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Going Undercover and Directing for VICE with Natalia Leite
Today’s guest is writer/director Natalia Leite. This director is one of the bravest filmmakers I’ve ever met. Her work on the VICE documentary ‘Life as a Truck-Stop Stripper was breathtaking. Not only did she direct the piece but one of the subjects in the film as well. Take a look below at her amazing work.
Everyone knows what charming places strip clubs can be, but perhaps there is no club so charming as one in Moriarty, New Mexico—a truck stop with taxidermy and the bras of former employees on the walls, a few poles, a shitload of black light, and plenty of titties. Never mind that The Ultimate Strip Club List website describes it as the place “where strippers go to die.” Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo go Gonzo as they pose as strippers and experience something that can be best described as a Marina Abramovic performance crossed with a bizarro episode of Wife Swap directed by David Lynch’s daughters, set in the type of place where a one-eyed guy who shot himself in the head dispenses meditation advice to two naked women.
Natalia Leiteis a Brazilian writer/director. Her work has been described as having “a bracing, assertive style” (Variety), “emotional intelligence and sensitivity” (LA Times), and as “cementing the reign over highly stylized, sexually progressive dramas” (Slant).
Her feature film “M.F.A.”, a psychological thriller centered around rape crimes in a university, premiered at SXSW 2017 and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. The film stars Francesca Eastwood and was released in theaters October 2017. Her feature film debut, “Bare,” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015, starring Dianna Agron.
The film was released by IFC Films and Paramount Pictures. Natalia has created original content for Vice Media, most notably the provocative Vice show “Every Woman” which has garnered over 11 million views. She co-created and starred in the series “Be Here Nowish,” and has directed and shot documentaries internationally.
Natalia is a contributing writer for Talk House and has been a featured speaker for NY Women In Film & Television, Apple Store Talks, IFP Filmmaker Conference, and numerous Universities. She also directs branded content for Vans, The North Face, Nasty Gal, and other companies. She recently signed with bicoastal production company Humble, her first commercial representation, and directs branded content for Vans, The North Face, and other companies.
Enjoy my conversation with Natalia Leite.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Soundstripe.com – Find the Perfect Song for Your Project (DISCOUNT CODE: IFH – 10% discount off of a membership)
- BlackBox – Make Passive Income From Your Footage
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: FREE AUDIOBOOK
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story)
REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
- Filmtrepreneur® Podcast
- Bulletproof Screenwriting® Podcast
- Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
Alex Ferrari 1:39
Now Today on the show we have Writer Director Natalia Leite and she is easily one of the bravest filmmakers I've ever run into. She's a documentary filmmaker as well as a narrative filmmaker and has had film's premiere at South by Southwest and Tribeca and was even nominated for Best Picture at the South by Southwest Film Festival for her film, MFA. She has worked with Vice on multiple projects, one being one of the most interesting things I've ever seen a filmmaker do. And this young filmmaker threw herself into this documentary in ways that I have not seen before, that she actually became not only the writer and director of this, but the subject of the piece. And the film is called life as a truck stop stripper. And Natalia did this for vice and it's been downloaded and watched over 11 million times on YouTube. It is a heart wrenching documentary wonderfully done. And I advise everyone listening to definitely check that piece out among all the things that she's done. But I will put links to all of that in the show notes at the end of the episode. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Natalia Leite. I'd like to welcome to the show, Natalia Leite. Thank you so, so much for being on the show.
Natalia Leite 3:06
Thank you, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 3:08
I thank you so much. No, it's it's i was i was shown your work and introduced to you work recently. And I have to say I'm fairly impressed.
Natalia Leite 3:19
Thank you. Yeah, there's a wide range of thing that I've been doing here.
Alex Ferrari 3:23
So before we get into it, how did you actually get started in the business?
Natalia Leite 3:27
So I actually came from a visual arts background, I went to art school, I didn't have proper film education. I thought I wanted to be making visual art and then quickly realized that that maybe wasn't the medium for me. And I started getting into film just just out of my own curiosity and you know, eventually assisting other directors. One thing led to the next started writing my own scripts and just kind of like DIY being scrappy doing it myself and realize that I loved telling stories in this medium. And what was what so you basic that was the the genesis of you wanting to be a director as you just kind of fell into it. Like I really like this, right? Yeah, I fell into it and discovered that I really liked it. Honestly, it wasn't really in my radar. I grew up in Brazil, and I just, I don't know, it just wasn't like presentable a career path that was like presented to me ever that I really thought this could be an option, you know, right. But I knew I wanted to do something creative. And I knew I wanted to tell stories. It was just like taking another form back then. And I it all like one thing led to the next like I was assisting a lot of other directors and producers for a while and I started writing my own work and the the first thing that sort of started to put my work out there was be here now which was wish be here now wish which was a web show that I, you know, started directed row produced did the sound sometimes, like just lab services. Got it? Yeah, craft services did everything with a handful of friends. And that, you know, started to kind of putting the wheels in motion in terms of me doing this as a career,
Alex Ferrari 5:20
Which was fun, because I actually saw a little bit of that show, and it actually looks really good. Like it actually has great production value for being such a scrappy little show. So congratulations on that.
Natalia Leite 5:33
I'll credit that to Del Mar, who was our dp dollarway. For Madsen. She's shooting high maintenance now on HBO, and she is just the queen of just like, let's figure it out and still make it look gorgeous. So yeah, she's really lucky to have her as a friend and DP on that.
Alex Ferrari 5:50
You definitely need people like that on on your crew as a director, yes. Let's figure it out. And like, let's still make it look gorgeous. That's always like,
Natalia Leite 6:00
We're like pulling in, you know, like, whatever we could find just like bringing in lamps and just, you know, attaching things like just trying to be creative of how we're going to get a good image and not make it look super low quality. So she's she's really creative in that way.
Alex Ferrari 6:15
So let me ask you, how did you get that first project got that series up off the ground? I mean, obviously, you need some money. Where did you find money? How did you put this whole thing? How did you put that show together?
Natalia Leite 6:27
Yeah, so the show, we, you know, it really started off as, okay, let's do this on weekends with friends, like I just want to get, I just want to get work out there in the world, right. And then, so everyone was working for free, but then obviously, like, they came points when, okay, we really do need money, we can't just like keep this going for, for nothing. And we ended up doing a Kickstarter, we raised 20,000 on that Kickstarter, which was like, a lot of work. It's like not a lot of money at all for for making a series, you know, that ended up being like an hour and a bit long. But we really stretched it out and made those 20k on Kickstarter and, and through that met like other investors, it was actually a pretty successful campaign for us, because we just met a lot of people that then ended up financing other projects.
Alex Ferrari 7:21
And we're in where's it being shown now.
Natalia Leite 7:25
So be here now, which is still on, we ended up selling the first season to a company called aura. So they have it on their site. And then the second season, we had it with full screen, which is full screen no longer exists. So now it's just up on our Vimeo and we're trying to figure out if we can just like throw it up on YouTube because for us at this point, it's just about you know, why do people watch it? I mean, it's it's, you know, it's older, it's old now. I consider it for
Alex Ferrari 7:54
Yes and ancient, like two three years old. It's like three years old My God then it's like the 80s but I want people to still watch it you know? Alright aged a bit since I was Yes, yes. Oh, yes. Yes, you look haggard lately. I'm sorry. Yeah. It's my you see, you can go back your youth. My youth is fading away in front of you. Yes. Those three years really killed is now what is it certainly ask you. So what is your process when you're creating or selecting a project?
Natalia Leite 8:32
My process so I need to gravitate towards things that I feel a personal connection to, that I feel really passionate about. Because, as you know, it just, you're going to work on this thing for so long. Sometimes you don't even know how long and you got to just like, love it. And I feel like for me, I need to feel it's an instinctual thing. Like I need to feel like there's like a cord from my heart to whatever the script or concept is. That's like pulling me towards it. And there's been a lot of times, you know, now I'm reading other people's scripts, I'm deciding like, what to do next, writing my own stuff as well. But for me, it's always just like, I have to just check in intuitively to Is there a really strong pool like do I feel called to absolutely have to do this? You know, otherwise? I, I might love a story and be like, Oh, this is great, but I'm not feeling so passionate about it's probably not for me like I shouldn't be the one to do it. You know, and I think it's really good to discern that
Alex Ferrari 9:30
Well tell me a little bit about your work with Vice and how that came about. Especially that amazing documentary every woman life as a truck, truck stop stripper, which is when I saw that I was like a half to have her on the show. I need to hear all about this.
Natalia Leite 9:47
Yeah. So I had been writing on my own a script for my first features called bear. And a big part of the script took place in a strip club, but I didn't want but it's sort of like a strip club. In a small town, and I was looking for something that was like, you know, just off the off the highway ideally, right? Like I didn't want like a big nightclub a strip club in
Alex Ferrari 10:10
In the city. Right?
Natalia Leite 10:11
Right. And I had friends at the time, I didn't know where I was going to shoot. But I had friends who were living in Albuquerque, and I went there on like a month, you know, hiatus while I was writing the script to go live in Albuquerque, and ended up like touring all the strip clubs in the area. As I was like doing research and ended up finding out about this club, that is about 45 minutes away from Albuquerque, in the middle of nowhere, like you're driving on highway 40, nothing, nothing, nothing, you pass a Walmart, then there's nothing, nothing, nothing. And then there's like the signs there's like topless. And then there is like club 203. And it just cater to truckers. So the truckers passing by, they can tune into a CB radio, and they'll pick up the signal. And it'll be someone at the club being like, tonight on stages candy, and you know, whatever they say. And they'll like turn off into the side of the road. And I found out about this place. I went there alone for the first time. And I was just like, what is this?
Alex Ferrari 11:13
Sounds? It sounds like it sounds insane. Yeah, it was just like, it was like straight out of a David Lynch movie. And it's expecting people to start talking backwards. And there'll be a little person just walking by.
Natalia Leite 11:27
I was like, wow, this is really fascinating. And it was just, you know, that I'm Ryan, who's the guy who owns it, it was like very much a no rules type of place. And that there was like in terms of the dancing like you could do whatever you want. They had this rocking horse, they would pull on stage sometimes. And there was like, you know, just like mom and dad daughter dance, like it was like, yeah, there was like this survey stuff going on to this. Like, I don't know about this.
Alex Ferrari 11:55
That's just Oh, okay.
Natalia Leite 11:58
A lot of stuff that didn't end up in the piece. But anyway, so I was like, wow, this place. Aside from I wanted to put it in my feature film as a location. It deserves a piece on its own right. So I put I pitch to vice. Well, I went there, you know, I had gone there alone filmed a little bit of just filmed on my own a little bit to show a sample of like, what this really is, and then went back and then went to Vice with my friend Alexandra, who I was working with at the time to pitch as like a standalone piece of advice. This was like Eddie Moretti, who was the the, you know, creative there. He was like, Ah, you know, we get pitched like stripper concepts all the time. Like we're not interested in I was like, No, no, no, what universe sound like, I want to go and work there. He's like, Oh, okay. Like you're that's that sounds crazy.
Alex Ferrari 12:49
Natalia Leite 12:51
Right. Yeah. And you went and worked and lived there for about 10 days
Alex Ferrari 12:56
So before we continue that story. How did you get to Vice? Because I know a lot of filmmakers would love to have that conversation with somebody advice. How do you how do you approach a company like that?
Natalia Leite 13:05
Yeah, so Okay. I went to a panel where Eddie Moretti was speaking, it was a Tribeca Film Festival organised panel. And at the end of the panel, I cornered him
To say, you accosted him? Got it? I did. So did like 30 other people, right, right, as you do at panels,
As I as you do at panels, and I was like, I have something that you're gonna be really interested in seeing? And he's like, yeah, okay, great. Reach out, and just gave me his assistance, email, you know, and I reached out and I sent him a link to a piece that I had shot. In Cuba. This was like, before every woman that was very, like, I had, you know, edited, like really fast, very, like, by style, and I just sent him the link and I didn't say much else. And he called me like, right away, was like, get come in come in tomorrow. Yeah. Yeah, and it's just sometimes that stuff works, you know, but you've got to be, like, smart about how you're approaching it. Like, you've people, these people don't have time, right? So it's like, hey, like, what's gonna grab their attention? And what, what do I have that they want? Right? And that was it. Like, I just met him at a panel, there was no, you know, from there, like, it opened up the scope. And then we did every woman and then he called me back to do you know, direct other things and, but that stuff is possible, like the just cold calling, sometimes. Well,
Alex Ferrari 14:34
It does. And I'm actually I'm quite jealous because I am actually Cuban. And I've never been to Cuba yet. So when I saw that piece that you did, I was like, oh, that would have been amazing.
Natalia Leite 14:43
Yeah, he was really special place. I felt really lucky to be there. And at that time, especially and film it.
Alex Ferrari 14:50
So Alright, so So now you're back at Club was a club tool to about two or three because I was just the highway exit, right? So your club 203 and You're there for 10 days.
Natalia Leite 15:01
I'm there for 10 days. And that was me, Alexandra, who, who came in was working with me at the time. And vice sent us with one producer. This was prior to Vice land. So it was a little bit like still, you know, no rules. Like, I mean, we were putting ourselves in dangerous situations like I would fly today. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 15:23
You think I saw? I saw it? Are you? Are you kidding me?
Natalia Leite 15:26
Yeah. really dangerous. And I don't know that I would do it today. Because now I know a little more.
Alex Ferrari 15:31
Obviously, you're much older, obviously.
Natalia Leite 15:34
I have a lot of gray hair. Interview isn't a video? No, I see what I look like.
Alex Ferrari 15:41
Exactly, exactly. No, I mean, I mean, when I saw it, I was like, This can't be I can't believe that these girls did this. Like this is so and the guys you met were? I mean,
Natalia Leite 15:54
It was a intense Yeah, I think what I realized too, but you know, the whole idea about it was I wanted to go in there to try to debunk what are the stereotypes of the stripper and like why women decide to do this, and the stereotypes of the truckers that go into these clubs, right. And I really feel like, it sort of opened my mind to what's possible, and our what kind of, you know, what the, our like own limitations are and who those people are. And, you know, there's like one woman who we interviewed Daisy, who was talking about how she feels like, it's her calling, it's, she loves doing the work, because she feels like she's a therapist to these men. And that's sort of like, Oh, we we never stopped to think about that, you know, maybe. Yeah, like the that's a version of it. And also some of the guys all across the board, but people just wanted someone to talk to and a connection. And I think it was like a less about being naked and more about them feeling like someone was caring, caring for them and wanting to listen to their stories, you know, of course, that's just there's also then like this, the creepy guy who tries to like, grab you. And
Alex Ferrari 17:05
There's these streams, there's the extremes of both ends.
Natalia Leite 17:08
Right, exactly. But it's not all bad, you know. And we definitely saw that and some of the stories from the men were really intense. And it was hard to listen to
Alex Ferrari 17:17
Let me ask you a question when you were in that when you are in that moment, how, I mean, psychologically? How was it for you? Because I mean, I'm watching this, and I'm going, I'm just thinking to myself, this is your young lady who's put herself in this situation with her friend, for God knows what reason. And and I'm thinking how, what's the psychology What's going on? Because this is not a one one night thing you were there for, for 10 days. This was a day in day out. It's not like, I'm going to try this for one night, and I can go back home, you came back and again and again. And like how did that were on you? Not only as the subject of of it, but also, I mean, you were directing that as well. Correct? Yeah. So how did you do that?
Natalia Leite 18:05
I don't know. I think a lot of sometimes I look back and I think about my best work is stuff that I'm terrified to do, or they're terrified to talk about. And it's almost like, I just keep that I just keep the ball rolling. And then you know, and then eventually it hits a moment when there's no turning back. Right? And you're like, Ah, this is happening, like this is now out in the world. And I feel like this project was exactly that. Like, I was terrified to be there. I mean, it was also having fun with it. But it was just like, really intense, emotionally draining and physically draining. And I was terrified of like putting this out in the world, you know? So
Alex Ferrari 18:45
Because you're, you're exposing yourself and not in that way. But you're exposing your your basically your soft underbelly to the entire world.
Natalia Leite 18:52
Yeah, exactly. So it was just a lot of exposure. But you know, eventually you just hit a deadline. And you're like, you just press send and that's it. And then it's out. It's like has a mind of its own and it's going to be whatever it needs to be. But I think it was just Yeah, like every day was a bit of a challenge. But you just kind of keep going because that's there's no way there's no other way around it. You know, push yourself to keep going.
Alex Ferrari 19:15
No, you are it from from what I see in your work. You are extremely raw and vulnerable. Did that? Is that something that comes naturally to you? Or do you have to work at it to be able to kind of expose yourself as an artist?
Natalia Leite 19:28
Yeah, no, I think it comes naturally to me. I think I'm just naturally have a can tap into that sensitivity and being very empathetic. And you know, I do end up just feeling things intensely. And then sometimes I wonder if that's a hindrance, but more so now I feel like that's an advantage that I'm able to, you know, when I'm connecting with actors just like feel what they're feeling deeply and just look at performance and scenes and just be really connected on it. emotional level, I think it's actually really important for my work.
Alex Ferrari 20:03
And I and you agree that that's probably some of your best work is, the more scary it is, the more extreme, it might be more vulnerable and might be, is where you find that your work really shines.
Natalia Leite 20:15
Yeah, I do. And because that's what I want to be, you know, pushing the conversation forward, I want to be just doing stuff that is making us think about things differently and making us feel more connected. And that sometimes goes in and you know, deals deal with things that we're not talking about. So like, for instance, and even be here now, I wish there was I wanted to do a storyline about a guy who was HIV positive. And how do you deal with that in the dating world? Right. So like, there's just a little piece of it in the scene in the series, but it's like, why are we not talking about this? Right? Like, I have a cousin who's HIV positive. And, and the stories are interesting to me. And there's just not enough of these conversations out there. So but it's always scary, because you're like, Oh, this is kind of going into dangerous territory that is it gonna offend someone like, right, like, you just don't know. And, um, I always try to push myself to, to have those conversations, at least open it up,
Alex Ferrari 21:21
I find that, you know, by doing the kind of work that I do, and also just being a filmmaker myself that it's it's extremely difficult to be raw and vulnerable with your work. And I find that so many filmmakers hide behind falsehoods or create these walls that you can smell on their work. You can just smell it like, Oh, they didn't go all the way. Oh, they just they pull back at the last moment. And it's only the ones that go all the way that you go. Oh, there it is. And you see that in performances, you see that in directors, you see that and writers. So that's why I find your work so interesting. Because you are still early on in your career. I know you're ancient, but you're still you're still early on in your career. And I'm really curious to see the kind of work that you'll do in 10 years. Because you only by the way, being someone who's older than you. You only get braver, I feel as you get older because you start giving less of a shit.
Natalia Leite 22:19
Yeah, you know, it's, it's good to remember that. Thank you. I always like yeah, I always feel like I have to push myself. And it's always scary. But I do like feeling sometimes, like you're just standing on the edge of the cliff, you're like, Oh my god, am I gonna do? Am I gonna do it? And you just have to, like, jump into the waterfall or whatever. You just have to do it.
Alex Ferrari 22:36
Yeah, that's why we're here. That's why we're here. Why are you gonna play it safe? That's not boring. I mean, I'm not going to go and be a stripper for 10 days at a truck stop in Albuquerque. Because that's just not my path. And really, I would get no tips. But nobody wants to see that. You know? Nobody wants to see that documentary, I promise you. So, what was it like with your first feature film bear, which was based, not based on but kind of, in the world of every woman when it got accepted to Tribeca? I mean, what was that experience? Like? I always, anytime I have a filmmaker who gets into like Tribeca or Sundance or Cannes or something like that, I always want to hear the story of when they find out.
Natalia Leite 23:24
I mean, so thrilled you just don't know like, you go into it all just hoping for the best and it was the best It was really the best case scenario for me. It was like I wanted so badly to premiere there. And you're just waiting and waiting. And I was so thrilled and I was so impressed because the festival they do such an amazing job. They take such good care of their filmmakers. We weren't you we didn't know what to expect. But you know, they gave us the red carpet they gave us at party like it was it felt incredible. It was really yeah, it was really phenomenal.
Alex Ferrari 23:59
Now I see I see that you like putting yourself in yourself in your work? How do you handle being in front and behind the camera?
Natalia Leite 24:09
So it's a little challenging for me, which is honestly why I'm not putting myself in my work as much anymore because I feel like it's hard for me to focus on two things at once. being totally focused on my character and then also like directing the scene, you know, so I still like throw myself a little scene just for fun because I like that. You
Alex Ferrari 24:31
Pop your pop yourself in once in a while. Sure. Yeah, you'll do your Hitchcock Got it?
Natalia Leite 24:35
Yeah. But I just really I'm staying behind the camera right now because I want to craft the story and I think like just staying you know, more connected to the actress and the whole picture is really important. I really don't know how people are managed to do that. And like being the lead of a movie and also like directing. It seems really hard to me
Alex Ferrari 24:56
Like the Clint Eastwood's of the world and to George Clooney is of the world like I'm like how do you how do you do that? Right?
Natalia Leite 25:02
I mean, maybe like there's a point when you have a really solid support system that you can, you can lean on them. I think for me, I'm still building out, like who those people are. And when I find crew that I love, I'm just like, okay, like, We're family. Now you're coming with me everywhere, because it's so you know, being on set is so intensive, you just want to have that rapport with, you just want to assemble the family that you're going to carry around to every project without question. I
Alex Ferrari 25:31
Mean, my last film I the feature, I just direct that I was in it, unfortunately. And it was, it was difficult for the one scene or two scenes that I did, I was just like, oh, how do you do? How does people to
Natalia Leite 25:44
No it's really hard? Because you can't, you can't be in the moment and also be thinking big picture, or at least I can't
Alex Ferrari 25:50
Write or unless you unless you have that trust behind the camera that you like, Okay, my dp is going to cover me while I'm in the scene. Right? And then and then you just after you're cut, you're like, Was it good? I have no idea. Right? That's how I always did i do think good. Is that and is there is that really, and then all of a sudden, you turn to the actor you like you're looking for, like, approval or like, yeah, did I do good? Can I do it again? But then no one wants to tell you no. But that's when you want that dp to go. Dude. did do it again. Just Yeah. But generally, they're going now it's the light was off. And I'm like, I don't care about the light. I care about the performance right. Now, what do you enjoy to create more narrative features series or documentaries?
Natalia Leite 26:40
I love I love narrative features. I love like having an arc like a very clear introductory, beginning, middle and that we're going through and thinking about how like the character is transforming and that I think series like it can just go on forever, right? So there's like, less of that clear hook. I like just even like, as someone who like read so many psychology books and thinks about how we transform as humans in the world. Like I love that beginning to end journey. But yeah, and I but I also think like sometimes on the, like, features is so hard, I would say like, because you have to have a clear end, right? Like you can't just be like, and then maybe in season two, this happens, right? Like it has to stop. And I like crafting that. And the doc stuff for me. It's just fun because I like dealing with real people. So more. So I've been trying to find ways to merge the two, right? Like puts put real people in my scripted work and then also get actors to be in non scripted situations and surgeons create a fusion of that
Alex Ferrari 27:50
Kind of like Shaun Baker does. I love Shaun Baker. Yeah, I'm a big fan of his work. Sean's awesome. I mean, the Florida project I have no idea why that was not didn't get more issued a one more stuff. It was just
Natalia Leite 28:03
So great. He's Uh, yeah, he's lovely. And we've talked a few times. He's just been really supportive, awesome friend as well.
Alex Ferrari 28:10
Now, tell me a little about your film MFA, which I haven't gotten a chance to see the movie, but I saw the trailer and I was I was again blown away by the by the the subject matter and how you twisted something that normally doesn't get shown that way?
Natalia Leite 28:26
Yeah, so MFA. Leah Mackendrick was the writer on it. She wrote it. And she is also an actress. And she had just seen my work and just send me a cold email and was like, Hi, I'm looking for director I'd love for you to consider this. And normally I'm like, Oh, I don't you know, like, normally this stuff is not good. But when I get these emails, but I read her logline, and she sent me the script, and I was like, oh, wow, like this is really, really strong. And it was just surprising to just get an email like that. And so her and I started talking, she already had some financing in place. It was a small movie. So private investors, piecing it together. And, and yeah, and then we were shooting pretty quickly, but it was it worked out really well. It was like also one of those magical collaborations because we didn't know each other at all. I didn't know any other people that she had already assembled, you know, producer wise for the project. But we all got along really well and made something really special. And the story, you know, has I had like a deep personal connection to it. Having gone to art school, I had been sexually assaulted when I was in art school. So it was almost like, Oh, I have to make this project right. And Francesca Eastwood who played the lead was just I was just so blown away by her and her performance and throwing herself into some pretty difficult scenes. Like talking about like things that make you terrified right? Shooting that rape scene with Francesca was terrifying to me. And I was so and we did so many different cuts of it. And I was so worried that it was. It's truly disturbing. Like a lot of people have imagined, of course, that scene up as like it's too raw and real. And but yeah, you got to just push yourself to go there.
Alex Ferrari 30:22
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. And again, when you do that is when it starts to shut the work starts to shine, more and more, if you would have held back there, the movie might not have had the same impact. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah, it took you tell. Just tell the audience a little bit about the logline, if you will, of the movie.
Natalia Leite 30:47
Yeah. So MFA is about an art student getting her masters of Fine Arts. And she has a crush on a boy in her class, which was played by Peter vac, and he ends up raping her at a party. And she acts she kind of from then on ends up seeking revenge and hunting down slash killing the rapist on campus. So it's a great revenge story, but in a very different tone than what we've seen before.
Alex Ferrari 31:16
It's not as much I spit on your grave?
Natalia Leite 31:18
Not at all. No, no, it's very raw and emotional. It's very much her point of view.
Alex Ferrari 31:24
And really, yeah, it is it is a kind of a, like you were saying it is a little bit of a combination of the real and the fictional, because of the way you shot it, at least from the trailer. It doesn't look like a Hollywood flashy film. But it also doesn't look like a documentary. It looks a little hybrid, hybrid ish.
Natalia Leite 31:45
Yeah, it does. Yeah. And I wanted it to be accessible to people, right? So I think about that, too. Like, who's the audience for this, and I want, I want it to be fast and fun, too. And there's a version of it, that could have just been a really depressing movie. And I didn't want to be it. You know, I wanted you to be like, cheering for her and excited when she gets her revenge. And there is a part, especially in the second half of the movie, where it really is more like playing off of the fun and excitement of her getting what she wants. Well,
Alex Ferrari 32:17
There's some humor in the trailer without question. So I can only imagine. Yeah, there's humor in it, though. It's kind of like a bridge of different genres here. Which isn't, which is an interesting take on the subject matter. Because you're right. It could have been it could have just gone straight, dark, real quick, and stayed there. And it's hard to get an audience back from that. But
Natalia Leite 32:37
Nobody wants to watch that. You know, we need to also have some levity and fun with it. We need to be able it needs to feel cathartic for people watching it.
Alex Ferrari 32:45
Now, what are some of your greatest challenges about the process of making films? greatest challenges, I mean, onset creative dealing with Hollyweird dealing well on Hollywood, for sure. How Yeah, how does that work? Like I just can't see you in a room with an agent talking about this stuff. Like I love that term, Hollyweird. No, Tom. Yeah, I mean, I'm an East Coast guy. So I've been out here. I've been out here for 10 years. So I have a completely different perspective on on living out here. I wasn't raised out here. So I see it. And I've been around long enough to just go Yeah, this is Hollyweird. But I've just because so many times here in Los Angeles, people just don't get things that are outside the box, where you live outside the box, you know, you're not ever in the box in any of the work that I've seen. So I would just love to be a fly on the wall. If you have a conversation with a Hollywood agent, or Hollywood producer, or studio like so, Natalia, what would you like to do next? Well, you know, there's this stripper thing that Yeah, I've been really into body horror lately. I've been itching body horror idea. Body. What is it body whore?
Natalia Leite 34:06
Body horror. So like Cronenberg? Yeah. Oh, does a lot of that. Right where it's like horror, but it's really like happening to you and to your body.
Alex Ferrari 34:16
Very, very, I think Disney is involved. I think Disney should get involved.
Natalia Leite 34:20
Yeah, exactly. Oh, it's really interesting. And some people you know, I just keep trying to remind myself because you can try to remind myself to like, stick by my integrity stick by my morals. Just do what I feel is right. And dockets persuaded by these the Hollyweird port part of it, which is a lot of people who just, you know, you know, maybe they're even presenting you with like a shiny opportunity, and it looks really good and you want to go there, right? But you're like, wait, this isn't me, I can't do this or it's an opportunity. That means you'd have to like, like, burn bridges on something else or upset or that you No. So it's like, you just have to stay there. It is a crazy industry. And you have to, I just keep always like checking back into myself and be like, does this make me feel good? Is this me? Like, do I really want to do this? Like, does this represent what kind of work I want to put out in the world? And I think that's so important. I mean, I'm lucky right now, because my agents are actually really awesome. My, my managers as well. And the people that I'm in touch with, but I've, I've circled, I've cycled through agencies, you know, already been in that, like, short career that I've had already, like, jumped around to different agencies. So hopefully, this is the one that I stay with, like long term, because I really like these people. And it's all about the relationships, you know, that you're building?
Alex Ferrari 35:43
And do you have any? What's the like, the greatest challenge of you like onset, like, what's the biggest thing you have to deal with on set, that is just a big challenge for you.
Natalia Leite 35:52
Collaboration, I think collaboration and always try to be super clear with your vision, like from day one, because other people might not get it. Making sure you're on the same page. But it's always hard when you want to push, sometimes it's hard to explain things, right? Like in MFA. I like really want to push for a certain thing, but it's not 100% my project, and the more of work you do are, the bigger the work gets, the more that's going to be the scenario, right? Where there's other producers and other people and weighing in on what the final outcome is. And it can only be your way. So. And while all that can be quite amazing to have that collaboration, it is also like a huge challenge sometimes, how to get people to do what you what you really ultimately want out of it.
Alex Ferrari 36:42
Oh, yeah, I agree with you. 110%. That's
Natalia Leite 36:46
Hard. But you know, you have to, like, make some sacrifices to and I felt like, in every project like that, it was like, Alright, you know, you get this, but then I have to keep I have to keep this thing. But you know what? I'm trying to
Alex Ferrari 36:59
Go I'm sorry, to interrupt you.
Natalia Leite 37:01
So that's it just trying to find a compromise? Like, let's let's split up like so we're both happy here.
Alex Ferrari 37:07
I find that, you know, I've been you know, in my career, I've been challenged on set by crew, people, by actors, by egos constantly. How do you deal with it? Because I could only imagine it being even more difficult. You know, being a female director, it's getting easier. And I can't say from my perspective, it seems like it's getting the doors are opening, cracking just a slight bit more nowadays, than they were 20 years ago. But I can only imagine it being a little bit more difficult, especially if you have a rough crew or something like that. I'm just curious on what you do, and how you deal with that.
Natalia Leite 37:44
It's like, yeah, I think it's it's a challenge. I think also I present, you know, I'm small, I'm like five, four, I'm pretty I'm petite in size to you know, like, Latin, small woman, and look, and you know, people like don't it's and I'm also like, I want to be really friendly with the crew, you know, I want everyone to feel good that they're here on set. But that sometimes that gets like misinterpreted, and people think they can just
Alex Ferrari 38:11
Walk all over you.
Natalia Leite 38:12
Yeah. And I've had to, just to, you know, be really firm. Sometimes they're really like called call out the bullsh that like, hey, do you want to be here? You do actually want to do this? Because you don't have to you can walk away like I've literally said that someone
Alex Ferrari 38:28
You know, so if I Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Natalia Leite 38:32
Yeah. And then they you call them out on their bullshit. They'll be like, Oh, no, what, whoa, whoa, like, they'll step out of it, you know, but I think it's always better to be super upfront, and call it out. And even if that means having a super awkward conversation, than to pretend like it's, you know, that to like, go around to other people or pretend like it's not happening or just be giving someone shady look, right.
Alex Ferrari 38:55
Yeah, it's, it's, I feel sometimes it's like a prison yard. Like they're gonna test you to see what they can get away with. And season crew season crew, if they don't respect the director, it's done. Any crew for that matter. But if a season crew, like a seasoned dp, a seasoned, you know, gaffer and, and production designer, if these guys or girls don't respect you, or think that they can pull one over on you, it becomes a very difficult shoot.
Natalia Leite 39:24
Really difficult. I've also had situations where, you know, I was working with like, season, men, particularly who were like, a lot older than me, and who just couldn't even look me in the eye, you know, like they would be addressing my producer, even though the question was to me, and it was so odd, right? And I just felt like I was like, I have to say something because it's so obvious that this person is uncomfortable that I'm in this position with them, right. They came in, look at me in the face, you know, and
Alex Ferrari 39:59
Yeah, you have to I think the best advice is you just got to call him out on your shit on their shit right away. Because if you let it fester, it can actually grow as a cancer on the rest of the set. Right and exactly and all of a sudden, you've got a mutiny on your hands. And if you're not on a 10 day shoot 20 day shoot you it's gonna be hell, and it's going to be tough to get them back. So what
Natalia Leite 40:20
Are you know what the other thing that that makes me think of is just like, I think sometimes, too, because people I've had so many people tell me like, this is the right way to do it. Right? And I'm like, what is the right way to do it? No way to do anything. There's no right way to do it. And just because, like, yeah, I didn't go to film school. I don't know what the right way to do it. But this is the way that I want to do it. Because I think it works, you know, having people let go of like, the ideas of what is how it's supposed to go, you know, I'm not talking about like union rules or anything just like forms of directing or of putting things together. It's just challenging. Well, no, yeah. I
Alex Ferrari 40:55
Had a conversation with the filmmaker the other day that you know, he does all of his films improv, he does the, you know, Mark duplass style, Joe Swanberg style, you know, kind of work. And I gave the example is like, Look, you know, if you give, you know, Jason Paul, Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh and Dolly, a canvas and paint, they're going to paint a picture differently. Right, the only common denominator is the canvas and the paint and the brush. And only common denominator in filmmaking is an actor, a camera and a lens. You know, and how you tell that story is completely up to you. You know, as long as you get that story in that in that camera, somehow, it's, it's all relative.
Natalia Leite 41:39
Yeah, exactly. Anything else you have to like, push for what is your vision and your style, otherwise, everything ends up the same.
Alex Ferrari 41:45
And one, one piece of advice I got from a director and old school director, I've never done this, I haven't had the balls to do it. But I think it would be fantastic to do it, just use it as a gag, the very first day on any set, nobody knows who you are, bring one of your friends on, and fire them. Just bring that they're just there. They're not supposed to be there. Just bring one of your friends tell them that they're like, you know, a part of a department and they do something wrong. And literally fire them as loudly as you can, in front of everybody and let them take off. And that will set the tone for the rest of the shoot. That was totally set the tone that would terrify people, you know, but I'm not sure if that's the vibe you want on set. But I've always wanted to do something I've never done. I've never had the balls to do it. But I think it would be hilarious.
Natalia Leite 42:35
Hilarious. That was so funny. I mean, that's not my style. Right when people just get along and be exactly
Alex Ferrari 42:43
like, you know, Ron Howard's not doing that, you know, James Cameron probably would.
Natalia Leite 42:48
Alex Ferrari 42:49
It all depends on the style of directing that you do. So tell me a little bit about your commercial work. I see that you've gotten gotten into that world a bit.
Natalia Leite 42:58
Yeah. So on the commercial side, I've been working with a production company called humble. And I signed with them earlier this year. And it's been amazing, really good team there. And they've we've crafted, you know, they've sent me like already to different parts of the world for different shoots. So I did adopt style shoot in India, for vans, we did a thing for North Face here. And I actually just got back from Saudi Arabia to do another commercial out there, which was pretty wild. So it's been a really rewarding and fun part of my career to be able to travel deal with real people. And have obviously like the money support behind it as well.
Alex Ferrari 43:40
Yes. When you're writing your scripts, it can be very lonely, and the bank account can be very low. Yes, I agree. I I do commercials and series and stuff every once in a while between my features as well. So I completely understand what you're saying. Yeah. So it's been wonderful working with them. So I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?
Natalia Leite 44:05
I would say you have to have a lot of grit. And you have to really stick by what is it that you're putting out into the world? I don't think it's enough to just, you know, here's like, oh, here's like an entertaining story. Like we live in a world where there's like, a lot of change happening constantly. And I'm all about like, what are you saying with this? Why does this deserve to be here in the world for people to watch, right? And just like, Don't give up, there's going to be there's so many people that give up along the way, you know, it's like, there is just be patient and persevere. And that's how you get it. You know, it's like not people want a lot of like immediate gratification. And like you have to enjoy the journey to like constantly keep reminding myself of that, like, yeah, I want to do this big thing, but it could take years, I don't know, I just have to keep going. But I know I'm gonna get there.
Alex Ferrari 45:03
No, I always love when actors or film directors or writers come to LA and they go, I have a six month plan, right?
Natalia Leite 45:13
For these things to happen in six months, but if they don't, don't get involved,
Alex Ferrari 45:18
It's a 10 year plan, minimum,
Natalia Leite 45:20
You have to have the five year plan. I have my five year plan, like every, every and I reevaluate it every year. I'm like, okay, here's where I want to be five years, like, what are the steps to getting there? Like, here's this crazy, big budget project that I've been wanting to do already for a few years. And I feel so strongly about it, I'm not gonna give up on it. I'm just gonna keep finding ways to, to get there. You know, having that like long term vision is really important.
Alex Ferrari 45:48
Nothing you told me the book that had the biggest impact on your life or career?
Natalia Leite 46:01
Well, I mean, this is a hard question, just one book, but I watch everyone comes to your mind. You know, I think Rebecca solnit comes to my mind right now because I read all of her books, and I love her writing. And I feel so connected to her voice, and how she thinks about the world. And it's just always like, I've really read her books, and it just always, like, opens up possibilities for me.
Alex Ferrari 46:29
Awesome, awesome. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life confidence I'm still learning it, they you need that we need to have some
Natalia Leite 46:46
That that the lesson being just like, you got to believe in yourself, you know, it is the best lesson to believing in yourself. It's just like, so easy to forget that your voice is important.
Alex Ferrari 46:59
Now, what are the three with what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Natalia Leite 47:06
Three favorite films. Okay, we think for a second. I'm gonna say, I love the piano.
Alex Ferrari 47:21
That's a great movie. I love that movie.
Natalia Leite 47:23
It's a great movie. I've watched that film a few times and was just like, so beautiful. And there's so much emotion behind it. And Holly Hunter is incredible. I love this. This is hard. Wait, let me come back to it.
Alex Ferrari 47:45
It could just be like, it's not gonna be on your gravestone, such as three of your faces. Yeah, don't put it on my gravestone. No, no, it's whatever. three movies come to your mind today.
Natalia Leite 47:54
Okay, I loved fish tank. That's been like a film that I referenced a lot that was really loving trailer and old. There's this filmmaker called busua penzo. That did a film called x x y. Have you seen it?
Alex Ferrari 48:08
Yes. Yes. Yes. I know that movie.
Natalia Leite 48:11
Yeah, I really like her work. I thought that film was just so subtle and emotional and just strong subject matter. Very cool. same vein right now. Maybe that's just how I'm feeling in the moment.
Alex Ferrari 48:23
It's it. Listen, tomorrow, I asked you this question. Yeah, something else? Exactly. It's, it's, again, it won't be on your gravestone, so don't worry. And where can people find you? online?
Natalia Leite 48:36
You can find me on Instagram or Twitter, or on my website, which is just my name. NataliaLeite.com. And I'd love to stay in touch with people I love to talk to people. I always write back so unless you're sending me like a creepy comment.
Alex Ferrari 48:54
Natalia, thank you so much for sharing your journey and your process with us and you are an inspiration to I know a lot of filmmakers who are going to be listening to this. Thank you again for taking the time.
Natalia Leite 49:05
Thank you so much, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 49:08
I want to thank Natalia for coming on and dropping those knowledge bombs and sharing her process on how she brings her creativity to life. If you want any links or trailers, or just want to watch some of the amazing work that Natalia does, head over to our show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/271 and enjoy. Now before I go guys, I want to again thank you so much guys for all the support with ifH TV as you kind of probably have noticed I've been a little off on my schedule with the podcasting. It has been absolutely maddening. Crazy, trying to launch a Netflix for filmmakers a a streaming service dedicated to you guys. It is not easy. I'm doing a lot of it on my own. And it's it's a very, very big undertaking and It's been a lot of time in the work. So forgive me if my timing is a little off sometimes getting this workout to begin the podcast episodes out to you guys. But trust me when you guys see IFH TV, I think is gonna, I think you guys are gonna really enjoy it. So again, if you haven't seen the teaser trailer for it, just go to IFHTV.com. And then I will release the final URL to the main site in the coming weeks. November 1 is when we launch, but also, there will be some early access to other filmmakers who sign up. So if you sign up there, you will get early access to IFHTV and get in there before anybody else does. And also on a side note, guys, I have been asked a ton by the tribe about like indie film, hustle hats and T shirts and mirch for indie film hustle. And it's something I've never done, as you guys know, over the course of the last three years that we've been on, but a lot of pressure has been been put on me by the tribe. So I've decided to launch some some merge some some inspirational t shirts, hats, accessories, things like that, that will help inspire you guys to kind of move forward and, and help you guys on your journey on your path. So that is going to be coming out next Tuesday I'm gonna be launching, I have h the IFH merch store. And I will be sending out links and there'll be special deals and all sorts of stuff coming out when we launch. So for all of you out there listening, who really been dying for that indie film hustle hat, or a great t shirt, I got some great designs I've been working on as well. And guys, I don't even know how I do all this, I tell you that you really don't know how I do all of this. But I do. And I think I do it all because I do it all for you guys, man. I mean, I really, I really am killing myself here, but I love doing it. And I want to just give you guys as much as humanly possible. So thank you guys, again, so much for your support. Keep an eye out next week on Tuesday for that announcement and those those deals. And again, thank you for all your support. Guys. I don't I can't do this without you guys. Please continue to spread the word. If you haven't gone already. Go to filmmakingpodcast.com leave a review, give us some good good ratings helps us get the word out on the podcast. I want this information to get out to as many filmmakers, screenwriters, content creators, as humanly possible, spread the word you guys are the best advertising I could ever do. So thank you, again, so much for all your support guys, and I've got so many things coming up before this year is out to talk to you about I still got those two big announcements coming up one about the book that I'm writing, and I'll tell you all about that later on, when I have a release date for it. And the third big thing that's going to be coming out about a week after IFH TV gets released. And this is going to be a huge, huge opportunity for the tribe. And it's, I hope I like just want to tell you, but I can't. It's going to be something really really special and awesome for you guys. And it's going to help you guys get to where you want to be faster. And I'll give you one tip I will give you one hint it is it's going to allow you to get access to the film industry in a way that you haven't been able to get access to it before. You might not have to break down or knock down those doors as hard with this thing that I'm going to announce it's it's a way for me to give back to you guys even more and and help you guys follow your dreams. So that's it I can't see anymore. I can't see anymore. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I got like interior. Yep, I'm tearing up already because I am so excited about all the stuff I got going on for you guys. So thanks again for everything guys. I'm gonna stop talking now. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.
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