanted to go into this business?
I think my mother wanted me to be a lawyer (ha ha) she always said I was so smart and great at reading and debating, I was even on the debate team, but honestly she always said “go out and live your life”. I don't think it mattered to her what I did with my life as long as I was happy. I had a lot of support from my teachers actually. I have a great mentor who always says "You can be a basket weaver if you'd like, it doesn't matter so long as you're healthy and get an education first. Never stop growing and learning."
4. Many believe that directing is a business for the rich. That you have to have connections to get ahead. What would you say to those people?
The connections part is absolutely true. It is all about who you know because you're going to be working around the clock with those people. You have to know how they work they have to know how you work. You have to trust the people around you can get the job done, because a lot of hours go into everything. But not the rich part (ha ha ha), not so much. I don't come from money, but I learned quickly that you have to constantly be working and meeting new people. You have to be evolving in your work and be aware of what others are working on. You are constantly your own person, your own voice, but you are also constantly aware of what fellow film-makers projects are too. Entertainment people are crazy creative and constantly onto what is in the NOW.
5. Where did you go to school?
I went to school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. It's an awesome school. I went to their School Drama, they have amazing conservatory arts programs, but they also specialize in Engineering, Computer Science, Business, and Robotics. It was a wonderful environment for me. Challenging as hell, but it really forced me to grow and stretch in ways I never imagined.
6. Do you have a specific formula for selecting actors? How do you pick certain people for certain roles?
It depends on the production. One of course is the look, does the actor look the part. Secondly, it depends on the essence: Does the actor's persona match that of the character's essence. Thirdly of course is: “Are they real? Are they inherently talented, meaning is the actor naturally open and honest in their delivery?” All of these are important because literally when you're in production you have to be able to say action and the actor has to be fully ready to go. Sometimes it's completely out of my hands. Sometimes the producers have talent attached to the project and you're faced with the dilemma of fighting with your boss before the project even gets up off of its feet for someone else or make it work?
7. What made you decide you wanted to make films about your culture? Why do you want to make them different to the mainstream films?
When I was studying acting I realized there were a lot of great characters I could play, but there weren't many roles for women that portrayed the life I knew. Latina women and men were so stereotyped on TV and FILM, that every time I watched something I thought how absurd there is no one that looks or sounds like the people I see and talk to everyday? It became odd and uncomfortable to me. So I wanted to create those worlds. I wanted to show people my people. I wanted to create roles for talented actors who weren't being represented. My topics are very mainstream and the characters in them and the stories being told are in fact everyday real life. They just aren't mainstream in TV and FILM, and it's time they should be. All cultures love action, and romance, and comedy, and drama. There's no reason in this day and age for all cultures to be represented and have a voice.
8. How long did it take for you to get where you are?
I suppose my whole life. I've been dollying and panning and cueing and switch boarding since I was 8 years old. I was part of the Audio Visual Production Homeroom since 3rd grade. We didn't have one in middle school so I helped create it in 7th grade and I did it all throughout high school.
9. Was there a point when you thought you weren’t going to make it, when you wanted to just give up?
Hmmm I suppose there are little moments of that when in the midst of production. But honestly I believe in my creativity and I know I'm resourceful, there's always a way to get the job done. You just have to ask, maybe compromise, and work hard at succeeding.
10. Have you ever wanted to be something other than a director? Something not associated with the arts?
When I was a kid I wanted to be so many things, a poet, a painter, a writer, a doctor, a teacher, a news anchor. Always something somewhat creative, but directing was always there underneath it all. I have 5 younger brothers and sisters, so I always had a great cast, they didn't always listen or agree, but I learned how to negotiate with them at a very early age (Ha ha ha ha).
11. Is there anything specific about your characters that you feel you have incorporated from yourself?
Absolutely. Many things. My outlook on life, personal experiences, conversations with loved ones, etc.
12. Do you think young Latinos today are looking for Latino role models?
Young people are always looking for someone to look up to, to follow, to be better than. Unfortunately, there still aren't as many Latino role models in the lime light as there can be for young Latinos to do just that, but we're working on it. I think the goal is to have great Latino role models for all people to look up to. Americans look up to Abe Lincoln, not because he was white, but because he was a president who shaped the country. Wouldn't it be great if we could say things that simply about Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, Filipinos, Middle Easterners, South Asians, Asians, etc.? And wouldn't it be great if those faces were a part of our mainstream media?
13. I think there isn't a hunger with young people these days to "find themselves culturally.” Did that hunger fuel you?
I'll admit, when I was younger I was afraid to embrace my culture. I grew up in a small town where the 4 main ethnicities were Italian, Irish, Polish, and Lithuanian. So being Latino was not "popular", they still use the word spic and wetback. I would get asked are you Italian? Are you Lebanese? (Ha ha) It would be scary to speak Spanish openly outside of my family. So I understand the hesitation with youth embracing their cultural identity. What it came down to was I love that I know more than one language, I love the music my grandparents love, I love the food my mother cooks, I love my family, and I love who I am! I love my culture. So it was the love that fueled me and continues to do so.
14. Have you made any documentaries? Would you like to?
I am currently in post production for a documentary I've been working on since 2005. It's called LAST CRY FOR KATRINA: Bringing Back the Big Easy. It follows a New Orleanian family over their trials and triumphs with loosing everything to the Hurricane Katrina storm.
15. What is the most difficult thing about shooting a film?
Making sure you have EVERYTHING you need for post. You really have to think about the ENTIRE story and every possible moment to make sure you've covered all your bases and that's the fun part (ha ha).
16. You worked as an actor for a while; how does that play into your decisions as a filmmaker? Did it influence your decision or was that just a means to an end?
Even while acting I was making films. I've always loved acting because it's the actor who breathes that special light and life into characters. It totally influenced me in that I'd be sitting watching an actor wanting to guide them to that special moment where they can steal the scene and take the audiences breathe away. I always looked for those moments and arcs, which is why I loved directing. I have a deep respect and admiration for both sides.
17. Do you prefer working with experienced performers or less experienced ones?
Hmmm each has its benefits. An experienced performer who is truly a showman and loves what they do it breathtaking to work with and watch, they are so good at what they do. A less experienced performer who is hungry and eager can really create some fresh and thought provoking characters that you never imagined.
18. Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Yes, I think so. I'm certainly an idealist, so I think being a romantic is an inevitably a part of it.
19. What are your main themes in your films and why?
Love, Lack of Love, Family, Stereotypes, Satire, because that's what life is all about. Watch any film of any genre and those 5 themes will be in it.
20. Do your characters’ views mirror your own or do you make them different from you? if so, how hard is that to do?
Sometimes they mirror my own beliefs, sometimes they question my beliefs or the beliefs of society. It's easy to do when I myself am always questioning the ways of society. I truly believe there is more than one side to every story.
21. Who would you say is your biggest influence in directing?
Oh, man… I don't know. That's hard to say. I like so many different directors' work.
22. Do you have a motto that you live and work by? What is it?
Yes a few:
Work Hard, Play Hard.
Persistance, Patience, and Perseverance.
Always come from a place of love.
23. What is your first memory of directing? Do you remember what
inspired you to play games like that?
inspired you to play games like that?
One of my first memories was putting on shows of nursery rhymes and short stories with my little brothers and sisters. I would pick out their costumes, put up a sheet in a doorway or hang it from the top bunk of our bunk beds and tell them their cues and what lines they had to say. I would then get my mom and ask her to watch it and tape it. My mom still has one performance on tape, she walked into the room asking: “Who's the producer of this production? Who's the director?” and I say ME and my little brother starred as Dracula. (ha ha ha) We were nuts.
24. Do you feel that your latest pieces of work differ substantially from your older pieces? Why do you think that is?
I think I've definitely grown into my lighter side. People often say comedy is hard, but I really enjoy it. I've found it so freeing and honest. And who doesn't like to laugh?
25. What are the deeper messages you try to pass through your work? Do you think people realize what they are?
I try more than ever today to format my work in a pill people can swallow. I'm a deep promoter of tolerance and understanding of seeing both sides of the coin. I hope that people can see that and I hope people can believe in some that too.
26. What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
I'm working on so much right now, but I think you have to, because what project I plan to do today will take months, years even, to get up on its feet. Right now I'm in post production for the documentary “Last Cry for Katrina” and in post production for a short film called “Bombs Over Biscuits”. In terms of production I'm working on the MDA Labor Day Telethon and I AP'd for MTV3 Quero Mi Boda and I'm finishing shooting for a bio pic about Roberto Clemente. In terms of acting I have a role in an original theatrical project called CAMINO, a play that takes place in the not too distant future about 2 couples, one white one Latino, who deal with the country's prejudices on immigration, it previews in Pittsburgh September 16th.
27. What does filmmaking mean to you personally? Do you try to inspire that in your viewers?
Filmmaking exercises my mind, challenges my suspense of belief, and touches my soul. I think that's what TV and movies always have done for its audience. I'm proud to be a part of that.
28. What are you most proud of about your work so far?
I think the fact that I can do it makes me very proud. It takes a lot of work and energy to do what I love to do. It's physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. It never stops and you have to love giving all you got…every time.
29. As a female filmmaker, do you feel films directed by women are different than those which are filmed by men? If so, how are they different and why?
I think so. It depends. In general, men and women see and experience things a bit differently. So sometimes in our storytelling, which is what filmmaking is at its core, our beats and points of view vary, the nuances of the film change. A horror film is still a horror film, give the same script to one female director and one male director, I think it's safe to say you'll have two different takes on the same script, but that can be said about anything. It's about vision and perspective and no two people can have the SAME exact take on it.
30. I hear you have a little something going with MTV. Care to tell us a little bit about that?
I recently worked as an AP for MTV3 Quiero Mi Boda. It was my first time working on that show and it was an amazing experience. We followed and filmed a young inter racial couple from two different religions through their wedding experience. They had some speed bumps in their relationship because they came from different religions, but the day of the wedding both sides of their family where there to encourage their union. It took a lot of compromise and patience and most importantly a lot of love. I relate to that because my family and I were brought up in the Catholic/Christian faith, but I've always respected all paths, and my brother converted to Islam a few years ago because the girl he loves is Muslim. It's amazing the amount of tolerance young people are capable of.
And there you have it, folks. Claudia Duran. So brilliant in her simplicity. And yet thirsty for more. This is definitely not the last we’re going to see of this filmmaking prodigy. So keep an eye out.
Claudia Duran's reel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFWPmTARUhs
Claudia Duran: REEL WOMEN in FILM: