For folks like me who are not active in the entertainment industry, the term ‘filmmaker’ can be a bit amorphous. It’s a title that gets thrown around a lot, very often in reference to upper-crust auteurs famous for lording total control over their productions. But I’ve found that image to be misleading, and it certainly narrows down who I award the title in the first place. Here’s a much better idea of what makes a real filmmaker, provided by a dear friend and talent agent: “A filmmaker makes the thing happen.” Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a new movie, miniseries, or fast food commercial — filmmakers do whatever it takes to execute their vision, to make sure all the pieces are in place, helping the ship sail on as smoothly as possible. In a way, they’re fixers, a version of Mr. Wolf for the world of entertainment.
Laura Franco is one such Mr. Wolf, but even more versatile, if you can imagine that. She’s worn the title of producer while working with Big Review TV and on the Netflix show “The Hollywood Masters,” a docuseries that features in-depth interviews with, well, Hollywood masters, including actor/filmmaker Ethan Hawke, the great Amy Adams, legendary director Alfonso Cuaron, and comedy super-producer Judd Apatow. She also served as producer on a short called “Wreck It Raj,” set to be released later this year.
In addition to assisting high-level productions like these, Ms. Franco is an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right. Her short film “A New Beginning,” which she both wrote and directed, was selected for several prestigious film festivals throughout the U.S. And, perhaps most impressive of all, she was one of only 20 individuals selected for the Tomorrow’s Filmmakers Today program, which is directly sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the highest-ranking organization in the realm of cinema, known best (of course) for the Oscars.
“A New Beginning” is a short film inspired by the real-life story of an acid attack in Colombia, and the subsequent struggle for rehabilitation and emotional recovery. It’s hard-hitting material to be sure, and I wanted to know what it was like to work with such delicate source material, not only in terms of the story itself but also the practical effects that enabled a respectful portrayal of a tragedy.
“I had been following the case of an acid attack survivor in Colombia, and after seeing her resilience I wanted to create a film that exemplified that,” says Franco. “The filming process was difficult, given that we required prosthetics for the lead role. It required an extensive search for a makeup artist who would understand my vision and be willing to work within the budget. The film talks about a very personal topic. Having a scarred face affects a person’s self-esteem and, psychologically, it can be very impairing. Trying to show this is extremely difficult because internal conflicts are very hard to put into films, especially if you want to do it in a subtle way and not rely so much on the dialogue.”
But “A New Beginning” was far from her first project. Back in 2016, she created a short-form documentary entitled “Jah,” which focused on a homeless man in Colombia who found unexpected aid in the form of two female artists from the area who supported his path to recovery.
These themes of recovery, renewal, and adjustment of personal identity, especially among young characters, are found all through Ms. Franco’s work. Often, they are interlinked with instances of culture clash and attempts to meld one’s national identity with idealistic visions for the future. There’s no getting around the fact that these are important issues, and as such, they make for important stories, and Ms. Franco is giving them a platform. She’s giving others the opportunity to listen. And most of all, she enjoys the times when these films can genuinely start a discussion.
“I really enjoy the Q & A sessions with audiences. Answering peoples’ questions and gauging how they perceived the film is the most memorable aspects for me.”
Now that “Wreck It Wraj” is due out for release very soon, Ms. Franco already has her sights on multiple new projects for the upcoming year.
“I am currently in the process of developing a feature film about a very personal topic, my perspective of my parents’ divorce and meeting their new significant others. I hope to be able to film sometime in 2019, preferably during the summer. As for the next few months, I am looking forward to the festival circuit for a short film I produced last year called ‘Gabroo.’ We are all hoping it is well received and has a solid run in different world-wide festivals.”
And each festival will present many new opportunities for meeting and speaking with other artists like Ms. Franco, who have the confidence to tell serious stories with incredible craft and a sense of humanity. There are times when she meets younger filmmakers, who are often curious to hear how she got into the business, and how she got to the point where she gets to tour the U.S. and the world at large to share her work. I asked how she responds to these kinds of questions.
“What I think is key for any filmmaker is to have passion for the project you are working on. If you care and you want to get it done, you will. That translates into the films and people are attracted to confidence and hard work. I also think social media is a great tool, show your friends and followers snippets of the film and hype up the interest. And of course, send it to film festivals. As many as you can.”
In a time when Hollywood has been shaken to its core by systematic discrimination, mistreatment, and a widespread lack of diversity, seeing the work of Laura Franco and so many other filmmakers like her — filmmakers who are causing a sea change in the entertainment industry — is hopeful. The next step, our end of the bargain, is that we need to pay attention to this work, we need to occasionally take a break from rewatching Parks and Rec for the 9th time to branch out and explore the enormous range of new content that dares to talk about the things that previously have only been mentioned in whispers.