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Elen Santana | SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event
Elen Santana


Elen Santana

1) How did you get into directing?
For as long as I can remember, movies have always been my favorite form of entertainment. Many of them resonate with me so deeply that I will spend days (if not years) thinking about their subtext. After working in my dad’s former Advertising Agency in Brazil, I fell in love with the power of commercials, but when a friend introduced me to all of Stanley Kubrick’s work something clicked and I realized that directing films was what I really wanted to do. So, after I moved to the U.S., I decided to gain experience working in many different production departments including assistant director and camera and eventually was approached to direct my first film. Despite any difficulties, the whole process felt so strangely natural to me that I finally understood why films have such an impact on my mind and why I need to continue making them.

2) What is your most recent project?
I have recently finished my first feature film Oranges, a mystery drama about family secrets and forgiveness, and it’s currently being submitted to festivals as we review distribution inquiries. My short film Blame, a social drama about parent awareness and school shootings, is reaching the end of a swell festival run and will soon be released online. I’m also writing my next feature film based on a true story involving LGBT and Immigration themes.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
Being able to send meaningful messages and evoke real emotions, many times through just a single well designed shot and a powerful performance.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Being an eternal perfectionist. You are consciously aware that your idea of perfection is impossible to achieve, and yet you will continue pursuing it in every project you make.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I intend to continue directing character-driven and thought-provoking movies within the drama, mystery and thriller genres. Though commercials are not my main focus at the moment, I still plan on working on them from time to time and I’m certainly interested in TV series due to the recent validation of character development and controversial topics by the networks and online streaming companies.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I’ve had the opportunity of meeting and working with many knowledgeable and talented people, from whom I learned many things, but my family has been a true mentorship force: My dad’s “Don’t be afraid of feeling vulnerable by showing your poetic side,” my mom’s “Dream as big as your potential” and my brother’s “Get your head out of your a**”—are all valuable lessons for life AND the film industry.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
It’s always been hard for me to pick just one. I truly admire Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson and Tarantino for their unique style and Woody Allen for his honest and realistic characters. But, the ones whose work influence me the most are probably Fernando Meirelles, Sofia Coppola, Pedro Almodóvar, Sarah Polley and Alejandro González Iñárritu.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
City of God is probably at the top of my list, along with many others like Amores Perros, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Godfather I and II, Take This Waltz, Lost In Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now. One of my favorite commercials is the Zazoo Condoms’ “Little Boy” spot.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born and raised in the southern part of Brazil. I was 13 when I had my first job assisting my dad with his new advertising agency. When I turned 16, I got a temp job with the Brazilian Bar Association at a local courthouse and quickly learned enough to earn two promotions and train their law interns while I was still in high school. When it was time to go to college, I considered law, but chose to enroll in advertising instead, so I could work with my dad and maybe some day transition into filmmaking. In 2008, I went to Wisconsin on an exchange program and much to my surprise, I ended up meeting my other half there—a handsome and smart Wisconsinite who I’ve been married to for five years and was the first person to encourage me to pursue my filmmaking career