Law School to Independent Film: Bruna Cabral’s Journey to an Award-Winning Debut
How did you start your career as a filmmaker?
I’m a Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro. I’m a Law School graduate, however have always had a strong interest in the Entertainment Industry. I worked at the Law Department of Grupo Globo, a Brazilian entertainment network and one of the biggest in the world. Despite being part of a very talented team of lawyers, having amazing co-workers, and be an employee of a dream company of so many people, I wasn’t happy. I dared to quit my job and follow my passion. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I came to Los Angeles and graduated in Business and Management of Entertainment, Producing and Directing at UCLA. Having come from a solid career the Entertainment industry was a big challenge. During this time in Los Angeles, I worked in a Media and Entertainment Company, in a Production Company that has first deal with Fox, a Talent Agency, a Brazilian TV Show, and after so much learning and meeting brilliant people, I decided to become an independent filmmaker.
As an independent filmmaker, I won the 1st place award as a producer in a Herbalife commercial contest in France among more than 300 filmmakers from all over the world. I also produced many projects such as feature films, short films, and commercials. Until now, among all the projects, I have 14 awards and 30 nominations. I have many achievements to be proud of. After all the perseverance, I’m an award-winning Producer and now, after my directorial debut, award-winning Director. I’m beyond grateful for all those accomplishments.
Congratulations on your directorial feature debut on Piece of Me (2019)! What were some takeaways from your first directorial experience?
Thank you very much. I was very lucky with the entire process of the film. I was able to work with the team that always wanted to work and that made me very safe. People have invested in the film and I was talking about a sensitive disease so I felt an enormous responsibility to meet expectations. I read books, watch documentaries, and read Alzheimer’s websites to educate myself better on the subject. I was nervous many times before I started physical production for fear of something going wrong but it was all perfect. Every time you do a project you learn something new. Stay true to yourself, be open to learn, and work hard.
Were there particular circumstances or personal experiences that shaped the narrative?
I had this idea of portraying memory loss delicately but it was only in my head. The unexpected circumstances of life allowed me to have a chance to write and direct a short film so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to put the idea on paper. The development process lasted 3 months where I worked with a professional screenwriter as a mentor and wrote the first 3 versions of the script. After these months I took 6 months off from the idea to rest my mind. Then, I went back to work on the script with the assistance of talented script consultants, where we got up to 12 versions in 3 months along with the pre-production period. Alzheimer’s runs in my family. My paternal grandfather had Alzheimer’s. My aunt, his daughter, is suffering from the disease at the moment. I was always afraid something could happen to my father or even myself. I get very emotional every time I watch a movie or TV related to memory loss. Not only Alzheimer’s but all kinds of memory loss. Piece of Me goes beyond Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a beautiful friendship story and about how you should care for your loved ones no matter the circumstance and enjoy the time you have with them. Piece of Me also shows compassion for elderly care and how to educate children with love.
There’s a famous saying in Hollywood that directing is 90% casting. What was the dynamic like between you, your actors, and film crew? How was the casting and filming process?
A film that is cast well will always be far more realistic and authentic than one cast in any other way. The actors can and will completely change the dynamic of the final picture. It’s typically very hard to find the perfect fit for an originally written character. I held a casting session and had many talented actors come in and out of the room. I didn’t have any preferences in mind for the characters. I wanted to find talent that was so good that I couldn’t even picture making the film without them. Mason was great the moment he walked into the audition room. He is naturally charismatic and was able to add this charisma to every scene he was in without much effort. He led the film with incredible humor, grace, innocence, and emotion at only 8 years old. Roberta has an extensive background in the theater industry but it was her first short film. She is extremely talented and clicked with the script and understood the work. Her character changes dramatically in a short period. She goes from a fun charismatic old lady to an Alzheimer’s patient and demands a lot of her performance. She did that day in and day out without fail. She recently won the very well deserved Best Actress award at the Glendale International Film Festival.
I feel the most important thing in a film is the chemistry that’s actually happening in front of the camera. If there’s no chemistry between Dylan and Mrs. Brooks, there’s no film. In order to guarantee the chemistry is there, I looked to discover it in the casting process holding chemistry read callbacks. Mason and Roberta immediately connected. They felt right together. For Abby, I was looking for a red hair actress because Mason is red hair and I wanted an actress who looked like him. Since I was being very specific, I posted on casting websites and women’s filmmaker groups as well asking for self-tapes. To my surprise, I received a lot of self-tapes. Meghan’s self-tape was breathtaking. She read the scene where she has to explain to Dylan what memory loss is and what is happening to his best friend. It’s a very sensitive scene and she gave me the exact emotions I was looking for. I called her for an audition to meet her and then I had my Abby. Piece of Me has a very talented ensemble cast. We had two table reads before physical production and the chemistry between all of them was great. We have four days of physical production and everything went very smoothly on set. They all helped each other and gave their best. Performance is the essence of cinema, and once you can get excited about that, everything else will fall into place.
Were there circumstances in which you had to make difficult artistic choices or alter scenes/storylines?
The primary idea was to have the story in an elderly care facility and show more about other patients. but it would have to be a bigger location, more actors, it would take more time to record and would require more money. For these reasons, I had to have only 3 characters which helped me. The story was intimate and we managed to focus a lot more on the friendship of the characters.
What films and which filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
I love all kinds of films especially romantic comedy and based on a true story. I love and value films that send a message to the audience. I value the films that nestle their way into our brains. Great films declare your brain home and force you to think differently. I confess, that I’m not much of a fan of experimental movies. I admire Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon, Nancy Meyers, Dan Fogelman, and Judd Apatow.
How did film festivals, filmmaking competitions, fellowships, etc. play a role in your career?
Film festivals are the best way to promote filmmakers. We need to raise awareness of our films and marketing ourselves. Festivals are a great way to unite a community. Attending festivals was a great way to expand my circle of influence. Participating in the post-film Q&A, getting in front of a crowd to share my experience and advice it is always a great opportunity to improve my public speaking skills and receive feedback. Additionally, many festivals have engaging panel discussions and masterclasses on aspects of filmmaking with big names of the Industry. It’s a chance to learn from the best. The best way to break in the entertainment industry is networking. The film industry is a people industry. Be kind and courteous to everyone you meet. Everywhere you go is an opportunity to make connections, because you never know who you will run into, especially being in L.A. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Embrace your time and meet as many people as you can. Be confident. There is so much competition and so many people are fighting for their way in, so stand out.
What do you think about independent cinema? How important is it in today’s entertainment landscape?
Independent cinema takes risks. These are the films that show you what life is truly like. Independent films don’t owe anything to anyone other than the audience. They are free from the restraints of big box office films which allows them to convey a stronger message and for the filmmakers to express themselves freely. Most of the time, films have difficulty generating more than a few thousand dollars at the box office due to their lack of A-list cast or have difficulty finding distribution that will offer a decent paycheck. It is a challenging job, but it’s done because filmmakers want to share a story unmarred by studio heads and corporate sponsors. Independent cinema is important to prove a great movie doesn’t need big money. Some of the cinema’s most innovative stories are happening just outside traditional Hollywood. Independent films bring more creative freedom, equal diversity, and representation, community, and supportive environment.
What things have you learned throughout your filmmaking career that you would like to share to aspiring or emerging female filmmakers and/or creatives in general?
Women should support each other. As I mentioned before, Reese Witherspoon is a huge inspiration for me. She founded a production company dedicated to telling female stories. She was increasingly frustrated with the roles she was being offered and decided to create a company and tell female stories that have always been in the shadows and underrepresented. I would say life’s too short to commit to a project you don’t believe in. Believe in yourself and trust that you’re the right person for the job. Be humble and allow challenges to help you grow. Always work with people you trust and admire. Piece of Me was a great project because I was surrounded by talented women. It made me feel more secure and able to give my best.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as a filmmaker? What are your hopes for the future?
Follow your dreams, believe in yourself, and don’t give up. Love what you do and do what you love. I want to support female filmmakers even more and work on female projects. My goal is to tell beautiful stories and inspire people as a filmmaker.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been developing some ideas for a feature film in the near future. I intend to portray the family relationship and motherhood. No spoilers 🙂