Continued from Part 1
In this second part of our interview about Roses are Blind, Gui Agustini and Wendy White discuss casting choices, the film festivals, and lessons learned.
Let’s delve into how you handled casting and what you felt the actors brought to the project.
Gui: The cast were people that my wife – Christina who plays Julie – and I have known. Most of them are former teachers of ours. Nicole who plays Louise is friend of ours. My idea from the beginning that I shared with Wendy is I’ve been fortunate enough to have great mentors and to know incredible actors. I want to work with people that I know already.
I’ve never acted with or directed any of these former teachers, but I learned from them. They were perfect for these characters. I went through a list of everybody I knew [of] a certain age, history, or experience. Look, let me give them a call because the worst that can happen is they say no. It happened a couple times and that’s just how it goes.
First, it’s [the] thrill of everybody involved saying yes. The one I remember most was Kathleen McNenny, who plays Julie’s mother. She’s married to Boyd Gaines, who plays [Julie’s] uncle. She’s been on Broadway many times. She’s a wonderful teacher at Juilliard of masque work. I was so uncomfortable after I sent her an email, but five minutes later she says, “Yes, I’m in.” I couldn’t believe it! I’m thinking about Boyd doing this, could she ask him? Wendy was wonderful to trust these offers I made.
Wendy: I gave Gui and Christina trust and they went from there. I stepped away and let them be artists to do their thing. It was magical.
Gui: So brave. Not only is Wendy the most kind and positive person I know, the amount of trust and belief is out of this world. It’s so many lucky things. Boyd is not really a teacher, but he has taught a few times. I remember one of his first classes. He said like, “Every time I get a role, the first thing I do is I freak out.”
I told Wendy this because it’s kind of what I’m going through. I’m excited but I’m freaking out because I have to direct these people. I met up with Danny to discuss his character and his scene, to get advice. And we were so lucky to have Danny. You hear this a lot, but it’s such a collaborative thing. I banked a lot on these people we were “hiring” because we trust them. They have a huge array of experiences. Wendy and I were so open to the suggestions, then come to a middle ground and make decisions.
Once you’re on set, it’s a machine. You have the time [you have] to be on top of. We had restrictions as with any indie film. We shot the house scene overnight. Imagine it’s 3 AM and some people have to leave at certain times. There are many variables and it’s a lot of pressure. I remember finishing the shoot thinking that I’ve never done anything as hard as this in my life. I’d been up for at least 30 hours straight. Of course, it’s worth it. There are the magical moments you’re not expecting. I think the response from Boyd and Danny has been wonderful. Purva was –
Wendy: Purva was incredible as well. She plays Yolanda.
What is the reaction you are getting so far at the film festivals?
Wendy: The reaction has been positive and stunning on so many levels. One of the reactions is the quality, [that the film] is of the highest quality. People noticed and recognized that. I am really grateful for investing in this short film. I only wanted the best in the cinematography, music, acting, and editing. We’ve been so blessed by people noticing all the hard work that the entire team put in. Gui as a director is incredible [with] the sharpness and decisions, what scenes to cut or include, and he produced an emerald.
When we got into our first festival, I was crying half the way home from Alligator Alley that day. I was so grateful to get into one because it was so challenging. I’ve never received an award in this realm. I’m an artist and a playwright. My life is painting and writing. We received Best NYC Short at our first festival in June. That’s where it started, where the next season of incredible experiences happened. There were other awards from there, Best Cinematographer, Best Composer, Best Actress –
Gui: I know, Best Composer of a score twice! And Best Supporting Actor for Boyd Gaines, who is incredible and known from the Broadway scene. I’m with Wendy. It’s all a great surprise. I want to point back to that first festival because you meet the filmmakers and they tell you about other festivals. From one place, we got accepted to so many others. It was remarkable and fun to be a part of.
In terms of the film, there are particular moments in screenings [when] I get fascinated with the reaction. The reactions in different cities with so many different people are usually the same. They’ll respond in a way we’d intended them to. That’s been a learning experience for me. We hear so much about studios testing their films right before they show it to the public or they release it.
What was a big lesson you learned in this whole process?
Wendy: Letting go and letting the process happen. Connecting with forgiveness is how I’m able to get to this point in life. I forgave everyone involved – my family. Letting go is somehow connected in that. In the artistic process, it’s letting go of control. I’m also a director in theater. This life story is kind of my baby. Letting Gui direct the beautiful actors – and having our musician Matthew Carlton with the score. Let the artistic creativity take hold of everyone. It’s important to give artistic space and it became organic.
I had conversations with actors. Danny Davis called me about my script after he reviewed it. He said, “How about if I just say this?” Instead of being like a gypsy, he wanted to take Julie’s hand and not have it like a fortune teller. His advice and counsel were brilliant. I said, “Oh, my God. That makes sense. It’s much more believable.” That’s how the true psychic I went to was. They would just read things. Danny was able to ask me and respect me. I trusted he knew best.
With Boyd there’s a scene when they ask, “What did you give her?” and he said, “Thorazine.” They continue, “How much?” and he answers, “Enough.” I’d written about 20 lines in the play. For the film, it became only a couple of words when he asked if we could do it this way. That’s an example of letting go.
Gui: I think Wendy’s bravery is really remarkable and we’re so blessed. It’s a big sense of responsibility. I don’t know that I could do it myself. It’s very humbling.
What I get the most out of this is working with people again that I trust, like, or believe in, [that’s] the number one. We make many fortunate choices that way. I’d never directed that number of people with that level of work and that amount of experience. Even though it’s low budget, it was the largest budget I’ve ever worked with! It was a huge learning curve for me, so I took a lot [from] it. Certainly I’ll stick [with trusting] the people you work with and [making] sure you like them.