Hailing from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, filmmaker Caleb Childers currently lives in beautiful Carrboro, NC. He says he does “a little bit of everything out of necessity,” and most loves directing and cinematography, though has been known to cover everything from storyboards to lighting techniques and shouting at actors and crew. He took some time to answer a few questions about his experiences and shared some filmmaking advice.
How long have you been a filmmaker?
I have been making movies ever since I got my hands on a VHS camcorder when I was about 12 years old, but I didn’t really take it seriously until 2009, so almost 7 years now.
Which artists have most influenced your work?
My work I’d say is most inspired by a small collection of filmmakers that I mostly learned to love because of life experiences I faced or became aware of. The list probably should start with Tarkovsky, there is no one better at making bold statements through film than Tarkovsky in my opinion.
Another modern filmmaker I really enjoy is Park Chan-wook. Chan-wook to me brings to life a lot of realistic worst-case scenario stories. Also in that real falls the more known but less liked(possibly) Lars Von Trier whose Melancholia is modern Poetry. I could go on forever but at least let me mention some names of cinematographers you should see: Vittorio Storaro, Conrad Hall, Sven Nykvist, Robert Yeomen and yes even Lubezki makes my list.
How do you start a project?
I start a project by reading the story as if it were a book. I try not to visualize. I don’t sit down with a script and start sketching scenes, for me that’s just bad story telling. You have to know the story first, get to know the characters, and then I start to talk with the writer or DP and/or even producer to narrow in on how we tell this story. If it’s just me, and as some indie filmmakers know it will be JUST YOU doing all the jobs at some point, I talk with my wife or my friends about the concepts to see what they see and I try to bring all these ideas into one connecting thought or universal beauty to the story. I spend a lot of time watching others make too, that way I see what’s working and what isn’t.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before starting your filmmaking journey?
That in the end it is like a business. You won’t make money if you don’t make friends. There’s nothing wrong with working your way up and learning as you go, but being true to yourself may require patience and working with people who you don’t get along with. I wish I would’ve known that humbling myself was and is important and stopped calling myself a filmmaker until I had actually made something.
Filmmaking, independent filmmaking in particular, can be tough. What keeps you motivated?
I don’t really know how to answer this. Part of me wants to say the dream that someone will actually watch my stuff, part of me wants to say that someday someone will want to pay me to direct on a bigger budget, but the last part of me just wants to tell stories. Ever since I was a kid all I wanted to do was make people laugh,think, or cry. Call it manipulative, call it crazy, but I want people to change their minds and challenge their thoughts. Because in the end that’s all I want: to find and know truth. Filmmaking is just the tool that enables me to do that.
What is the one mistake most filmmakers make, regardless of experience?
Thinking they have something special. You really don’t. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it. It’s how you tell it that can set you apart.
When inspiration is waning, when you feel creatively drained, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?
I spend a lot of time just hanging out with my wife. Laughing at dumb things we find on the Internet or watching movies. I watch at least a movie a day. I also love to be outdoors whenever I can, and find it really nice when I don’t take my camera package out to shoot the sunset, even though I probably complain that I should’ve brought my real camera.
When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person that comes to mind and why?
Right now in this moment I think of Iñaritu and Lubezki probably because I just saw “The Revenant.” Successful is such a temporary term though, the only reason I think of them is because they’ve made something beautiful and original in its own way. They’ve visually told a great story, but so did Matthew Heineman or the Duplass brothers for that matter. The thing they all have in common is they are constantly trying new things but still telling relevant stories.
Is there a time or place that you feel most creative/have the best ideas?
Usually outdoors. Sometimes it seems a lot of my ideas come when I’m forced to wait for something or someone, you know sitting in a parking lot just people watching. That’s when the ideas come but then the best place for me to explore them is locked away in my office at home, usually alone. Then I immediately have to tell someone about them. I can’t tell you how many countless times I’ve run out of my dungeon to show this idea to my wife and within 5 minutes she yells at me to go and make them, and sometimes she says they are dumb… And she is right, making a film is so much harder than thinking of the ideas, even the dumb ones.
How do you balance your filmmaking life with your personal and professional lives?
That’s an easy answer: it is my personal and professional life. Haha. What a lot of my friends probably don’t know is that they are already characters in some short story or idea that I’m floating around. The hardest thing I guess is friendships, because my wife knows me and she understands my rantings and my seclusion. A lot of my friends don’t understand that so I guess sometimes I sacrifice what I want to be doing to spend time with others, and it never lets me down. I am always reminded that the stories are better in the real world.
You’re stuck on a deserted island with a Cineplex that only shows three movies. What would you want those movies to be and why?
1. Shawshank Redemption, does that need an explanation? Because an innocent man pays the penalty for someone else’s crime but finds a way to come out on top.
2. Sandlot, I grew up with this story and even though I’m not a baseball fan, I could get me “”s’more”” of that film any day.
3. Oldboy, not the American spam version, but Chan-wook’s breathtaking and jawdropping film. I could find new gems in it every time I watched it.
What’s your favorite app/tool/web app filmmaking tool?
I mean my iPhone pretty much has everything I need. My CineMeter II app, Cadrage, easy release…I could go on and on. I definitely use CineMeter the most though. Even if I’m not filming somewhere but I just want to know if the amount of stops of light that I calculated in my head was correct, haha.
What book do you gift most often?
Two books that I recommend to anyone wanting to understand how a narrative can be beautiful are Hemmingways “Old Man and The Sea” and Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot.” Honestly I don’t know why I love those two so much, but if you haven’t read them, you just should…
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Learn the tools. Study other filmmakers and try to imitate them until you find your own space.
Caleb’s current project is also his first feature, “A Brackish Brotherly Tale,” a documentary about four guys deciding to make music together and trying to make a living off of it. The film covers the band’s struggles and in the end they may cease to be bandmates, but ultimately become brothers. Thanks to Caleb for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his website www.calebchilders.com and follow him on Twitter @calebchilders. He adds, “Feel free to find me online, but if you ever find me “offline” I would be happy to share a drink and talk about your work as well.”