What was your filmmaking background before you made Afterschool?
ANTONIO: I've been making short films since I was about 13. I attended the New York Film Academy when I was 13, but had to lie about my age to be in the program since they didn't have a teen program. I made my first shorts there and then continued to make shorts all through high school. Eventually, I went to NYU for film where I made a short Buy It Now, which was made with a tiny crew on video for no money. That short ended up winning the First Prize in the Cinefondation at Cannes, which ultimately helped open a lot of doors and create a lot of opportunities. After that I made one more short, The Last 15, which was in Official Competition at Cannes in 2007.
Where did the idea for Afterschool come from?
ANTONIO: The seed for the idea came sometime after my last year in high school. That year started off with 9/11 and one of my best friends lost his father that day, and it ended with a close friend of mine dying in a freak accident while traveling through Europe. I really didn't know how to process or deal with these deaths-- I felt very connected and disconnected at the same time.
I had this idea of a boy witnessing the death of two girls by drug overdose. The girls were kids he had seen in the hallways but never had spoken to or been really close to until they died in front of him. Then over the years and through my Residence in the Cannes Residence program, I developed the idea into what the film became.
What was the writing process like?
ANTONIO: It was long. There was a long period of a lot of note taking and brainstorming. When the chance to apply to the Cannes Residence came up, I wrote a formal treatment. I made the top 12 and was flown out to Paris for the interview, but was ultimately rejected.
I went back and reworked the treatment and resubmitted. I was accepted the following year, and it was really while I was in Paris writing that the whole thing came together. It was there that the idea that the boy would be in a video class came to me, and once I had that, it all came together.
How did you fund the film?
ANTONIO: It was all funded privately, through people my producers, Josh Mond and Sean Durkin, had met and discussed the project with over the years. Our budget was relatively low, but it was still more money than any of us had tried to raise before. There were enough people who believed in us and the project who were willing to take a risk on it. Also, we were able to actually shoot the film on 35 anamorphic because my producers were able to get such good deals from the vendors.
What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?
ANTONIO: We shot 35mm on an Arri 535 with anamorphic lenses from Joe Dunton. It was a good camera for the shoot since there wasn't a lot of handheld and a lot of static shots, and the lenses for the most part were great.
With anamorphic, you're always going to have vignetting and focus issues on some lenses. We figured out what problems there were with which lenses and then were just always conscious of that as we were shooting, only using them we had to. Some of it we were able to correct in post.
How did you find your crew?ANTONIO: Everyone on the film for the most part had gone to NYU with me and my producers. And those who didn't go to NYU were people that we had worked with on other projects. It was really comfortable, friendly, and safe environment for me as a director since I had already established a rapport and friendship with almost everyone on the set before we started. As a director, it's the greatest feeling when everyone around you seems to be as committed and excited about the film you are trying to make as you are, and I felt that way about my crew every day.
What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of being your own editor?
ANTONIO: I felt that I knew how I wanted the film to play, and I knew the film better than anyone else that it didn't seem right, especially on my first feature, to not edit myself. Also, I'm not someone who becomes married to anything. I always see myself as a slave to the film; whatever's right for the film is what I'm going to try and do.
That said, there are disadvantages.
Eventually, because you have been with the film for so long, it is hard to distance yourself enough to have any sort of emotional response to it. It all becomes a bit too intellectual, which I don't like. Also, I was handling a lot of things that an assistant editor would normally deal with, like syncing and prepping the film for the negative cut. These things just become tedious, and in terms of dealing with prepping the film for a negative cut or whatever you're going to end up on, it's difficult because it just forces to spend more time in front of the timeline. Not making changes becomes a challenge because there's always something you feel like you can play with a bit more. My negative cutter was definitely not happy with me
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
ANTONIO: There's so much you learn from just making a film, a lot of it isn't even anything you recognize consciously. I feel like anything you do behind or in front of the camera is beneficial and forces you to hone a certain tool or try and learn something knew about yourself and your process.
I like preparing as much as possible, and did so on Afterschool, but I would love to be able to do more tests with stocks and lenses beforehand. To really know the quirks of every lens and the different looks you can achieve with each stock and each process available in the developing and printing. We were able to do this to a certain extent, but just couldn't afford to do as much as my DP or I would have liked.
"Afterschool" is available On Demand. Check your local listings.