For years, you’ve been struggling. Rewriting your script between jobs. Drawing up a business plan. Raising money. Meeting actors. Shotlisting. Rewriting your script again. The list is seemingly endless, but you finally get your first feature film off the ground. You’re on set, feeling proud if somewhat overwhelmed. You look around. Spot a production assistant. You realize that although you’ve paid years worth of dues that your film is someone else’s very first day on the job. And that realization helps you remember why you’re on set in the first place.
In my case, that somebody was Sergio Cardenas. He’s originally from Peru, studied music at Shepherd University. His long-term goals include producing films and also composing music for movies. After the shoot, we caught up and traded notes about our experience.
Hunter: How many film sets had you worked on before Guys Reading Poems?
Sergio: Guys Reading Poems was my first experience…and I was so nervous because I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
Hunter: What was it like to be on set?
Sergio: Really nice. Personally, I really like it a lot. One thing that I enjoyed from Guys Reading Poems was that a lot of people knew each other before, so you were able to see that there was a nice flow, a good working environment, but also creative because you have to do things on the spot sometimes. People were really considerate of other people’s feelings and situations. I mean, sometimes there were problems but people worked to make things go smoothly. Just the fact of being on the set, watching the camera, seeing how the crew moved, the rhythm. One thing that surprised me a lot was that you have to be there for like 12 hours. I was like, “What?!?!” And it started on Sunday until Friday and we had Saturday off. In Peru, my schedule was different. You start on Monday and end on Friday, you start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. In that way, it was a change.
Hunter: What did you learn from working on a movie set?
Sergio: Many things. For example, the first thing is teamwork. The whole thing is a result of each department – the people who are doing the electricity, the lighting, the set, the camera, the costumes – it’s amazing. All that has to work on time because there are time limits. You have to finish in one day a certain amount of the script. If you go beyond that, you’re done. You understand that being nice with people makes things smoother than being a douchebag, you know? Just be nice with people and communicate. Listen. That’s very important. There is a lot of trust, which is important. I’m getting to work on Guys Reading Poems and none of you know me at all. But the people who don’t know you at all give you the trust to have the keys to their car, give you the money to go to the store or whatever. Coming from where I come from, in South America, it’s a jungle. But in a different way. It’s hard to trust people because people cheat a lot.
Also, I like how efficient Americans are. They are super efficient, but they’re not like the Germans. Efficient but not robotic. Not rigid. They also chill out, but doing their thing good and responsible. I really like that. People come, do their thing, do it good and it’s like, “Wow.”
Hunter: What made you decide to try to work in the movie business?
Sergio: At the beginning, it was kind of unconscious. I was not aware of what I was doing. I always liked movies so I found these posts looking for production assistants for making a film and then I said, “Why not?” Let’s discover the process. To that post, I got contacted through Jason [Fracaro]. He wrote me back and called me and asked me some questions and after all that process he said, “Welcome to the club” and that’s how it started.
Hunter: There are a lot of people out there curious to work in the movie business who haven’t quite made the plunge yet. What would you say to them?
Sergio: Try it. Try. Definitely. We grow in a society that is always telling you, “Don’t do this. Do that,” for whatever the reason but the only way if you will know if something resonates with you is if you really try it. You have to experiment. I wouldn’t tell that person try it only once. What if the first time was a bad experience? In that way, I’m lucky because my first time was a good experience. But what if your first experience was bad? You have to give it a few shots and then depending on how you feel and what you think, you take your own decision.
Hunter: What was your favorite moment on set?
Sergio: Many things. The magic when you would say “action” and the silence would come and the actors would start to take life. It’s a movie. It’s not real life anymore. Watching Patricia [Velasquez] and all of a sudden we hear, “Action” and she’s so intense. The movie is coming alive and it’s so intense. I like it a lot.
Hunter: What’s next for you and how will you take the lessons you learned on Guys Reading Poems and apply it to future jobs?
Sergio: For me, keep doing what I’m doing. Working on sets. Knowing people because this is teamwork, so you can’t do it all by yourself. You need a lot of collaboration. Getting more clear on what types of movies I would like to do and finding a way to make it. I still don’t have – “This is the path.” I have a general idea and I’m working how to achieve all that. That’s the stage I’m in now.
Talking with Sergio is a good reminder for all of us as filmmakers: if your film is someone’s first job, do you care how they remember it? How it shapes them?
Sergio is a proud freelancer and can be contacted for production work at: email@example.com
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).