MY GENERATION FIGHTS: An Interview With Chicana Filmmaker Kayden Phoenix
A smashing new and original graphic novel is on the way this summer which ought to bring something special to book lovers and comic book fans alike. For any and all on the matter, I’m leaving the details to author and filmmaker Kayden Phoenix who I began following at some point last year.
Her progress in filmmaking seen well over a decade of results in her craft to date, with social awareness and documentary focus, as well as a variety of narrative genre projects in her wake – her new graphic novel, Jalisco, being one of them. It’s a project that’s especially arisen and deserving of attention now that 2019 looks to be even more prospective in bringing diversity to the superhero genre with Ben Bray’s latest directing debut, El Chicano.
For Jalisco, just shy of two years now, things are only just beginning. Phoenix has a sizzle promo that serves as the root for its cinematic inception, and in my view, given the right people and enough backing, I say it’s got promise.
Her website has all you need to know about this project, but I’m more than pleased to lend her a platform here to share her story, details her endeavors, and then some. She’s all hella fun too, and I’ve only recently broken the ice with her, so I’m proud to set the volume a bit higher on her work.
Kayden it’s great to finally share some questions with you and I apologize for getting back to you so late after the New Year. How has 2019 been for you so far?
2019 has been amazing! I didn’t get into Cannes, I didn’t get into Sundance, or Slamdance, or Tribeca BUT I’ve met with some amazing studio execs and platforms that overshadow the film festival lows (I did get into Cinequest and won three awards for two films of mine, including Best Director and Jury Award). They’ve given me advice and finite direction much better than laurels.
According to your IMDb you started chasing your dream in film back maybe fifteen years ago. Was that after attaining your BA degree at Loyola Marymount in business? Tell us about yourself.
Hold on, let me look up my IMDb [laughs]. Ok, I consider my dabble in acting not apart of my film career. Ha. To me, I started filmmaking – writing, directing, producing – two years ago in 2017. At LMU, I majored in Business Administration with an Emphasis in Marketing.
After graduation, I went into marketing. Promotional “brand ambassador” or “promotional modeling” as they call it is so much fun! You learn key points and give away free stuff at cool events. It’s a cheat, but the customers smile and are so happy for the free promotional product. So I liked it.
Very simple and easy to execute but it wasn’t creative in any way. I leaned towards writing as an outlet. And my first 2 feature scripts were horrible! [laughs] But it taught me structure, pacing, tone, etc. And I’m fine with it – the first things anyone writes is just to get out the info inside of you- all the junk. So those are hidden somewhere on my computer (maybe). Anyway, I continued writing and wanted to show my work- to show that I can write – so I decided to write shorts and direct/produce them. That’s how I fell into directing.
My main focus now is writing and directing now.
And the last several years have seen you ante up quite a bit as a filmmaker and producer under your current moniker. Your work has largely taken aim at increasing diversity, equality and opportunity for aspiring film professionals such as yourself. In your view, has the industry made any noticeable strides in solving the problems and issues it currently faces?
I think the industry tries to check a box. I hear so many females talk about their experiences going through the female-forward programs (for some reason, we’re not in the equal-gender programs, just the specific ones made for us) and nothing has come of it. One Latina director that’s been in a slew of the programs had an executive say “Oh, we’re just checking a box”. Things like that have to change.
There are definitely good programs that do more than just a program – they actually put you on set thereafter with a gig. Those I appreciate, and because they come from a good place and mean the change. I know, just several days ago Tribeca gave out nine grants and they were all males. Not sure about strides there. They backed it up by saying they have Tribeca All Access and Through Her Lens programs. Grants and programs are completely different, by the way.
To answer your question, I’m newer to the industry and when I walked in that’s the first time I actually saw racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia. Have I lost meetings and gigs because of this prejudice, yes absolutely. And I’m on the indie level – I haven’t even broken studio yet. It’s a very sad lesson to learn that the entertainment industry is so prejudice. In marketing, I’m an equal. Like in life, like how I was raised.
From my experience, I can’t say there are strides. From listening to others – I’m in the best entertainment industry organizations (Alliance of Women Directors, Women in Film, Cinefemme, etc.) so I hear some great stories – there is progression. I know my generation fights – not saying the past ones don’t – I’m saying we fight for equality not necessarily the job. Because if I don’t get in, the next person in line will, or the person thereafter. Just like how the generations above have me have done.
It’s also why I created the Chicana Directors Initiative. It’s all bad but Latinas get paid the least. For example: in California, Latinas get forty-six cents to a male’s $1.00. For the same work. It blows my mind how that prejudice is possible… Anyway, I got a lot of work to do. [laughs]
And you do have a plentiful list crediting you on independent projects. I also notice the biggest is Andrew Stanton’s 2012 sci-fi, John Carter. It’s one of those films I’ve sadly yet to sit down and see, and I know I’m going to hell for this, so no need to tell me ?. Was that your first time being on the set of a big picture like that?
That was an amazing set to be on! Oliver Stone came one day. I was a stand-in for a really genuine actress (Lynn Collins). The 1st AD was the 1st AD for all of Clint Eastwood films – she was hardcore cool. The DP and Cameraman were from South Africa- completely laid back and great at their craft. And then Stanton, the director, was the writer of Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Wall-E (all things Pixar). It’s not the best film – it didn’t do well at the box office. But the experience of it was amazing. It’s one of those “you can’t pay for that!” experiences. Every single person there – talented and humble. I think that’s hard to find on huge productions.
Another really cool set I’ve been on was Fincher’s The Social Network. But that was for reshoots at USC.
Apart from your mission on social awareness, justice and the national discourse on topics like immigration and feminism, you’ve done a variety of projects in different genres. What are some of your favorite films? Any rare titles you’ve seen and can recommend? And I know you have an eye on Indian films too since your spot on Jaby Koay’s YouTube channel.
My fave genre is superhero. That’s what I’m working on getting up – JALISCO, my Latina superhero. She’s an assemble to the superhero universe I created. So definitely action and adventure, supeheroes. But grounded. I’m not a huge fan of CGI.
I don’t know about rare titles- the movies I can think of, that are prob mainstream, are Let The Right One In (the Swedish version, not US) and The Raid (really, anything with Iko Uwais)
Okay. I LOVE that you love The Raid. That’s one, and I’m also glad you mentioned Jalisco, your upcoming graphic novel. The concept makes my heart race and you’ve been teasing big things in your Instagram posts, I feeltormented! ?
Aww thank you! That’s very kind!
Tell us about this character and how you and your team created her.
Jalisco is one of five Latina superheroes that exists in the A La Brava universe. So when I was thinking about creating a superhero, I was like “Okay, who was your hero growing up?” My mom, of course. So I was like “Okay, what did your mom do?” She danced folklorico. So I created a superhero that dances folklorico (Mexican folk dance).
Of course, my mom doesn’t have blades come out of her dress – that’s the superhero part – but I remember watching my mom dance every song from every region. I used to go with her every year to the LA County Fair. Her troupe performed there as well as in productions, and I was always the one in the front-center secretly recording – because they didn’t let you record – but my mom told me to, and so I did. And now I have all her dances permanently recorded in my mind and soon a variant in graphic novel.
Your IMDb says you did a short film based on this character. It’s not online, but tell us about your feature film hopes for this property and what the status is of it.
Yes, that’s my sizzle. I did shoot it as a short and now using it as a sizzle for the feature. The script is done, it’s been read at some cool production studios and gotten their notes. I’m working with investors right now to shoot it in Jalisco, Mexico. Shooting for the end of this year, but I always fast-track everything. It will get made, just can’t confirm when.
You recently polled some of your followers on the issue of ethnicity in terms of who to cast for this role since you had concerns on whether or not she had to be Mexican. Is this still an issue for you?
I’m a big fan of “truth by consensus”, so that’s why I did it. The comments were mixed – dependent largely on their ethnicity. But, I do understand both sides/answers. It is not an issue for me anymore, mainly because (upon a studio’s advice) I’m shooting in Mexico with Mexican cast. So I get the production value, the visceral of the actors, and two languages. It’ll be shot in Spanish and English – two products. Progress!
And what can fans expect from Jalisco as it grows closer to becoming a reality?
Wow, let’s see. They can expect grounded and authentic visuals and performances. Behind the camera, every key position will be a Latina (goes back to the Latina equal pay + diversity/inclusion). Whether you speak English or Spanish, there’s two products. Both will have different editors so different interpretations of film. I look forward to that part [laughs]
They’ll be more articles and podcasts once the graphic novel releases – July or August 2019. So there will be more info on Jalisco’s origin story.
Fans can expect a grounded origin story. Dark but relevant. There’s Mexican culture and nostalgia infused throughout the film as well.
If it’s at all feasible, is there anything else in the works and cooking up from A Phoenix Rises that we should be aware of? Any particular collaborations forthcoming that you can share publicly?
I did a short film called Penance and it was labeled as “queer horror”- I didn’t even know that was a genre – but it did well on the film festival circuit and a few production companies approached me after seeing it. So I wrote out the feature version. Also working with investors to get that film up this year.
No collabs I can speak of as of now. The way I learned it, nothing’s real until the end credits roll.
So, working on it. ?
For those reading this interview and who want to get into comic books and film direction, what are some important lessons you’ve taken with you over the years whilst in the midst of your own pursuits?
Just do the work. What are you waiting for? Don’t have the money? go find it. Go work and save money. Go negotiate with investors (ROI). Figure it out but do it. You don’t know any artists? I didn’t either. I searched online for hours. There are sites that have their portfolios up. One great artist I found, put a tweet up looking for more Latina artists – sixty people from the USA and Latin America replied.
Then I went through all of their sites – see if their work fit with my first artist’s. In the end, I ended up with six artists (penciller, inker, three colorists, and a letterist). All amazing, but it’s all about doing the work. Same with film – find your tribe. I’m new but I’ve gotten so much support from crew and cast.
One connects you to the other. But walk up with an intention, a purpose. My feminism and equality stance is all over my social media and sites – because that’s what I care about. Diversity and inclusion in front and behind the camera. My peers are of the like mindn- why wouldn’t they be?
Like Gina Rodriguez said, “Find what pains you and that’s what your life’s about”
I’m drawing a blank but I feel like there’s so much more to come from you, and I especially look forward to seeing Jalisco dispense her own brand of justice. Any words or plugs to throw in before we exit this interview?
Thank you so much for this and hope Jalisco means as much to you and the next generation of Latinas/os and anyone diverse in the future. If one little girl says “I see myself on screen” that’s an accomplishment.
Ask any Latina from past generations, they don’t have that privilege. If Jalisco inspires anyone to go create their own non-white superhero please do! I’d go watch it in a heartbeat! We’re way more than just a hero’s quirky sidekick, you know?
Graphic Novel: JaliscoSuperhero.com
My non-profit: ChicanaDirectorsInitiative.com
Kayden, thank you so much for weighing in with us. My fingers are crossed for Jalisco and your other creations from here on. ?
Thanks again. Appreciate you reaching out.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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