With Children

Lissette Feliciano

unaffiliated

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
I’ve directed professionally for the last couple of years. I’ve done promos, proof of concepts, short films, and branded work.

2) How did you get into directing? 
I came into directing via writing and acting. I started writing pretty much as soon as I learned to read. I was a naturally timid child, so writing helped me express myself where my words failed. When I applied to NYU, I had originally been accepted into the dramatic writing track but a conversation with an advisor convinced me to switch to film production where I could put my experience from theatre, acting, and writing all in one place. I went on to concentrate in screenwriting and directing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. My Junior year we were asked to make a short film. I created my first piece for that class, a romance about a man whose wife continuously turns into a stone statue. After that short film, I was hooked and grateful to that advisor I had spoken to so long ago. True to her words, film was the medium that incorporated every single one of my passions into a piece of art that I could share with a wide audience. In a way, film does for me now what writing did for me when I was a kid. It allows me to express an emotion, an idea clearly. I went on to complete my thesis and in the years since graduation have created more shorts which have played at festivals around the country. I’ve also spent time writing scripts and shooting proof of concepts for each of them.

3) What is your most recent project? 
I’m working on my first narrative feature film called The Hand of God about a little boy who recounts how believing in miracles carried him from his mother’s death at the hands of a terror group through the dangerous refugee trail into Europe in order to have her resurrected. This story is important to me because being from California and of latin heritage, you grow up with the conversation of immigration all around you. By the time you’re in high school you have a strong grassroots education on how powers use immigration narratives and fear mongering to marginalize vulnerable people in order to control policy. Around about 2015 when I began to see those same narratives show up on a global stage via the crisis in the Mediterranean, I felt a strong responsibility to take my education and experience around the issue and put it into a success narrative to counter the negativity that was going global. And that’s what we’ve thankfully achieved with the script for The Hand of God which has support from the UNHCR among other organizations.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 
There are so many. Because I have to point to one, I’ll say it’s one of the only jobs where you’re required to spend time with people in an authentic way. There’s no “small talk” in art. There’s no hiding who you really are, your hopes, dreams, what you’re all about, especially not in film. The camera will feel any piece of inauthenticity you throw at it so the nature of the beast is to get past the masks, and social avatars we have to put up to get by day to day. My job is to let the real light being, soul, god, whatever you call it, that we all hold within ourselves to come out and get some time in the daylight to live and play. I consider my job to be a conductor of people. Every person is conducted differently. Some cues work great for one actor but they don’t work for another. It’s my job to get to know them, their process, their background, and conduct the most truth out of them. You can only do that by listening. So listening is a big part of the job.

5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Budgets. Budgets. Budgets.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
My ultimate goal is to be the first female director to direct a Harry Potter movie. I’m a huge Potterhead. I tried to name my company Alohomora Pictures at one point but couldn’t get past the licensing. If I could direct Harry Potter and the Cursed Child if and when it becomes a script I could die happy. My sweet spot currently is feature films and television with a socially conscious element. Films I would have liked to make include Fruitvale Station, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Sin Nombre. The type of TV shows I’d like to direct include The Handmaid’s Tale, This is Us, Queen Sugar, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards.

7) 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? 
In college, I stayed an extra semester just to take Rebecca Miller’s class. From her, I learned to get to the point. Don’t over complicated a scene direction. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible so there’s less of a risk of confusing the scene. 

I also interned for director Steve Shainberg almost a decade ago, but I still use his technique for preparing a film today, that’s how instrumental my time with him was. He goes through every single scene with a pencil and paper, literally paper and pencil (I know because my job was to type those notes up after) and writes down everything each department has to know about the scene. For example, if you have a scene around a kitchen table, does the kitchen table have crumbs on it or not? If so, why?

Those are the types of things he would outline and so that’s how I learned that literally there are no small details in film. Every single thing means something or else it shouldn’t be in your frame. My time at that internship was definitely a wax on wax off experience that has really shaped the type of director I am today. 

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 
Can’t pick. Won’t pick. I’ve learned so much from everyone. Here are a few selects. 

Dee Rees for her ability to live in the space between moments. Mudbound was absolute poetry. I remember seeing Pariah as a short and there’s a scene where Adepero Oduye is looking over a rooftop not saying anything but just existing and it’s one of the most beautiful example of gravitas in filmmaking I’ve seen from a young director. I love how Steven Spielberg takes his audience on a journey with every frame. If you look at Schindler’s List or even Jurassic Park every frame is its own mini-movie complete with a beginning middle and end, and that’s definitely something I try to emulate with my own direction. James Cameron for taking epic settings and genres and still keeping the heart of the story front and center. Alejandro G. Iñárritu for his ability to incorporate Magical Realism into story without going too fantasy, that’s hard and very rare but he makes it look so easy. Also because he made Amores Perros. Bow down. 

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
Favorite commercial has to be the the Budweiser Clydesdale Puppy Love Super Bowl 2014 Commercial. If you break that down shot by shot you see how perfect filmmaking it is for one minute of content. 

Favorite Music Video: Marc Anthony and Gente de Zona’s “La Gozadera”. That’s the music video I wish I would have made. And one day I will direct a video for Marc Anthony. 

Favorite Movie: Amores Perros, Titanic, Modern Times, City of God, Meet Joe Black, Terminator 1 & 2. 

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco. Then I moved to New York to go to Tisch. From there I studied abroad in London to study screenwriting. After graduation I moved to LA, then moved to Rio to work with actors there, before coming back to LA. I split my time between LA, NYC, and SF now. I love international cultures and so anytime I can shoot something abroad I’m a happy camper. I’ve done all jobs, big and small in film. Casting, production, wardrobe, development. I even 1st AC’d once and only once when a friend was in a bind, but to this day cannot get that credit off my IMDB to save my life.

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Lissette Feliciano

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